Advance copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

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Perhaps 20-40 percent of worldwide tourists partake in wildlife-watching. When done right, that experience enriches travelers’ lives without interfering with those of animals. In Pandas to Penguins: Ethical Encounters with Animals at Risk, Melissa Gaskill profiles twenty-five species and one endangered ecosystem that draw tourists. She highlights local ecofriendly travel outfitters in each area.

A 1970 Monty Python sketch in which a group of Vikings chant “spam, spam…” to overwhelm conversation around them sparked use of “spam” for unsolicited email. JPEG stands for the “joint photographic experts group” that devised the now standard way to compress images. In The Computer Book, Simson Garfinkel and Rachel Grunspan provide backstories for 250 seminal events in the history of computing.

In 1680, an English pirate captured a Spanish ship near Panama, neglecting a trove of unrefined silver but seizing an atlas of Pacific Ocean sailing charts and maps. On receiving it, King Charles II of England made him a captain in the Royal Navy. Betsy Mason and Greg Miller recount this and dozens of other fascinating tales in All Over the Map, illuminating worlds both real and imagined.

In the late 1800s, US consumers unwittingly bought diluted and artificially whitened milk, and canned peas and beans greened with copper sulfate. Adulterated butter, meat, and other foods sometimes proved fatal. In The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, Deborah Blum chronicles the birth of federal consumer protection.

While Western audiences widely oppose the slaughter of wildlife and marketing of tusks, horns, and other body parts, polls show little shift in favor of conservation in Asia, Rachel Nuwer reports in Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking. Nuwer traveled to 12 countries to examine the illegal demand for wildlife and efforts underway made to halt impending species extinctions.

Last week Jocelyn Bell Burnell was named recipient of the prestigious $3 million Breakthrough Prize for recognizing the first pulsar in 1967 when she was 23 years old. In Dispatches from Planet 3: Thirty-Two (Brief) Tales on the Solar System, the Milky Way, and Beyond, Marcia Bartusiak describes Burnell’s discovery and provides the backstory for it and other cutting-edge findings in astrophysics.

In the Apollo 8 mission, December 21, 1968, humans left earth’s gravity for the first time, and flew to the moon, circling it 10 times. They took now-iconic photos from space. To mark Apollo 8’s 50th anniversary, Robert Zimmerman collaborated with a fan of his 1998 book Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8: The First Manned Flight to Another World to produce the work’s first ebook and audio versions.

DNA makes us who we are. But how? In Genetics 101, Beth Skwarecki starts at the beginning. She aims to build lay readers’ understanding step-by-step, and moves from describing basic building blocks of cellular information to how traits are inherited to topics in the news, including how DNA ancestry services work, ethical quandaries posed by embryonic gene editing, and babies of the future.

US Route 1, the nation’s first highway, runs the entire length of the East Coast. Long bypassed by the interstate highway system, it’s still used by millions of people every day, and ranges from two-lane divided highways to narrow crooked roads. In U.S. Route 1: Rediscovering the New World, Mark A. Marchand explores the character of communities and geographical challenges that determined its path.

Both science writers and investigative reporters rely on analytical skills, curiosity, skepticism and a knack for sussing out dubious claims, Liza Gross notes in The Science Writers’ Investigative Reporting Handbook. Her book, written with support from a NASW Peggy Girshman Idea Grant, tells how to explore the story behind the story, detect biases, and find concealed information.