SciBooks is where we run book reviews on new science books from New Zealand and around the world. We welcome both books for review from publishers and reviewers interested in contributing to SciBooks.

The cryptic appeal of Cryptozoology - Scibooks

Feb 27, 2014

by Sophie Fern REVIEW: Cryptozoologicon: the biology, evolution and mythology of hidden animals by John Conway, C.M. Kosemen and Darren Naish Irregular books, 2013 If it is possible to have a coffee table e-book, that is exactly what this is – a volume to dip into for edification and entertainment.  With tongues firmly lodged in cheeks, the authors take a sceptical and scientific look at the imaginative world of cryptozoology,  part of an emerging genre of fictional biology. ‘Cryptids’ are the fantastic beasts, that may (or may not) exist, which are known from folklore and anecdote, rather than physical specimens and confirmed sightings. This book introduces cryptozoology and its main practitioners, and then goes on to examine the evidence for and against the existence of various beasts, some as familiar as the Bunyip, provisionally named … Read More

‘Old Blue’ an antidote to conservation fatigue - Scibooks

Feb 21, 2014

by Sophie Fern REVIEW: Black Robin Country: The Chatham Islands and its wildlife. by David Cemmick and Dick Veitch Hodder and Stoughton, 1985 The story of the survival of the black robins and their matriarch ‘Old Blue’ is well known, but this is a legendary snapshot of the project at a time when no one knew whether it was possible to save a species of bird by using another to foster its eggs.  This new conservation technique was revolutionary. It was also months of remote fieldwork which, eventually, proved successful enough for the population to recover from five birds to the over two hundred birds that live on the island today. As special as the story is, it is David Cemmick’s illustrations that make this book a classic.  His delicate watercolours are the types of … Read More

Cautionary tales of a free trade agreement - Scibooks

Feb 21, 2014

by Dion O’Neale  Review: Hidden Agendas: What we need to know about the TPPA by Jane Kelsey Bridget Williams Books, 2013 e-book RRP $4.99 Jane Kelsey makes no bones about the fact that she thinks that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is bad news for New Zealand: the first page of the book describes the TPPA as “a direct assault on our right to decide our own future”. In this short text, Professor Kelsey lays out what she believes are some of the potential dangers to New Zealand if the TPPA were to come into effect in something like the form of the latest (leaked) text. It was always going to be difficult to write a book on a free trade agreement (FTA) that is being negotiated in secret and … Read More

Nothing but science goodness - Scibooks

Jan 28, 2014

Reviewed by: Aimee Whitcroft REVIEW: Nothing Edited by: Jeremy Webb (New Scientist) Profile Books Limited, 2013 I’ve read a great many science books over the years, and stacked up against the numerous tomes into which I’ve sunk myself of an afternoon, Nothing has to be one of my favourites.  With chapters by 20 science writers – including such well known names such as Ian Stewart, Marcus Chown, Nigel Henbest, Michael Brooks, Paul Davies and David Fisher – this fascinating book revels in a subject that has intrigued the finest minds for centuries, showing there’s more to nothing than meets the eye. We generally use the word ‘nothing’, with all its negative connotations, to mean the lack of something – lack of value, perhaps, or existence, or action. But nothing is actually an incredibly potent set of … Read More

‘Must Read’ for Would-be Science Writers - Scibooks

Jan 12, 2014

by Michael Edmonds REVIEW: Field Guide for Science Writers: the official guide of the National Association of Science Writers, 2nd Edition Edited by Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson & Robin Marantz Henig Oxford University Press NZ RRP $36.00 I expected a book containing contributions from over 50 leading science writers to be a good read, and I was not disappointed. Clear, articulate and engaging, each writer generously shares their insights into the world of science writing, and demonstrates their enviable writing skills with every word they have put to the page. The field guide is divided into different sections, relevant to writers at different stages. The first section,  Learning the Craft,  provides advice on a range of skills from how to find ideas for stories to finding and developing your own “voice” and style. Chapter … Read More

Penguin book a ‘treasure trove’ - Scibooks

Jan 08, 2014

Reviewed by Alison Ballance REVIEW: Penguins: their world, their ways by Tui de Roy, Mark Jones and Julie Cornthwaite David Bateman Ltd, 2013 RRP: $79.99 Penguins: their world, their ways is a delightful book, both to look at and to read. At 240-pages long with hundreds of photographs, it manages to be both coffee-table beautiful and compellingly informative. Tui de Roy and Mark Jones are internationally renowned photographers, currently domiciled in Golden Bay. Together with Julie Cornthwaite they make up Roving Tortoise Photography, and this latest volume on penguins is a sister book to their earlier volume on albatrosses. While none of the authors is an ornithologist, the book is well-researched, and is a veritable treasure trove of information about the world’s 18 species of penguins. It took the authors many years to gather the photographs, and … Read More

Fine First Photographic Guide to New Zealand Seaweeds - Scibooks

Jan 06, 2014

by Dr Richard Taylor REVIEW: New Zealand Seaweeds: An Illustrated Guide by Wendy Nelson Te Papa Press, 2013 NZ RRP: $79.99 Despite their prominence in many coastal habitats, New Zealand seaweeds have until now lacked a photographic handbook of the type available for our marine invertebrates, fishes and birds. This gap has now been filled with an excellent book by New Zealand’s resident seaweed authority, Prof. Wendy Nelson of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and the University of Auckland. The temperate coastal waters of New Zealand are home to a seaweed flora that is every bit as interesting as our better-known terrestrial flora. Like land plants, seaweeds generate oxygen through photosynthesis and are important food and habitat for a variety of animals. However, living in the ocean imposes unique challenges on seaweeds. Light … Read More

Forensic Science Thriller - Scibooks

Jan 01, 2014

by Michael Edmonds REVIEW: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the birth of forensic medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum Penguin Group (USA) In the early 20th century, New York City was a good place to be a murderer. City coroners were often unqualified and corrupt officials, earning additional income from the production of fake and erroneous death certificates. In 1918, everything changed with the appointment of Charles Norris as the city’s medical examiner. A trained and experienced pathologist, Dr Norris brought integrity, medical knowledge and exacting standards to the new position and his appointment of chemist, Alexander Gettler, to the position of toxicologist, would eventually lead to a forensic service respected by law makers and feared by criminals, particularly those who chose poison to dispatch their victims. In The Poisoner’s Handbook Deborah Blum deftly … Read More

‘Life changing’ principles a fascinating and provocative read - Scibooks

Jan 01, 2014

by Michael Edmonds REVIEW Cells to Civilisations: the Principles of Change that Shape Life by Enrico Coen, FRS Princeton University Press Shortlisted for the Royal Society’s 2013 Winton Prize How could I resist reading a book claimed to be “the first unified account of how life transforms itself” and covering the “four great life transformations – evolution, development, learning and human culture?” I’ve always enjoyed biology, however, I chose a career in chemistry partly because I found biology less “organised” than chemistry. Could molecular geneticist, Enrico Coen, show me a unified approach to biology? The answer to this question is, largely, yes. In Cells to Civilizations Professor Coen distils seven core principles underlying the biological processes surrounding evolution, development and learning, and also extends these principles to the development of human culture. These processes … Read More

Aussie Science Writing Collected - Scibooks

Dec 18, 2013

by Grant Jacobs REVIEW: The Best Australian Science Writing 2013 Editors: McCredie and Mitchell NewSouth Publishing (University of New South Wales Press Ltd.) RRP:$33.00 (Paperback) Now in its third edition, I have only become aware this year of Best Australian Science Writing. Like its American counterpart it’s an edited collection of works previously published elsewhere, from newspapers, books, magazines and radio. Among the entries are all short-listed articles from the 2013 Bragg University of New South Wales Prize for Science Writing. This year’s winner was Fred Watson’s, Here come the ubernerds: Planets, Pluto and Prague. The collection is mostly of short to medium length articles on science-related topics, but also features poetry and biographical pieces. The authors, too, are a mixed collection. Some are scientists who write in addition their scientific work; many are full-time (science) writers. Read More