Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New books

Your guide to new science books

Underwater Eden: Saving the Last Coral

Wilderness on Earth, Gregory S. Stone and David Obura, Footprint Books, $55.95
Australians might like to think of the Great Barrier Reef as the best-preserved coral ecosystem on Earth, but conservation scientist Gregory Stone argues that the honour really goes to the reefs of the Phoenix Islands, whose very obscurity in part explains their preserved state. As perhaps the only place where coral reefs can be seen unaltered by human interference, the preservation of these South Pacific reefs became a priority for a committed group of scientists, divers and environmental activists. Underwater Eden tells the story of their success.

Living with Fire: People, Nature and History in Steels Creek

Christine Hansen and Tom Griffiths, CSIRO Publishing, $49.95
Steels Creek was one of the hardest-hit communities during the Black Saturday fires in 2009. Historians Tom Griffiths and Christine Hansen have explored the history of fire in the area, and the relationship between the community and the beautiful but perilous place in which they live.

The Last Place You’d Look for a Wallaby

Glen Chilton, University of Queensland Press, $29.95
The last place one would look for a wallaby turns out to be Scotland, unless you knew that a colony has taken up residence there and thrived. Ornithologist and behavioural ecologist Dr Greg Chilton is fascinated by introduced species, not just the ones that destroy the native fauna but those that manage to settle into their new environments and fit into the ecosystems. In this book he goes in search of examples in some very surprising places, and comes away with plenty of stories to tell.

Heretics: Adventures With the Enemies of Science

Will Storr, Macmillan, $29.99
The inspiration for Heretics came when journalist Will Storr was excavating fossils with a high-profile creationist and pondered why no amount of evidence was able to shift this man’s belief that the world was only a few thousand years old. What would it take to convince such an obviously intelligent man if seeing the bones in situ would not?

Storr began a wider quest to find what creates such stubborn belief in the utterly wrong. This led him to interview or study Holocaust deniers, past life regressers, a woman who believed her parents were priests in a baby-eating cult, and Lord Christopher Monckton.

Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

Virginia Morell, Penguin, $29.99
Characteristics we once considered uniquely human, or at least associated with higher animals, are found throughout the animal kingdom. Ants teach, while chimps and even blue jays grieve. The most intelligent dogs have been found to have a 1000-word vocabulary.

These observations have overthrown behaviourist ideas on the sources of animal behaviour. Moreover, as Science correspondent Virginia Morell discusses, they raise tricky ethical dilemmas about how we should behave around creatures with these capacities.