It’s home, and it’s the only one we’ve got
The world never stops being amazing and mysterious, as these four books remind us. Each offers a unique perspective, challenging readers to observe their surroundings as never before.
Who wouldn’t want to see the photo album of astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year aboard the International Space Station? Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut’s Photographs from a Year in Space is a remarkably mesmerizing accomplishment, especially given the microgravity environment. Kelly not only had to brace himself and his camera to keep from floating around but also had to pan the camera quickly when focusing his lens on Earth, galloping by at 17,500 miles per hour.
Take a look inside the phone booth-size quarters where Kelly slept in a green sleeping bag attached to a wall. Check out his space-walk selfies and a shot of him watching his twin brother Mark’s appearance on “Celebrity Jeopardy.” Kelly took dazzling shots of sunsets, sunrises, auroras, New York City, Hurricane Patricia and Paris after the 2015 terrorist attack. Following in the footsteps of his artist mother, to whom this book is dedicated, he also created “Earth Art,” amazingly colorful photos that vary from realistic shots to the seemingly abstract, showing islands in the Bahamas, fiery Peruvian volcanoes and an opalescent Iran resembling shimmering gold filaments.
True to its title, Infinite Wonder offers an amazing array of jaw-dropping photographs unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
Lotus flower from Flora. © Dorling Kindersley: Gary Ombler/Kew Gardens, 2018.
How about a botany primer on steroids? The subject bursts to life with a winning combination of stunning photographs and clear, concise scientific explanations in Flora: Inside the Secret World of Plants. Such lavishness comes naturally; the book is a joint venture between the Smithsonian and London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As Smithsonian Gardens Director Barbara W. Faust explains in her foreword: “The otherworldly beauty of the magnified subjects made me feel like I had landed on Lilliput and happened upon old friends who had been supersized!”
This weighty tome takes on the fundamentals with chapters on stems and branches, seeds and fruits, roots, leaves, flowers and plant families. Within each chapter are fabulous arrays of topics: nitrogen fixing, the strangler fir, fragrant traps, exploding seedpods and a variety of mini essays on plants in art. The photographs will lure you in like insects to a Venus flytrap. See the fine hairs that cover stinging nettles, the volcanic center of a corpse flower and the soft, springy tissues of a furled fern.
Spend some time with Flora, and you’re bound to look at the world differently.
FRESH, FANCIFUL TAKES
It’s easy to get lost in the pages of Seeing Science: An Illustrated Guide to the Wonders of the Universe, a marvelous mishmash of facts and illustrations by artist and lay scientist Iris Gottlieb. This unusual collection, perfect for browsing, is divided into sections covering life, Earth and the physical sciences. Readers of all ages and diverse scientific backgrounds will find factoids of interest: In 1970, two bullfrogs were sent into space to test motion sickness because their internal systems of balance are similar to humans’. Or how about this: Some ghost “encounters” can be explained by the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, which causes hallucinations.
Gottlieb’s illustrations are fun, funky and informative, and her quirky sense of humor and intellectual curiosity up the entertainment value of Seeing Science.
If all the data about climate change has left you down in the dumps, revitalize yourself with The Hidden Life of Trees: The Illustrated Edition, an abridged edition of German forester Peter Wohlleben’s bestselling book about the many secrets of our deep-rooted forest friends. This seems like a book that’s meant to be illustrated, after all, and these luminous photographs from around the world underscore Wohlleben’s intriguing explanations and arguments.
Just as Temple Grandin has revolutionized the way people think about livestock, Wohlleben is changing the conversations people have about trees by revealing the ways they react and communicate in social networks. While this book is full of inspiring photographs, it’s also meant to be read, not simply perused. Happily, Wohlleben’s lively writing style makes that a snap, with passages that ask, “So why do trees live so long? After all, they could grow just like wild flowers: grow like gangbusters for the summer, bloom, set seed, and then be recycled into humus.”
Tackling everything from “Community Housing” (animals and insects that inhabit trees) to “Street Kids” (urban trees), The Hidden Life of Trees: The Illustrated Edition leads readers on a thought-provoking nature expedition.
This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.