New and noteworthy – 7 February 2019

A history of baby-making and an exploration of childlessness; the aura of the Arctic; occupied Paris; and heavenly bodies

February 7, 2019
Source: iStock

Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day
Edited by Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Flemming and Lauren Kassell
Cambridge University Press

This remarkably wide-ranging and lavishly illustrated history takes in everything from “phallic fertility in the Ancient Near East and Egypt” and “women and doctors in Ancient Greece” to population in an era of climate change, artificial fertilisation and globalisation. Among countless other topics, the dozens of contributors explore astrological medicine; our developing understanding of both “generation” and “reproduction”; ignorance and infertility; hormones, prenatal diagnosis and pregnancy testing with frogs; even Aristotle’s strange theory that hyenas are hermaphrodite. The result is a stunning and scholarly overview of one of the central aspects of human life. 

North Pole: Nature and Culture
Michael Bravo
Reaktion Books

Even today, the North Pole retains what Michael Bravo describes as its “mysterious power and allure”. His new volume in Reaktion’s Earth Series explores a striking paradox: as geographers and astronomers have increasingly defined and mapped the pole, we might have expected “mystery” to “give way to certainty and even to banality, but history shows that quite the reverse happened”. While explorers wrote accounts aiming to “lift the veil on an Arctic shrouded in the mists of time”, satirists delighted in mocking their pretensions. Bravo’s astute cultural history shows why the pole still provides a powerful “source of reflection on the human condition of inhabiting the globe”.

Childless Voices: Stories of Longing, Loss, Resistance and Choice
Lorna Gibb

When Lorna Gibb – senior lecturer in media and creative writing at Middlesex University – mentions that she is involuntarily childless, she tends to get two very irritating responses: either “well-meant but intrusive enquir[ies] into my medical condition” or the casual question “Did you leave it too late?” In other countries, the stakes are much higher, with childlessness sometimes leading women to “a shame so great that it means exile, suicide, even a belief in their own damnation”. In this powerfully honest book, “part memoir, part cultural overview”, Gibb offers international perspectives on a topic that is still far too little examined.

A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945
Ernst Jünger; translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen
Columbia University Press

Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) was a remarkable writer, perhaps best known for his First World War memoir Storm of Steel. Yet his equally compelling journals of his years as a Wehrmacht captain in Paris (and then on the Eastern Front and in a collapsing Germany) have never been published in English before. Although he always adopted a notably detached tone, Jünger is an eloquent and informative witness to artistic life in occupied France, deportations, the burgeoning French Resistance and the conspirators against Hitler as well as the utter chaos after Stalingrad. This edition also includes extensive notes and a full glossary of all the people mentioned in the text.

Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide
Jo Dunkley

In this guided tour, Princeton University astronomer Jo Dunkley ranges all the way from “moons orbiting planets” up to “the large clusterings of galaxies that are perhaps the largest objects in the universe”. Writing with great clarity and power, she brilliantly distils the latest thinking on “how we on Earth fit into that bigger place”; the Sun and other stars with “very different life-stories”; “the wealth of invisible dark stuff” that we now know “has a huge effect on all of the things which do shine brightly”; and finally “what might happen next, both to our own part of the universe and the whole of space”.

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