Advance Copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

Publication of NASW members' reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

Our brains are willing to bend a few rules or even cheat to make our expectations match reality, Erik Vance writes in Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal. This behavior affects our response to medications, surgery, acupuncture, placebos, hypnosis, and other traditional and alternative treatments. It helps account for false memories. It also enables us to take an active role in healing ourselves, Vance asserts, reporting findings from his readings and interviews of researchers at the NIH and other universities, Christian Science practitioners, New Age healers, and even a witch doctor in Mexico.

This book’s title, The Left Brain Speaks, The Right Brain Laughs, serves as a glaring example of oversimplification, its author, Ransom Stephens, asserts. The brain’s left and right lobes compete, collaborate, and provide more redundancy than scientists thought until recently, he says. He explores how the brain works in commonplace and quirky ways, examining what goes on when we have “eureka” moments, immerse ourselves in the lives of fictional characters, and know when something’s “right.” Stephens focuses on creativity throughout. “We only get a few decades of awareness,” he asserts. “We should put our heads to work.”

Most of us serve as the first and perhaps only fact-checker of our own work. “Learning how to fact-check can help writers become better reporters,” Brooke Borel asserts in The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking. Fact-checking is reporting in reverse, she says. You need to fact-check everything, even the thing you just checked last week, and even things you think you know are true, she insists. You also need to identify what’s missing, and whether that undermines the accuracy of your work. Borel tells how to check facts from a variety of sources, including analogies, product claims, press releases, and maps and atlases. She also offers tips on keeping good records of your sources.

Reality is catching up with science fiction, Rod Pyle reports in Blueprint for a Battlestar: Serious Scientific Explanations Behind Sci-Fi’s Greatest Inventions. Consider force fields: a new type of armor plating applied to tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other kinds of vehicles, Pyle writes, can repel medium-sized munitions. Boeing recently patented a device that will use a high-energy ball of plasma to minimize injury to soldiers in a vehicle hit by an artillery shell, grenade, or Improvised Explosive Device. Pyle discusses the science behind 25 technologies, from Archimedes’ “heat ray” to tools employed in Star Wars and The Matrix. The book includes 75 detailed illustrations.

Star Trek marks its fiftieth anniversary of its debut this year. Celebrated both for its social commentary and futuristic science, the sci-fi series also prompted many of the researchers Mark Lasbury interviewed for The Realization of Star Trek Technologies to study science or pursue a specific research interest. “Current science advances show how forward-thinking and accurate many Star Trek technologies were,” Lasbury writes. In his book, he describes devices and techniques used in the show, the science the show’s writers drew upon to explain how these tools worked, and research that has mimicked these technologies, or aims to do so.

Why do some people succeed in life, while others struggle or fail? In March 1946, scientists recorded the birth of nearly every British baby born in a single week, launching what has become the world’s longest running major study of human development. In The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives, Helen Pearson reports findings from this and additional studies that have tracked the lives of five generations of children, over 70,000 people throughout the British Isles. The studies richly answer the scientists’ initial questions, and illuminate interventions that can boost every child’s odds of success.

In 1965, the Mariner spacecraft made the first successful flyby of Mars, taking 22 photos of the planet’s surface. In 1976, NASA landed twin Viking probes on Mars. Since 1996, a series of Martian rovers have enabled charting of ancient rivers, lakes, ocean beds, and valleys — a landscape that once perhaps could have supported life. Preparations for a manned mission to Mars are underway today. In Mars: Making Contact, Rod Pyle draws on oral histories and interviews, and includes a library of photos to tell the saga of human exploration of the red planet.

A blue man shows up in a hospital emergency department, then a red woman, then a yellow one, and soon large numbers of people display a kaleidoscope of colors. A rogue biologist has exposed them surreptitiously to a genetically engineered virus that takes over the body’s melanocytes, producing the unnatural hues. Worse, the colors serve as a marker of the scientist’s intent to employ bioweapons to create worldwide mayhem. The FBI’s on the case, and so is the CDC. In his sci-fi novel, The Rainbow Virus, Dennis Meredith provides a behind-the-scenes look at forensic and epidemiological detective work.

“A box jellyfish is little more than goo, yet it can kill a man in less than five minutes. A spider or a scorpion can be unceremoniously crushed under our feet, yet some of their venoms can take us out just as easily,” Christie Wilcox reports in Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry. In this book, based on her PhD research, Wilcox introduces us to venom scientists around the world, telling what venoms do and how they work, and exploring their present and potential medical applications. She also includes stories of survivors of near-fatal venom exposure, individuals who — for highs or putative health benefits — self-inject venoms, and even venom-using murderers. And yes, Wilcox also recounts her own run-ins with venomous barbs and stingers.