Sounds like the makings for a horror movie or witch’s brew. However, the topics covered in four new nonfiction books are less gory than they are invitations to broaden readers’ understanding of the history of humankind.
HP Newquist’s The Book of Blood: From Legends and Leeches to Vampires and Veins provides an intriguing, encyclopedic profile of its subject. The text explores blood’s anthropological importance, presents a history of science and medicine, and provides an examination of human and nonhuman blood (“A cockroach can live without its head for weeks due to the way its blood clots in its neck”), as well as discussion of real and legendary bloodthirsty animals. The tastefully blood-splattered design includes numerous illustrations and sidebars. (Houghton, 9–12 years)
Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank offers readers a scientific explanation of the microbe and medical and social histories of the title disease — a medical scourge through much of human history. The thought that new drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis keep the threat of a new pandemic on the horizon is as chilling as any science-fiction thriller. The authors’ engaging and cohesive account is well supported with compelling archival photographs and illustrations. (Clarion, 9–12 years)
Paleontologist Lee R. Berger, working near Johannesburg, South Africa (often accompanied by his young son, Matthew), has made some key contributions to the field. In his book written with Marc Aronson, The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins, he shares his and Matthew’s most recent find, a nearly intact skeleton from a new species, Australopithecus sediba. Detailed accounts of advances in paleontology and the technology used are intertwined with Berger’s own story. Photographs of Berger, the research site, the fossils (both in situ and later reconstructed in skeletal form), and striking facial reconstructions enhance the accessible narrative. (National Geographic, 9–12 years)
Sally M. Walker and Douglas W. Owsley begin Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World with the thrill and pacing of a crime drama. The 1996 discovery of a skull on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State turns from a modern forensic mystery into a critical anthropological find: the nearly ten-thousand-year-old remains of a Paleoamerican. Along with excellent color photographs, this book shows just how much can be learned from a collection of bones and the important ways that each find contributes to our understandings of prehistory. (Carolrhoda, 11–14 years)
From the October 2012 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.