Advantages and disadvantages of cooperation, low-carbon construction and in nature: the books in brief


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Social instinct

Nicolas raihani Cap Jonathan (2021)

Cooperation is a double-edged sword. Within totalitarian nations and among democratic nations, it dominated World War II. But working together also created a post-war consensus that paved the way for the UK National Health Service and gender equality. Well used, cooperation brings wealth, but “in the wrong hands or used in the wrong way” it brings ruin, observes psychologist Nichola Raihani. His enriching analyzes range from genetics to politics, and from the individual to the international, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

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From roots to seeds

Stephen A. Harris Bodleian Library Edition (2021)

The University of Oxford Botanic Garden was founded in 1621 as the Physic Garden, to support medical education. The earliest plants included the mandrake, with a homunculus-like root said to emit a deadly cry if pulled, notes plant scientist Stephen Harris. Its history of the garden, accompanying an exhibition at the Bodleian Library, features various illustrations and portraits. Bossy and magnificent, he is equally honest: “Oxford’s success in both the generation of botanical knowledge and its spread over four centuries has been very uneven.

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Architecture

Barnabas calder Pelican (2021)

The construction and operation of buildings produces 39% of global human greenhouse gas emissions, notes historian Barnabas Calder in his powerful and disturbing account of architecture and energy from ancient times. The construction of the Great Egyptian Pyramid at Giza used less energy than what is consumed over the lifetime of seven average modern American residents; stone has a strength / carbon footprint ratio 25 times greater than that of concrete. Calder argues that architecture must end its dependence on fossil fuels by learning from the past, including ancient Rome.

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Do not erase

Jessica wynne Princeton University. hurry (2021)

A board filled with Albert Einstein’s mathematics is featured in a museum in Oxford, UK. Ironically, Einstein opposed its preservation, unlike 111 mathematicians whose extremely varied paintings appear in the photographs of Jessica Wynne. The simplest, by Tadashi Tokieda, shows a white circle on a black background, labeled “WHITE”; a second circle, filled with white, is labeled ‘BLACK’. Tokieda compares looking at a chalkboard with listening to “note by note” music. It’s an original, elegant, but confusing book.

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Wild souls Emma Marris Bloomsbury (2021)

Environmental writer Emma Marris begins her colorful study of the interactions between wildlife and humans with a helicopter flight to a sanctuary in Hawaii. There, environmentalists are trying to save eight species of birds threatened by human influences, including viruses transmitted by mosquitoes imported by boat in 1826. She also considers Australian bilbies, Peruvian monkeys and wolves reintroduced into the world. ‘Oregon. “Ecosystems are built on death,” she wonders, so which “wild” animals need to be preserved and which need to be allowed to die?

Competing interests

The author declares no competing interests.

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