Can we reverse the damage we’ve done to the environment? How do our brains decide which memories to keep? What is the real border between life and death—and can people cross back and forth? These fascinating books will satisfy your curiosities.

“Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead”

by David Casarett, Current

Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead

Hospice doctor David Casarett cites plenty of astonishing cases of heart resuscitations, from the toddler trapped for an hour underwater to the cardiac patient who suffered a massive heart attack. But no two stories of revival are alike, and while some patients are restored to vitality, others exist only as blips on a screen, their hearts beating reliably but their brains static. Faced with both the astounding capabilities of modern medicine and the fickle nature of heart resuscitations, Casarett asks us to consider: “How have we convinced ourselves that efforts to resuscitate someone should be automatic? What does the future hold? And should we be excited or frightened? Or maybe both?”

“Zoom: How Everything Moves”

by Bob Berman; Little, Brown

Zoom: How Everything Moves

Astronomy writer Bob Berman’s use of phrases like “atomic theory,” “rate of speed,” and “vacuum energy” might transport you back to high school physics class. But in the midst of all his systematic commentary, he also offers a trove of facts that will interest and captivate all of us. For example, there is a scientific reason why it’s better to trust your instincts. The fastest recorded human sneeze moved at 102 mph. And free will may not be entirely what you think.

“Opening Heaven’s Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After”

by Patricia Pearson; Atria

Opening Heaven's Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After

When Patricia Pearson’s father died unexpectedly in his sleep, the news came as a shock to Patricia—but not, it turned out, to her sister Katharine. Katharine, who was suffering from metastatic breast cancer, described an overwhelming sense of calm that enveloped her in the pre-dawn hour of her father’s death. In the wake of this seemingly supernatural event, Pearson turns a rational, investigative eye on what we really know about the act of dying.

“The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us”

by Diane Ackerman; Norton

The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us

Just as Earth once experienced the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age, we are now, observes author Diane Ackerman, experiencing the Human Age—a time when humans are present everywhere and in everything. But for all the havoc we’ve wreaked—record heat waves, devastating droughts, and floods—there is, Ackerman claims in this unique look at the way the natural world has adapted to human presence, reason for hope: “We’ve tripled our life span, reduced childhood mortality, and, for most people, improved quality of life—from health to daily comforts—to a staggering degree. Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable.” 

“The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery”

by Sam Kean; Little, Brown

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons

Hypochondriacs beware: Neurosurgeons learned most of what they know about the brain by studying people with rare ailments, and Kean isn’t afraid to describe them in grisly detail—including his own struggle with a terrifying sleep disorder. Here, he neatly condenses what scientists have learned from centuries of suffering and studying, and you’ll be amazed at the ways they can manipulate the brain (think induced out-of-body experiences, phantom limbs, and the sensation of shaking hands with yourself). Our knowledge is vast, but uncertainties remain, and Kean invites readers to join the ranks of brilliant neurosurgeons in wondering: “How does a conscious mind emerge from a physical brain?”

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