Eight books to read in summer

Summer vacations are conducive to reading. We have more time than at any other time of the year and can spend hours reading long books.

Last Christmas I recommended, at the suggestion of The Conversation, eight books to give away. So I limited myself to works published in Spanish in the previous twelve months. I’m back now, half a year later, with another recommendation, only that, in this case, they are not (or are) to give away, but to read.

They are popular books, suitable to be read by wide audiences. I recommend them because they seemed good to me from that point of view, which does not exclude the possibility that some error or inaccuracy may have slipped into one of them. It is not in my power to assess that, since they are not my specialty.

All eight have been published in Spanish in the five years between March 2018 and February 2023 (both inclusive). Some were published in English some years before, but I have respected the date of the publication in Spanish.

And since they are for the summer, most are extensive. As far as I know, none has been an editorial bombshell as was, for example, the sublime infinity in a reedby Irene Vallejo. I have chosen to recommend lesser known books.

Behave. The biology behind our best and worst behaviorsby Robert Sapolsky. Translation by Pedro Pacheco González

Captain Swing.

It is a tour of the nervous pathways and hormonal systems that are in the genesis of behavior. The author, a specialist in the neuroendocrine bases of primate behavior, reviews what happens in our body in different periods of time (seconds, minutes, hours, days…) prior to carrying out an action, and in the evolutionary origin of these sequences.

It is a monumental, splendid work, full of very interesting knowledge about the bases of behavior. Sapolsky also has a casual style that makes reading very enjoyable. This is the only way to attack a book with 900 pages of content and almost a thousand in total.

The mind of the just. Why politics and religion divide sensible peopleby Jonathan Haidt. Translation by Antonio Garcia Maldonado

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When I read this book a decade ago, I was struck by the great explanatory power it attributed to the foundations of morality –the basic moral values– of people in Western societies: caring for others, fairness, loyalty, importance of authority and holiness (or cleanliness).

According to the theory of Haidt and his colleagues, these values ​​inspire the feelings or moral intuitions of the members of our societies, although depending on the ideological location (and, surely, other circumstances) of each person, each one of the fundamentals influences to different degrees. Haidt’s and her colleagues’ theory is not universally accepted in social psychology, but I found it and continues to find it valuable and very interesting; refers moral options to foundations based on evolutionary theory.

the big story of it allby David Christian. Translation by Tomás Fernández Aúz

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Beginning with the Big Bang, the author covers the history of the Universe, molecules, the solar system, the appearance of life, microorganisms, plants and animals, humanity, and civilizations, until reaching the Anthropocene, as well as explore different possible futures. It is a journey through the history of complexity, because at each of these levels there is an increase in relation to the previous level. The narration offers a unified and understandable vision of history, and that gives meaning to our role in it.

David Christian achieves the difficult achievement of clearly explaining the intricate network of relationships that exists between the phenomena he describes. if he has read sapiens, Harari’s book, you may think that this is not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. He would be wrong. Harari is a great storyteller, but the story he tells is, in my humble opinion, very different (and intellectually inferior) to Christian’s.

The ancient Greeks. The ten ways they shaped the modern worldby Edith Hall. Translation of Daniel Najmías

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I have a weakness for the classical world and, in particular, for the Greek civilization. Weakness for a civilization that we consider unique, although peoples as different as the Ionians, Spartans, Athenians, Sicilians or Macedonians participated in it. They all made contributions to the common baggage and, together, those contributions have had an enormous influence on our politics, our culture and, in general, our thinking.

Our literature, art and science have their origin, in one way or another, in the Hellenic world. The Greek philosophers preconfigured the canon of Western thought.

This is not (only) a history book, nor (only) about Greek culture. It is a work in which we are presented with some characteristics of classical Greek civilization and the influence it has had on the Western world is valued. Edith Hall is a great specialist in Hellenic civilization and an excellent writer, thanks to which reading this work is a very rewarding experience.

Why sunflowers wither. chemical elements in artby Oskar González Mendia

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The author, a chemist by training, professes, in addition to Science and Technology, in the Faculty of Fine Arts of the university to which we both belong. Hence his interest in art and its intricate relationships with chemistry.

Through the pages of this book, those who read it will discover remarkable properties of certain compounds used in art and that depend on the presence in them of the elements of the periodic table. The review is not exhaustive, but it does include the most important ones. The properties of the compounds, the use to which they have been put, their origin, the effect they have on the artistic work, how they change over time and very tasty anecdotes punctuate the chapters of this little gem. It is a pleasure to read this book, which is also the shortest of this selection.

That was not in my botany bookby Rosa Porcel

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Despite their ubiquity and the enormous importance they have for the rest of the biosphere and, more specifically, for our species, plants have received little attention in the field of popularization. The author, however, has been spreading knowledge about plant biology for more than a decade.

The subject of his book is the biology of plants, but it is not a botanical treatise to use. The author explains basic notions: how they feed, how they are related and how they reproduce. But she does it by braiding a story in which her protagonists are also presented to us linked to human history and an infinity of cultural elements. In this way, an instructive and entertaining text arises at the same time, very well written, which makes reading it a real pleasure. Rosa Porcel researches plant biotechnology, so her knowledge goes beyond basic biology. All this gives the work a packaging that is not usually found in many other texts. This book also received the Prismas award for the best book published in 2020. An excellent endorsement.

She has her mother’s smile. Power, strain and potential of heredityby Carl Zimmer. Translation by Patricia Teixidor

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Carl Zimmer has his mother’s smile.

Carl Zimmer is one of the best contemporary science writers. We live in a world in which many educated people refuse to accept that genetic inheritance, in interaction with the environment, exerts a decisive effect on a large number of our characteristics, including really serious pathologies. Other people, equally educated, do not accept that this influence does not determine or act in a simple and univocal way, but rather in a complex way, through mechanisms that we are barely understanding with great effort, and in permanent interaction with the environment. . I recommend to both of them that they read Zimmer.

These are the themes that this book deals with, a work on human genetics that tries to undo misunderstandings; It clearly explains how genetic information is transmitted from one generation to the next and the many unexpected features and phenomena that can be involved in the process. It also addresses the social implications of issues related to genetic inheritance.

We eat what we are. How culture and society have changed foodby JM Mulet

we eat what we eat

Every time we cook something, every time we put a spoonful in our mouths or snack on something in a bar, we are combining products from disparate geographical origins in our mouthfuls that have passed through human history in an absolutely random way. Although food has circulated around the world since trade was practiced, exchanges grew intensely from the first great globalization after the explorations of the Modern Age. Moreover, spices, in particular, have been a powerful incentive for exploration and conquest, and the raison d’être for wars between commercial powers, first, and colonial ones, later.

Mulet’s book deals with all of this, the vicissitudes of food, its origins, the way it is processed and the great influence that the history of countries and culture have had on the use we make today of food. they.

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