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Interspersing memoir with science writing, Stephanie Cacioppo leads readers through the brain science of love and connection in Wired for Love: A Neuroscientist’s Journey Through Romance, Loss, and the Essence of Human Connection. At 37, Cacioppo was already a lauded neuroscientist. She’d chosen to study the neuroscience of love, even though her faculty adviser in Geneva had warned her against it, calling it career suicide. Still, she persevered, earning research spots at Dartmouth and the Swiss National Foundation. She and her colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to create a “map of love,” showing that the brain reacts to love in complex ways and that romantic feelings of love affect the brain differently than friendship or parental love.

Even so, Cacioppo had never fallen in love, or even had a serious boyfriend. Instead, she decided that her passion would be for work. Then, at a conference in Shanghai, she met John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago social neuroscientist who’d done groundbreaking work on loneliness, establishing it as a dangerous health condition that is as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. She felt an instant connection with him, despite the 20-year age difference. After a period of emailing, they began dating long-distance and meeting up at conferences.

They were married soon after. “Looking back, it’s unbelievable to me that neither of us were struck by the irony of our situation, that John and I, which is to say Dr. Love and Dr. Loneliness, were not practicing what we preached,” Cacioppo writes. “Our research, from opposite ends of the spectrum, emphasized the human need for social connection. And yet both of us had the hubris to think we could go it alone.” Once connected, each spouse’s work informed the other’s. They shared a desk at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where they both worked, and at home.

A few years into their marriage, John was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer. Cacioppo details the closeness they felt during his treatment, as well as her complicated grief after his death and her slow return to life. She is an engaging guide through the scientific portions of the book, and her own experiences of connection and loss enrich the narrative. Together, these intertwined strands of science and personal narrative make for a sprightly, illuminating book.

Interspersing memoir with research, neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo offers a sprightly, illuminating look at the science of love and connection.

For an entire month in 2018, science journalist Rachel E. Gross’ “vulva had felt on the verge of bursting into flames.” There were few options for contending with, let alone eradicating, the bacterial infection plaguing her nether regions. Her best hope? Boric acid—or, as her doctor put it, “basically rat poison,” which has been used since the 19th century in vaginal suppositories, as well as for killing roaches. Gross’ understandable alarm, as well as her frustration with her own anatomical ignorance, spurred her onto the wide-ranging investigatory journey she chronicles in her engaging and enormously fascinating debut, Vagina Obscura.

Thanks to entrenched sexism, any book about female anatomy and medical history is bound to have physically and psychologically harrowing passages. Gross’ is no exception. After all, it wasn’t until 1993 that a federal mandate forced doctors to include women and minorities in medical research. “Women—and especially women of color, trans women, and women who are sexual minorities—have historically been excluded from this supposedly universal endeavor,” she writes.

In addition to offering valuable historical context about the medical field’s reluctance to properly study cervices, ovaries, uteruses, et al., Vagina Obscura also serves up optimistic evidence for a more equitable future. Gross writes with enthusiasm about pioneering doctors and researchers and shares stories of the people who’ve benefited from their work. To wit: Australian urologist Helen O’Connell’s research on clitoral anatomy laid the foundation for reconstructive surgeries for genital-cutting survivors. Biologist Patty Brennan’s realization that female ducks’ vaginas rotate opposite to males’ corkscrew penises challenged scientific assumptions about copulation. The activism of Cori Smith, a 28-year-old trans man, has drawn attention to trans and nonbinary people with endometriosis. Gender-affirmation surgeon and transgender woman Marci Bowers is “pushing the boundaries of what surgeons can do to give patients the appearance and sensation they desire.”

Gross makes it clear that, if we want to advance our understanding and medical treatment of the human body, it’s going to take a village—one filled with people who are curious, compassionate and persistent. She’s certainly identified lots of them in Vagina Obscura, a book that is impressive in its scope and thrilling in the hope it offers to those whose bodies have previously been overlooked.

Vagina Obscura is impressive in its scope and thrilling in the hope it offers to those whose bodies have been overlooked by the medical establishment.

Focusing on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, these titles offer insight for managing emotions, handling stress and boosting communication skills. Here’s to a transformative new year!

Readers looking to cultivate a more peaceful mindset will find helpful strategies in Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? Smith is a clinical psychologist, educator and writer who has been featured on CNN and the BBC. After gaining a robust social media following with her content about mental health, Smith decided to write a book so that she could delve deeper into some of the issues she often addresses with her patients in therapy.

In her warm, welcoming book, Smith focuses on weighty topics that we all contend with, such as stress, grief, fear and self-doubt, and provides suggestions for how to work through these feelings. She also encourages readers to find out what motivates them so they can use it to implement important life changes. Throughout, she takes a proactive approach, offering methods for dissolving anxiety, using stress for positive ends and managing low moods. She includes writing prompts and easy-to-do exercises to help readers explore how they respond to criticism, how they can confront anxious thoughts and more.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is briskly written and seasoned with compassionate insights. “When we understand a little about how our minds work and we have some guideposts on how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way,” Smith writes, “we can not only build resilience, but we can thrive and, over time, find a sense of growth.” Readers who are eager to achieve emotional balance and make a fresh start in 2022 will find the direction they need in Smith’s empowering book.

Popular science writer Catherine Price offers more ideas about how to start this year off on the right foot.

In Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, Leonard Mlodinow considers the seemingly diametrical relationship between emotion and logic and shows that these two facets of human nature are not as opposed as we might imagine. A theoretical physicist and mathematician, Mlodinow has previously co-written two books with Stephen Hawking. So what can a physicist tell us about emotional intelligence? Taking a science-supported approach, Mlodinow examines the nature and usefulness of our everyday feelings. He demonstrates that, when it comes to important processes such as goal-setting and decision-making, our emotions play as key a role as our ability to think critically.

“We know that emotion is as important as reason in guiding our thoughts and decisions, though it operates in a different manner,” Mlodinow writes. Over the course of the book, he explores the way emotions work by looking at how they arise in the brain and inform our thought processes. He also investigates the history and development of human feelings, including how they’ve been regarded by different cultures in the past. Mlodinow shares a wealth of practical advice and guidance on how to monitor, and even embrace, emotions in ways that can lead to self-improvement. The book includes questionnaires that allow readers to determine their own emotional profiles, as well.

Synthesizing hard research, lively personal anecdotes and input from psychologists and neuroscientists, Mlodinow tackles complex topics in a reader-friendly fashion to create a narrative that’s wonderfully accessible. Understanding our emotions is a critical step in the journey toward personal growth, and Mlodinow’s remarkable book will put readers on the right track.

If you’ve resolved to get in touch with your feelings in 2022, then we have the books for you.

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.

New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe’s exhaustive research for Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (18 hours) makes him the natural choice to narrate his own audiobook. Keefe knows exactly which points to stress for listeners of this story, which he calls “the taproot of the opioid epidemic” in America—not that added emphasis is really needed, as the book’s content is shocking enough.

In jaw-dropping detail, Keefe recounts the greed, deception and corruption at the heart of the Sackler family’s multigenerational quest for wealth and social status. Renowned for their philanthropy, the Sacklers built their fortune through the pharmaceutical industry in the 1940s and ’50s, making calculated moves in medical advertising and with the Food and Drug Administration. Keefe brilliantly traces the Sacklers’ path toward developing controversial pharmaceutical products such as the anti-anxiety medicine Valium and the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin via their company, Purdue Pharma.

The 18-plus hours that it takes to listen to this mind-blowing history may seem intimidating at first, but Keefe’s masterful storytelling makes it worth every minute.

New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe’s exhaustive research for Empire of Pain makes him the natural choice to narrate his own audiobook.

Terry Virts shares 10 of the wildest, most surprising aspects of going to space—and he ought to know. He’s done it twice!


I had two goals for How to Astronaut: to make the reader say “Wow!” and to make them laugh. I didn’t want to write another typical astronaut book—say, an autobiography or a technical guide. I wanted a book that would be easy reading—something for the beach or the nightstand, a kind of literary comfort food. Here’s a taste, with 10 things about space travel you may find interesting, surprising or funny.

1. Learning Russian 

Whenever a new astronaut shows up at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, they probably think they’re pretty good at a few things. They were either the hotshot jet pilot at their military base, the top doctor at their hospital or the nerdiest computer nerd at their engineering job. But one thing I learned during my time as an astronaut is that whatever you think you’re good at, there’s always someone better. For example, I thought I was pretty decent at foreign languages until I had to learn Russian, which was probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It’s a required language because the Russians are such important partners in the International Space Station (ISS) program, and it ended up being something I loved; but I must admit, the first 10 years were the hardest.

2. Chez Terry

When I signed up to be an F-16 pilot many years ago, and when I joined the astronaut corps some years later, there were a lot of things I expected to do. Cutting women’s hair was not one of them. But when Samantha Cristoforetti was assigned as my Italian crewmate, that was exactly what I had to learn to do. It was the most hair-raising thing I did in my seven-plus months in space. You’ll have to ask Samantha if I did OK, but I never heard any complaints.

3. Rodent research 

Everyone knows that astronauts do science in space. After all, that is the purpose of the ISS and the reason that our 15-nation partnership has spent tens of billions of dollars over decades on the station program. Honestly, though, this fighter pilot never expected to dissect mice in space—but that’s exactly what I did. Ultimately it was worth it because the rodent research we did is very important for the pharmaceutical industry and will hopefully lead to better medications down here on Earth.

4. The red button

 I wish you could have seen the look on the face of the poor guy at the Kennedy Space Center who was giving my astronaut class their first tour of Cape Canaveral. It was an innocent question that I asked: “What’s that red button for?” The answer was a little surprising, to say the least. It was the button he would use to blow up my space shuttle, with my butt on board, if we went off course during launch. It reminds me of a song: “Don’t ask me no questions, and I won’t tell you no lies.”

5. Potty talk 

Well, what can I say? There are several chapters in How to Astronaut on this topic. Frankly, it’s the most popular question we get as astronauts. To put it succinctly, yes, astronauts do wear diapers.

6. Making movies in space

When I learned that we would be filming an IMAX movie during my mission, I was beside myself with joy. Helping to make A Beautiful Planet was my favorite thing I did while in space. Plus, I got to learn the craft of filmmaking from my director, Toni Myers. It’s a skill I’ve transitioned into my post-NASA career.

7. Doing the deed

This is the second most popular question we get. Have astronauts done it in space? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but as for me and my time on the ISS, it was a long 200 days . . .

8. What to do if you’re stranded in space

It’s a bit of a morbid subject and not one that we talk about very often, but if your rocket engine doesn’t light up to fly you back to Earth while you’re in orbit or on the moon, you have the rest of your life to figure out what to do.

9. What to do with a dead body 

I don’t remember discussing this subject in any of my NASA training, but the astronauts we fly are not exactly spring chickens, and in any case, humans don’t have a good record of being immortal. On top of it all, the space environment isn’t the safest place to be. If we continue to travel beyond our planet, future space crews will eventually have to reckon with this question.

10. Juxtaposition between the sublime and the mundane

This is the best way I can describe space flight. During the first minutes of my first shuttle flight, when I was busy helping to fly Endeavour as her pilot, I saw the most amazing sights out the window—things humans weren’t meant to see. I experienced this dissonance a thousand times during my seven months in space: 99% of my time was spent on mundane, mechanical tasks, but 1% of the time I felt like I was seeing God’s view of the universe.

 

Author photo credit Jack Robert Photography

Terry Virts shares 10 of the wildest, most surprising aspects of going to space—and he ought to know. He’s done it twice! I had two goals for How to Astronaut: to make the reader say “Wow!” and to make them laugh. I didn’t want to write another typical astronaut book—say, an autobiography or a technical […]

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