For worldly onesScience writer James Trefil and the National Geographic Society have joined forces to create a gorgeous new book about the gorgeous old universe, Other Worlds: Images of the Cosmos from Earth and Space. It does indeed contain splendid images, ranging the spectrum from an astronaut driving a Lunar Rover across the surface of the Moon to a double-page spread of galaxies distorting each other as they collide. However, there is more to this book than pictures. With his usual offhand expertise and dry wit, Trefil contributes a lucid narrative that looks at both the physics involved (the odd games gravity can play, for example) and the technological advances and international cooperation required to produce such images and the growing understanding to which they contribute.
Equally beautiful and informative, while focusing entirely on our home planet, is Forces of the Wild (Sterling/Blandford, $29.95, 0713727454), the companion volume to a new BBC series about the world out there that ignores the human presence and proceeds with its own natural cycles and seasons. An example of this book's approach: Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are presented not in terms of damage to humans and their constructions, but as vital, dynamic natural phenomena that demonstrate the ongoing creativity of the planet.
Like most such companion books, Forces of the Wild surpasses its televised inspiration in both depth and subtlety.