Advance Copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

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“Once I started looking, I found jellyfish stories everywhere,” Juli Berwald writes in Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. “I spent hours reading about their shape, how they swim, what they eat, whether they think, how they reproduce, how they sting, how they glow.” Berwald traveled the globe to observe and swim with jellyfish, and talk with scientists working with them. Her odyssey — an instructive guide to researching and writing a book — provides a first-hand look at the lives of the historically understudied jellyfish, and perspective on the likely future of our oceans.

The physical skill required to walk a tightrope differs little from that required to walk across a room, Carol Svec writes in Balance: A Dizzying Journey Through the Science of Our Most Delicate Sense. The body’s balance systems, Svec reports, integrate signals from the inner ear, eyes, and sensory nerves to enable us to stand up without toppling over, maneuver snaky mountain passes, and relish roller coaster rides. To research her book, Svec talked with scientists, clinicians, and individuals with balance disorders. She also gamely explored a tumbling room, swaying hallway, and menacingly named “Vominator.”

In the 1990s, many families were torn asunder by allegations by a family member of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse, evoked by what came to be recognized as harmful forms of psychotherapy. The notion of repressed memory, though widely discredited, has resurfaced recently “like a bloated corpse,” Mark Pendergrast writes. In two new books, Memory Warp, for general audiences, and The Repressed Memory Epidemic, a textbook, Pendergrast provides a contemporary perspective, along with recommendations for individuals and families, therapists, legislators, child protective agencies, and lawyers.

“Something is really, really wrong with me,” Julie Rehmeyer realized. Once an avid biker, she staggered when she walked. Everyday chores exhausted her. Some physicians she consulted dismissed or trivialized her complaints. The diagnosis, slow in coming, was chronic fatigue syndrome. The treatment options she was offered proved costly and useless. In Through the Shadowlands, Rehmeyer chronicles her decade-long struggle to cope with a poorly characterized illness, until an unconventional treatment brought the relief that had long eluded her.

Ants outnumber humans by a ratio of one million to one. You may think of them as party-crashers at your picnic or invaders in your kitchen, but Eleanor Spicer Rice finds them beguiling, and wants you to learn more about the societies beneath our feet. Follow them home. Track their highways. Learn about a nifty science project, the School of Ants, and view close-up photos of ant life in Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants. Also check out her three companion books, Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants of California, Chicago, and New York City.

Americans consume more chicken than any other meat, In doing so, they ingest substantial amounts of antibiotics as well. In Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats, Maryn McKenna discusses the consequences of the introduction, starting in the 1940s, of routinely using antibiotics in feed for meat animals. The rise of antibiotic-resistant infections prompted growing concerns about the drugs’ impact on human health, and decades of efforts to ban their use. Earlier this year, FDA announced plans to help phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for production purposes.

This is the 12th edition of Ricki Lewis’ textbook, Human Genetics: Concepts and Applications, widely used in colleges and high school AP classes, and a reliable resource for science writers. More than a million people have had their genomes sequenced, Lewis says, most since her 11th edition was published in 2014. This possibility barely existed in 1993 when her first edition came out. In this edition, Lewis explores use of exome and genome sequencing for both rare and common disorders, and their value in understanding our origins, solving crimes, and tracking epidemics.

A Voodoo Lily that surfaces unexpectedly in her yard moves a potter to make shiny purple pitchers that won’t pour, and bumpy, leaky mugs. A child treasures an autumnal butterscotch leaf; its mother refrains from revealing that “when beauty speaks it doesn’t hang around for an answer.” “Deep in a cave, life distills to one question — Which way now?” These meditations on the natural world and our place in it come from Kelly Lenox’s first book of poetry, The Brightest Rock. In her day job, Lenox edits Environmental Factor, the monthly newsletter of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The periodic table is one of the most iconic symbols of science of all time, Adrian Dingle observes in his latest chemistry book for a general audience, The Elements — A Tour of the Periodic Table. Both a science writer and a high school and college chemistry teacher, Dingle provides a conversationally-written, generously illustrated overview of many of the known 118 chemical elements. He discusses their discovery, action, applications, and, for some, hazards tied to their use.