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Volume 99 | Number 6 | November-December 2011


Four Experimental Lives

Lorraine Daston

A review of The Philosophical Breakfast Club, by Laura J. Snyder. “Snyder succeeds famously in evoking the excitement, variety and wide-open sense of possibility of the scientific life in 19th-century Britain,” says Daston

Exploring Matter and the Cosmos

Peter Pesic

A review of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, by Lisa Randall. Randall brings her audience up to date on the status of her theory of warped geometry in extra dimensions as the Large Hadron Collider begins its work; she also reflects on the nature of science, emphasizing the importance of issues of scale. The book’s high point, says Pesic, is her description of the LHC, and in particular her lucid and compelling explanation of how it will detect the fleeting events it generates

The Geography of Illness

Christopher Hamlin

A review of Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground, by Tom Koch. Koch’s chronological review of the practice of medical mapping shows that its flourishing in the 19th century involved a reconceptualization of disease as essentially and not merely incidentally spatial. The book is beautifully produced, says Hamlin, with fascinating maps, but it is less substantive than it should be

Quantum Subversives

Eric Cavalcanti

A review of Coming of Age with Quantum Information: Notes on a Paulian Idea, by Christopher A. Fuchs. Fuchs’s e-mail correspondence with friends and colleagues from 1995 to 2000 about philosophical ideas in quantum physics shows that debates about the fundamental nature of our world are very much alive. The book is not easy reading and is not a coherent treatise, notes Cavalcanti, “but in it readers will find a delightfully poetic vision for our world”

Inverting the Turing Test

Stuart Shieber

A review of The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us about What It Means To Be Alive, by Brian Christian. Christian uses the hook of pursuing the “most human human” award in the Loebner Prize competition among chatbots to explore a wide range of topics related to issues of language use by humans and computers, including Markov chains, information theory, text compression, phonagnosia, speed dating, and the coherence of personality

Civil Liberties and the War on Smallpox

Ryan Seals

A review of Pox: An American History, by Michael Willrich. Willrich describes a five-year wave of smallpox epidemics that swept the United States starting in 1898 and discusses the violence, social conflict and political contention those epidemics generated when authorities began using force to compel vaccination

Mr. Melville’s Whale

Phillip J. Clapham

A review of The Great Sperm Whale: A Natural History of the Ocean’s Most Magnificent and Mysterious Creature, by Richard Ellis. Drawing on the historical observations of whalers and on recent research on living whales, Ellis discourses on fascinating aspects of sperm-whale biology and behavior; his chapters on the devastation wreaked by whaling are particularly absorbing

Flip Flop Fly Ball

Brian Hayes

A review of Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure, by Craig Robinson. If you’ve ever wondered how tall A-Rod’s 2009 salary would be if it were a stack of pennies, or how many miles Barry Bonds has walked in the course of his 2,558 career walks over 22 seasons, this is the book for you

 

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