Becky Libourel Diamond

Smell is such an integral part of being human, yet it's probably our least thought-about sense. We take it for granted, often focusing instead on what we can see, hear, taste and touch. But what if we had a guidebook on how to approach life through smell and take advantage of the aromas that confront our noses throughout the day?

This is essentially what author Jude Stewart (Patternalia) provides in her new book, Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell, a comprehensive handbook chock-full of guidance, advice and new ways to experience a sense that is barely understood. Stewart writes that smell's "liveness," its dynamic and embodied nature, is what drew her to it and led her on a journey to sniff with more intention. Along the way she realized that "smelling is a kind of meditation turned inside out.

Starting with the science of smell, Stewart discusses the nose's function and purpose, outlining the chemistry required for smell "to reach us," the anatomical role of the body's olfactory bulbs and smell's emotional connection to the brain and memory. She then breaks various smells into categories such as sweet, savory, earthy and funky. The usual suspects are featured, such as rose, vanilla and bacon, as well as some surprising scents many of us will never get a chance to experience, including cannon fire, melting permafrost and extinct flowers.

Stewart effortlessly combines the fascinating science behind smell with historical examples, musical comparisons and cultural differences in how smells are viewed and experienced. Revelations in Air gives a fresh perspective on and appreciation for this often-ignored sense.

Jude Stewart provides a guidebook to smell that’s chock-full of guidance, advice and new ways to experience the aromas around us.

When we pour a bowl of cereal or enjoy a dish of vanilla ice cream, we’re not usually thinking about the origins of these foods. We consume them because they are nutritionally beneficial or taste delicious. But even though food is a basic need (and one of life’s great pleasures!), its story is still vastly misunderstood.

For example, try to imagine a life without french fries, ketchup or tomato sauce. These are some of the most popular foods in America, yet their sources were once feared and shunned. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous, and people believed potatoes harbored an illicit connection to witchcraft and devil worship. Food and culture writer Matt Siegel dishes out these and hundreds of other little-known nuggets in his fascinating debut book, The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Matt Siegel describes the top 12 weirdest moments in food history, from Patagonian toothfish to Cuban supercows.

Organized into 10 chapters focusing on themes ranging from the history of swallowing to obsolete and dated food beliefs, Siegel shares countless “did you know?” factoids. Foodstuffs have been used as weaponry, for example, and the domestication of corn is considered an anthropological game changer on par with the discovery of fire. His choice of subjects is ever surprising, such as the conundrum that is the chili pepper. This fiery fruit (botanically, it’s a berry) contains pain-inducing capsaicin yet is consumed by humans across the world. As it turns out, spicy food is a natural preservative and “may have functioned as a primitive form of air conditioning” in hot climates.

Siegel’s book is as entertaining as it is informative, sprinkled with humorous anecdotes and connections to popular culture. He takes intel gathered from nutritionists, psychologists, food historians and paleoanthropologists and weaves together a tale that moves seamlessly from one topic to the next. Written in a style that is accessible yet scholarly, The Secret History of Food will delight and enlighten anyone looking to find out more about food’s rich backstory.

Matt Siegel takes intel from nutritionists, psychologists and historians and weaves together an entertaining, enlightening account of food’s rich backstory.

It’s an age-old dilemma. Each generation bears the weight of passing society’s burdens on to the next one, and climate change is no exception. But can the continuing escalation of this issue be prevented, or at least slowed, so that our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with a disastrous future?

Climate activist Daniel Sherrell ponders the preciousness and fragility of life from the perspective of someone whose life is mostly still ahead of him in his debut book, Warmth: Coming of Age at the End of Our World. Although he’s still in his early 30s, Sherrell’s tone is that of an old soul as he reflects on the changing climate in a letter to his unborn child. Referring to climate change as the Problem (with a capital P), he outlines the weather- and natural disaster-related events he has already witnessed in his short lifetime, such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Maria and raging wildfires.

Sherrell is a passionate advocate for the climate movement, which he conveys with urgency and honest, raw emotion, expressing an anxiety he feels has infiltrated the essence of his being. He writes with a frightening sense of gravity that will give Generation X and the baby boom generation reason to take a close, hard look at what’s happening and do something.

This is exactly Sherrell’s message. We need to do something—about fossil fuels, corrupt politicians, global food and water security. The list goes on. Warmth is a pleading, informative call to action. As Sherrell writes, “Increasingly, the only viable future seems to be in shoring up the future itself.”

Climate activist Daniel Sherrell ponders the fragility of life from the perspective of someone whose life is still ahead of him in his raw, passionate debut book.

Why do some people sweat more than others? Why is some sweat saltier? Is it even good to sweat? We accept as a fact of life that this secretion will come out of our bodies when we need to cool down, but what do we really know about it?

Journalism professor Sarah Everts answers these burning questions and many others in her debut book, The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration. Sweat is actually an important bodily function that factors into a number of industries and is closely studied by scientists. Speaking with experts from disciplines such as forensics, chemistry, genetics and even fragrances, Everts takes readers on an entertaining journey into the world of perspiration, including the science behind it and the benefits of a good sweat.

Everts’ background in journalism comes in handy as she interviews scientists to find out the role of sweat gland density and the influence of environment on the amount of sweat a person produces. She also investigates sweat in relation to a wide range of occupations and interests, including miners who’ve experienced heatstroke, sensory analysts trained to sniff armpits and poopy diapers, the lucrative sauna and sports drink industries and even sweat dating. (Yes, that’s a thing. Find a partner through their sweat scent!)

As she tackles a subject that some people deem taboo or even gross, Everts incorporates interesting historical facts, market research and scientific discoveries, skillfully turning science into poetry. And her examples from real-life situations, including her own personal experiences, make The Joy of Sweat even more relatable. As she enthuses, “Let’s all just live and let sweat.” 

Sarah Everts takes readers on an entertaining journey into the world of perspiration, skillfully turning science into poetry.

The mighty Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers are part of a vital transportation network in America’s heartland, yet they are precariously held in place by a series of locks, dams, dikes and levees. Even minor floods have proved catastrophic, and the issue continues to worsen due to an aging infrastructure coupled with the effects of climate change.

This escalating situation is presented in vivid detail by journalist Tyler J. Kelley in his debut book, Holding Back the River: The Struggle Against Nature on America’s Waterways. Piecing together historical accounts from diaries, journals and letters alongside interviews with modern-day experts such as engineers, geologists and farmers, Kelley describes the delicate dance performed every day to ferry massive amounts of goods along these waterways and relays how they came to play such an important role in America’s economy.

It’s a symbiotic relationship, as “the vast levee network protects the farmland where grain is grown, and grain is among the biggest commodities moving on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.” But like a wild stallion, these rivers are powerful forces of nature that are difficult to tame. As Kelley writes, “In the last five thousand years, the [Mississippi River] has used six different outlets,” a natural process of delta-building and abandonment that “created all of south Louisiana.” The same formidable energy that rearranges the earth in the Mississippi Delta eventually weakens the structures holding the rivers in place, and the expense to build, repair and maintain them is astronomical. 

And when a hurricane or flood hits, countless communities are impacted or displaced. As Kelley notes, income inequality and natural disasters go hand in hand. Yet ferrying goods is often prioritized over the people whose livelihoods are affected by the river’s destructive power.

There’s no clear, quick solution to these interlocking problems, but Kelley suggests some interesting possibilities, such as creating more river commissions to plan for worst case scenarios before they actually happen. Holding Back the River is a riveting depiction of an issue that is not going away anytime soon.

Tyler J. Kelley examines the delicate dance of commerce and nature on America's waterways—and presents some creative solutions to maintain the equilibrium.

People have long speculated about the possibility of intelligent life-forms on other planets. Scientists and science fiction writers have weighed in on what such beings would look like, as well as on the details of their language, culture and social structure. But what about animal life? Would animal extraterrestrials look similar to those that roam our world, or would they appear totally alien?

In his debut book, The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens—and Ourselves, zoologist Arik Kershenbaum draws on a range of scientific disciplines, including chemistry, physics, biology and the very specific field of astrobiology (the study of life outside of Earth), to contemplate what characteristics otherworldly animals might possess, from movement and intelligence to communication and sociality. Ultimately he theorizes that the various animal features we’ve recognized and recorded on Earth won’t be unique to Earth.

Using current knowledge of how life has evolved on our planet, Kershenbaum poses the questions: What might complex alien life look like, and is it possible to use tools and clues available on Earth to guess? His expertise in the field of animal behavior adds weight and validity to his arguments, such as his assertion that “intelligence evolves all the time to fit specific needs . . . a compelling indication that alien animals too will evolve problem-solving intelligence, on different planets throughout the galaxy.” Helpful definitions and explanations guide the reader through concepts such as chaos theory, natural selection, form versus function and convergent evolution, which is the idea that similar solutions have evolved separately in distantly related species—such as the ability to fly, which is found in both birds and bats.

Through these examples, which he mixes with humor and even references to science fiction books and films, Kershenbaum relays fascinating scientific concepts in layman’s terms. The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy will appeal to anyone who ponders what life is like among the stars.

Zoologist Arik Kershenbaum draws on a range of scientific disciplines to contemplate what characteristics extraterrestrial animals might possess.

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