Roberto Trotta Basic (2023)

A chance observation of a meteor “draping the shoulders of Orion in a blazing ribbon”, witnessed by astrophysicist Roberto Trotta and a date, solemnized what would become a life-long relationship. No wonder, he remarks, that the ancient Greek word kosmos meant both “order” and “ornament”. His beautifully written book captures the concealed connections between astronomy and civilization, ending with the profound message for other, hypothetical, intelligent life forms in the Universe that was launched in 1977 on NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.

The Lives of Seaweeds

Julie A. Phillips Princeton Univ. Press (2023)

Seaweeds can be very nutritious. “Some contain from 10 to 100 times more minerals and vitamins per dry unit weight than foods derived from land plants or animals,” writes Julie Phillips, an environmental consultant in aquatic-ecosystem health, algal blooms and seaweed communities. This might explain, she notes, why so few Japanese people — who regularly eat seaweed — are obese. This well written, superbly illustrated study highlights every aspect of seaweeds, from their cell structure to their sensitivity to climate change.

Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation

Danielle Arigoni Island (2023)

Climate change was barely mentioned in courses on urban planning when Danielle Arigoni was a student in the 1990s. But now it is the largest threat to creating “equitable, and sustainable communities”, especially for older people. Around two-thirds of those who died in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and during the 2022 winter storms in Buffalo, New York, were aged 65 or above. Arigoni’s book, which draws on her experiences as managing director of a housing trust, proposes how to reorient planning to help them.


Ruben Andersson & David Keen Oxford Univ. Press (2023)

Anthropologist Ruben Andersson specializes in borders, migration and security. Economist David Keen researches disasters, and civil and global wars. Hence their interest in what their valuable if depressing book calls “wreckonomics”. This phenomenon is epitomized by three crucial international failures: the fight against migration, which has pushed people to use high-risk routes; the war on terror, leading to the chaotic exit of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021; and the war on drugs that is fuelling global atrocities.

Free Thinking

Simon McCarthy-Jones Oneworld (2023)

Freedom of speech is legally protected in many nations, but what about the freedom of thought? In 2021, the United Nations began considering this question, which encouraged psychologist Simon McCarthy-Jones to write his thought-provoking book. It emphasizes that thought emerges between people as well as in individuals — including through social media. “To think freely requires a new enlightenment that goes beyond a focus on individuals,” he argues. Indeed, he barely uses the singular term ‘genius’.

Competing Interests

The author declares no competing interests.


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