Down on Earth, Up in Space | Nonfiction Previews, May 2017, Pt. 3

Al-Khalili, Jim, ed. Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. Picador. May 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781250109637. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781250109651. SCIENCE/ESSAYS
Life on Mars (or anywhere else in the universe)? This book is not a pop-pulp answer to that perennial question. A highly aliensregarded British theoretical physicist with 90,000 Twitter followers and a broadcasting career proving that he can talk to lay readers, Al-Khalili here asks 19 of the world’s leading scientists (from NASA, MIT, and more) to consider what would happen if we did discover extraterrestrial life. Originally scheduled for fall 2016 and named PW’s No. 1 science title for the season.

Cham, Jorge & Daniel Whiteson. We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. Riverhead. May 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780735211513. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780735211537. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. PHYSICS/HUMOR
Cham, who’s creator of the obsessively watched online comic Piled Higher and Deeper (aka PHD Comics), and Whiteson, who gets students up to speed on experimental particle physics at the University of California, Irvine, join forces to explain what we know about the universe—e.g., quarks, black holes—and, what’s more important, what we don’t know, which is a lot. Helped along by humor and lots and lots of illustrations.

Forrest, Susanna. Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History. Atlantic Monthly. May 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780802126511. $27. SCIENCE
Human history is unimaginable without swift-footed equines; they’ve facilitated travel, commerce, and our spread to the four corners of the earth and have been a huge measure of wealth, power, and sheer beauty. Forrest blends deep anthropological reporting (the first equid walked the earth 56 million years ago) with personal anecdote, traveling from Mongolia to Versailles to centers in America where veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder are rehabilitated through hippotherapy. Your hauptchance to catch up with Equus caballus today.

Haupt, Lyanda Lynn. Mozart’s Starling. Little, Brown. May 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780316370899. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316370875. lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316269568. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. NATURE
Here’s an unexpected work: a study of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s relationship with a starling that reportedly a theme from his Piano Concerto Number 17 in G to him, then became his companion bird. Haupt (Crow Planet) calls on his relationship with her own rescue starling, Carmen, to tell the story. With a 40,000-copy first printing.

Katz, Jon. Talking to Animals: How You Can Understand Animals and They Can Understand You. Atria. May 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781476795478. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476795508. NATURE
New York Times best-selling author Katz (e.g., Soul of a Dog), who’s spent the last two decades living with dogs, cats, sheep, horses, cows, goats, and chickens on a farm in upstate New York, draws on personal experience to explain how to communicate more effectively with animals. Each chapter is devoted to a special animal in his life, from a courageous rooster injured when defending katzhis hens from a hawk to the initially antisocial Red, who became an exemplary therapy dog.

Kluger Jeffrey. Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. Holt. May 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781627798327. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781627798310. CD: Macmillan Audio. HISTORY/AERONAUTICS
In August 1968, one short year after three astronauts had burned to death in their spacecraft, NASA decided that it would launch humankind’s first flight to the moon. Sixteen weeks later, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were aboard the first manned spacecraft to depart Earth’s orbit, reach the moon, and return safely to Earth, delivering a tear-inducing Christmas Eve message along the way. From Time science editor and senior write Kluger, also Lovell’s coauthor on the best-selling Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13.

Melvin, Leland. Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances. Amistad: HarperCollins. May 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780062496720. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062496775. MEMOIR/TECHNOLOGY
A former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, Melvin was training with NASA to be an astronautmelvinleland when he suffered a terrible injury that left him deaf. Sticking with NASA, he recovered partial hearing and became eligible for space travel, serving as mission specialist for two flights aboard the shuttle Atlantis. Trained as an engineer, he also served as cochair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force. No wonder he’s an in-demand speaker and was named an ICON MANN for being as an inspirational image of African American men today. With a 30,000-copy first printing.

Rosen, William. Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine. Viking. May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780525428107. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780698184107. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. MEDICAL
The discovery of penicillin forever changed the relationship between humans and disease, radically reducing the fearsomeness of infection and saving the lives of millions. (My mother was one of the first civilians in the world to be successfully treated with penicillin, having contracted spinal meningitis while in college, so I really know its benefits.) As Rosen (The Third Horseman) points out, the development of penicillin required massive trial-and-error experimentation and hence massive funding, leading to today’s Big Pharma–based scientific-industrial complex. With drug development so painstaking and antibiotic-resistant bacteria popping up, what’s next in the story?

Shatner, William. Spirit of the Horse: A Celebration in Fact and Fable. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. May 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250130020. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250130037. NATURE
Everybody knows Captain Kirk, right? Shatner’s two-million-plus Twitter followers would seem to confirm it. Not just his fans but horse fans will be interested in reading about his passion for horses, born when he was a child and carried through with his annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show. Celebrating that unique human-equine bond, as articulated in Susanna Forrest’s Age of the Horse, previewed above.


Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.