Ashton, Kevin. How To Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery. Doubleday. Jan. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781594204340. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594204340. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. SUCCESS
Invention: it’s not a sudden, blazing act of genius but the accumulation of many small steps, minus many small setbacks, and the turning of chance insight or discovery to advantage. Consider the pinch made by a young slave that led to the multi-million-dollar vanilla industry and everything from Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream recipe to Coca Cola to Chanel No. 5. Ashton looks at invention from the Wright Brothers’ plane (they aimed “to fly a horse”) to the iPhone, then considers how organizations encourage the inventive moment—or not.
Carlisle, Liz. Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America. Gotham. Jan. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781592409204. $26.95. AGRICULTURE
Forty years ago, a Montanan named David Oien challenged corporate agriculture by planting a radical crop—organic lentils—that was not dependent on chemical fertilizers and could withstand variable climates. Now he leads an underground network of organic farmers who, under the brand Timeless Natural Food, sell to stores like Whole Foods as well as to leading restaurants. Carlisle’s mentorship by Michael Polan, with whom she works as a fellow at the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Diversified Farming Systems, is emphasized here and could be a good reason to pay attention.
Ebeling, Mick. Not Impossible: How a Paralyzed Artist and a Team of Mad Scientists Taught Me How To Change the World. Atria. Jan. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781476782805. $25. MEMOIR
Ebeling is a dreamer: for about $100, he crafted prosthetic arms for a boy injured in fighting in the Sudan, and with nuts, bolts, and some web cameras, he created the Eyewriter, which helped the artist of the subtitle by translating eye movements into a cursor on a screen and subsequently paint on a canvas or a sculpture design. Time magazine called Eyewriter one of the “Top 50 Inventions of 2010.” Now he’s founder of the Not Impossible Foundation, a nonprofit that seekscreative solutions to real-world problems, and author of this inspirational memoir.
McWilliams, James. The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision To Eat Animals. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781250031198. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250031204. NATURE/ANIMAL RIGHTS
Never mind terms like cage-free and free-range, not to mention the “compassionate carnivore” movement—McWilliams, who writes frequently on food, animals, and agriculture, reveals the small, everyday cruelties that occur even on farms that aim to be humane. Here he lays out the real ethical issues with eating meat, dairy, and other animal products and argues against it. Bound to stir up readers.
Quammen, David. The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest. Norton. Jan. 2015. 144p. ISBN 9781250031204. pap. $13.95. SCIENCE
In his roiling shocker, Spillover, a National Book Critics Circle finalist, Quammen showed us what can happen when animal infection crosses over to humans; it’s scary and dangerous and can lead to serious pandemics. In this handy paperback original, Quammen sums up the essentials of that book regarding AIDS, showing how it jumped from an infected chimpanzee in the wild to one human to 60 million. With a new introduction by the author.
Shermer, Michael. The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. Holt. Jan. 2015. 576p. ISBN 9780805096910. $32. SCIENCE
An adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, and monthly columnist for Scientific American, Shermer gives us a history lesson in the scientific way of thinking. He also shows that this way of thinking, with its emphasis on skepticism, abstract reasoning, and empirical evidence, is profoundly moral, guiding us from absolutism to democratic belief, for instance, and to an informed treatment of disease.