Foolproof

Sander van der Linden Fourth Estate/W. W. Norton (2023)

At least 50 phone towers in the United Kingdom have been burnt by people who believe that 5G masts help COVID-19 to spread. Around 10% of UK inhabitants accept this false belief, suggests a survey by social psychologist Sander van der Linden, who became fascinated by misinformation when he learnt of Nazi Second World War propaganda and the murder of his Dutch relations. He powerfully analyses why everyone is susceptible, how falsehoods spread, and how to “prebunk” misinformation and “inoculate” ourselves and others against it.

Empress of the Nile

Lynne Olson Random House (2023)

Egyptologist Christiane Desroches Noblecourt was among the first women to lead a dig, in 1938. Lynne Olson’s vivid biography describes a daredevil personality. Noblecourt worked with the French Resistance during the Second World War, and later had a crucial role in the United Nations scheme to relocate the Abu Simbel temple complex to save it from flooding caused by the Aswan Dam. In 1967, she curated the Louvre Museum’s Tutankhamun exhibition in Paris, and in later life wrote a provocative biography of Queen Hatshepsut.

Latour–Stengers

Philippe Pignarre Polity (2023)

The research of philosopher Bruno Latour and chemist-turned-philosopher Isabelle Stengers tackles deep questions about scientific practice and the meaning of modernity. They worked together rarely but, as friends, their thinking was intertwined. Philippe Pignarre is a historian and publisher who worked with both; his book, subtitled ‘An Entangled Flight’, draws out the connections. The two had antithetical styles of entanglement with philosophy, writes Pignarre: Latour was “happy to be repetitive”; Stengers “moves forward implacably”.

Brave the Wild River

Melissa L. Sevigny W. W. Norton (2023)

In 1938, botanist Elzada Clover and graduate student Lois Jotter became the first women to raft the dangerous Colorado River along the entire length of the Grand Canyon. The only woman to try it before them died in the attempt — which was “no reason women have any more to fear than men”, said Jotter. They were also the first people to describe plant life along the river, in five zones, from the sandy bank to higher zones with shrubs and trees. Their diaries and letters enliven this account of the expedition, by science journalist Melissa Sevigny.

Ulisse Aldrovandi

Peter Mason Reaktion (2023)

Sixteenth-century Bolognese naturalist, writer and collector Ulisse Aldrovandi is underexposed today. Yet taxonomy pioneer Carl Linnaeus saw him as the father of natural history; Hans Sloane, whose collection founded the British Museum, referenced Aldrovandi’s collection. Scattered in the nineteenth century, some of the naturalist’s specimens, including an African lizard and a guitar shark, are now at museums and universities in Bologna, Italy. Historian Peter Mason’s eye-catching biography rescues Aldrovandi from obscurity.

Competing Interests

The author declares no competing interests.

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