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Volume 95 | Number 6 | November-December 2007


Evolution--Once More, with Feeling

Robert T. Pennock

A review of Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World, by George Levine, and Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives, by David Sloan Wilson. These two authors present evolution as a dynamic, relevant and even inspiring concept, applicable to our everyday lives and not exclusive of wonder or a sense of purpose

The Mesozoic Aviary

Paul M. Barrett

A review of Glorified Dinosaurs: The Origin and Early Evolution of Birds, by Luis M. Chiappe. In this accessible, well-illustrated book, Chiappe first summarizes the evidence supporting the close relationship of birds and theropods and then guides readers through recent advances in understanding the sequence of evolutionary changes in early birds

Not Just a Pantomime

Michael Corballis

A review of Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind, by Margalit Fox, and The Gestural Origin of Language, by David F. Armstrong and Sherman E. Wilcox. Both of these books bear on the question of whether language evolved from manual gestures and then shifted to a vocal mode: Fox makes the case that the hands provide a more natural signaling system than the voice, and Armstrong and Wilcox propose that speech itself is a gestural system

Theorems to Savor

James Propp

A review of The Art of Mathematics: Coffee Time in Memphis, by Béla Bollobás. This collection of puzzles, which range from clever to fiendishly difficult, is not for the fainthearted, says Propp, but like potent espresso, the problems should have a stimulating effect on the mathematically prepared reader

Sunspotting

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

A review of The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began, by Stuart Clark. Amateur astronomer Richard Carrington—who in 1859 witnessed the first solar flare on record—is placed by Clark at the fulcrum of a century-long debate over the effects of sunspots

A Paradoxical Subject

Dan Rockmore

A review of Mathematics and Common Sense: A Case of Creative Tension, by Philip J. Davis. The 33 essays in this book offer a bird’s-eye view of professional mathematics and reveal the subject to be not just useful but a source of mystery, beauty and pleasure

Plumbing the Plumbing

David Rosner

A review of The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster, by Werner Troesken. The widespread introduction of lead-pipe water systems in the 19th century was one of the greatest environmental disasters of the past 200 years, suggests Troesken, who uses statistical analysis to show that lead poisoning from the water pipes likely killed or harmed large numbers of people

The Power of Symmetry

David W. Farmer

A review of Why Beauty is Truth: A History of Symmetry, by Ian Stewart. Stewart provides an entertaining historical account of mathematical symmetry from ancient Babylon to modern string theory, and of the people who did the math along the way

Analytical Tools for Evolutionary Processes

Carlos Castillo-Chavez, Carlos Castillo-Garsow

A review of Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life, by Martin A. Nowak. This hands-on account of the contributions of mathematics and simulation to the understanding of evolution covers topics ranging from quasispecies theory, fitness landscapes and game dynamics to disease progression, the virulence of infectious agents, and linguistic fitness

 

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