Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New Books

Your guide to new books this month

The Aboriginal Story of Burke and Wills

Ian Clark and Fred Cahir, CSIRO, $59.95

What did local indigenous people think of the Australian explorers, stumbling around madly in the desert and dying as a result of a failure to understand the land and their own miscommunications? University of Ballarat indigenous studies lecturers Ian Clark and Fred Cahir document the indigenous oral history around the tragic events and add this to discussions of the lack of bushcraft of the members of the expedition.

Weird Life

David Toomey, Wiley, $32.95

The past 30 years have seen the discovery of “extremophiles” in places once thought too hot, too cold or too acidic to support life. This has created speculation that even stranger life may exist. Might there be life forms that don’t need water to survive, having a fundamentally different chemistry? Might they use a method of replication different from DNA? Might they even base themselves on silicon rather than carbon?

Some claim to have found evidence for such life forms, and confirmation would stimulate the search for life in hostile locations on Mars or Titan. Prof David Toomey explores the debate.

Shackelton’s Man Goes South

Tony White, UK Museum of Science, free

Combining elements of science fiction, science education and history, Shackleton’s Man Goes South explores the impact of climate change on the Antarctic. Set in a world where refugees follow in Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps to a newly melted Antarctica as their old homes are drowned or boiled, Shackelton’s Man Goes South was commissioned by the UK Science Museum to accompany the displays in its Atmosphere gallery. Inspired by the deaths of asylum seekers on the rocks of Christmas Island in 2010 and footage from Shackleton’s expeditions, it weaves together tales of the historic expeditions with a vision of our future if climate change continues unabated.

Physics on the Fringe

Margaret Wertheim, Walker, $27.00

Some of the greatest minds in the world have spent their lives chasing a grand unified theory of gravity, matter and energy, yet people with no science training continue to believe they can succeed where Einstein and Hawking have (so far) failed. Australian science writer Margaret Wertheim considers what drives these people, focusing particularly on James Carter, a trailer-park owner who claims to have found the answer in studies of smoke rings. Wertheim questions whether there is a place for amateurs in modern science.

Flatland 2: Sphereland

Dano Johnson, Flat World Productions, $29.95

Edwin Abbott Abbott’s 1884 novella Flatland has introduced generations of children to geometry and dimensions, as well as being a satire on social classes. The tale of the intelligent square from a two-dimensional world who becomes party to the shocking existence of a third dimension was made into a 35-minute educational video in 2007. This has now been followed up by Sphereland, based on the 1965 sequel by Dionys Burger. The film is voiced by prominent actors including Kristen Bell and Michael York.