Advance copy: Backstories on books by NASW members

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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.

On average, children in the United States will have had twenty courses of antibiotics by the time they reach adulthood, Emily Monosson reports in Natural Defense: Enlisting Bugs and Germs to Protect Our Food and Health. Today’s scientists seek ways to prevent the potentially adverse consequences of wiping out beneficial and/or harmless bacteria along with pathogens. “Twentieth century technology isolated us from nature,” Monosson writes, “but now twenty-first century technology is repairing the rift.”

The nation’s sad state of oral health often gets short shrift in the mainstream press. In Teeth: the Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, Mary Otto explores economic disparities in dental care, the connection between tooth decay and diminished job prospects, the continuing fake debate over the value of water fluoridation, the ethics of cosmetic dentistry, and more. Having focused her reporting on such issues for more than a decade, Otto serves as oral health topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists, for which she writes a weekly blog.

What procedures, drugs, foods, environmental exposures, and everyday practices can help or harm your children in pregnancy, birth, and the first years of life? What can you do to protect your children’s health and development? In Dirt Is Good, Jack Gilbert, Rob Knight, and NASW member Sandra Blakeslee provide a parent-friendly guide to the human microbiome — the community of mostly friendly microbes that populate the human body. The Q&A format gives parents quick access to their most pressing questions, and, Blakeslee reports, streamlined the writing process.

On August 21, 2017, for the first time in 99 years, the moon’s shadow will traverse the entire breadth of the continental United States. The event presents a host of opportunities for both scientific research and media coverage. In American Eclipse, David Baron examines the total solar eclipse of 1878, which crossed western North America from Alaska to Texas and Louisiana, attracting Thomas Edison and others. “Those three minutes of midday darkness,” he writes, “would enlighten a people and elevate a nation.”

The Atlanta BeltLine, now in the works, aims to transform a 22-mile ring of mostly defunct rail lines running through 45 diverse downtown Atlanta neighborhoods into a green pedestrian walkway and path for runners and bikers with a possible streetcar line, an urban planner’s dream. In City on the Verge: Atlanta and the Fight for America’s Urban Future, Mark Pendergrast, an Atlanta native, explores the BeltLine’s development and potential impact on the communities through which it will run. He also addresses broader urban issues, including transportation, race, housing, education, religion, public health, and the economy.