A botanist’s quest for new medicines takes her deep into the Amazon. A computer scientist and a sci-fi author peer into the future of artificial intelligence. An anthropologist confronts changing attitudes about death. From an ambitious road map for the future of physics to a whirlwind tour of animal outlaws, the books on this year’s fall reading list—reviewed by alumni of the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program—challenge readers to see the topics under consideration in a new light. Join a neurologist on a journey to understand the myriad causes of psychogenic illnesses, gain a better grasp of the origins of the climate crisis, and confront the ways ideas about gender have shaped innovation, all with the help of the books reviewed below. —Valerie Thompson
The Sleeping Beauties
Reviewed by Susan Douglas1
Psychosomatic illnesses, in which symptoms such as pain, tics, and seizures occur in the absence of a discernible physical cause, frequently originate from, and are sometimes aggravated by, emotional stress. In The Sleeping Beauties, neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan compassionately explores the range of issues and attitudes that reinforce these peculiar phenomena, immersing herself in the cultural contexts of the cases she presents and describing factors, including family roles, cultural reactions, and traumatic experiences, that contribute to psychogenic illness. O’Sullivan begins with a story from Sweden, where Sophie, a 9-year-old girl, has been in a psychosomatic coma for longer than a year. Sophie, an asylum seeker from Russia, had witnessed her parents’ horrific encounters with the local mafia, so a psychosomatic response made a certain amount of sense to her physicians. When more than 200 other children succumbed to the same strange “sleeping sickness,” later renamed “resignation syndrome,” however, things became more difficult.