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.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit www.nasw.org/advance-copy-submission-guidelines to submit your report.

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.

After traveling 9.5 years and 3 billion miles, the New Horizons spacecraft neared its closest approach to Pluto. It sent to Earth the now-famous full global view showing a huge heart-shaped area on Pluto’s surface: a giant sheet of molecular nitrogen ice. “New Horizons had just transformed Pluto from a pixilated blob — as seen by the best telescope ever built — to a spectacular world full of diversity and complexity,” Nancy Atkinson writes in Incredible Stories From Space.

In this second, updated edition of Human Genetics: The Basics Ricki Lewis provides a concise overview of what genes are and how they function. Consideration of genes has made the practice of medicine both more precise and more personal, she says, describing benefits of genetic research to the understanding and treatment of both rare and common disorders that include cystic fibrosis, cancer, and cardiovascular and infectious disease. Genetic testing teamed with information science, she notes, now makes it possible to diagnose some inherited diseases in minutes. In wrapping up each chapter, Lewis presents dilemmas that may arise from genetic research, information, applications, and technologies.

Smallpox lesions have been found on mummies. Skeletons thousands of years old show bone deformities that may have come from syphilis. In Outbreak!: 50 Tales of Epidemics that Terrorized the World, Beth Skwarecki chronicles the devastation caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, prions, dietary insufficiencies, and other scourges, from those known in ancient times, including malaria and plague, to more recent outbreaks, such as those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola. Skwarecki provides 3-5 page summaries for each epidemic, telling what happened and including the current threat level, treatment, and research findings.

From cutting down forests to polluting air, trashing oceans, and even leaving junk in space, humans are writing a new chapter in Earth’s history, David Biello asserts in The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age. Scientists have dubbed this new age the Anthropocene. “The choices made this century will help set the course of the entire planet for at least tens of thousands of years,” Biello contends. There’s still time, he argues, for humans to be a force for good.

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.