> SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND
A review of Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators, by William Stolzenburg. Stolzenburg documents that predators have important and often enriching effects on ecosystems. The science that he summarizes suggests that we cannot maintain ecological equilibrium without maintaining large predators
A review of Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World, a book of portraits by Mariana Cook
A review of Wild China: Natural Wonders of the World’s Most Enigmatic Land, by Phil Chapman and the BBC Wild China Team
A review of photographer Rosamund Purcell's Egg and Nest
A science journalist investigates the frauds of physicist Jan Hendrik Schön
A review of Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. The emergence of the extended family was the key development in the transformation of apes into early hominins, Hrdy suggests
A review of Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 B.C.–A.D. 1000, by Barry Cunliffe. Cunliffe’s major point is that the extensive coastline of the European peninsula served to increase mobility and innovation among the peoples who lived there from the end of the Pleistocene until A.D. 1000
A review of The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg, by Robert P. Crease. Crease emphasizes the slow development of ideas and the historic matrix within which the great equations emerged
A review of Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis. Part collection of essays, part encyclopedia, the book is “an interesting jambalaya,” says Erwin, and should prove useful for students and the general public
A review of Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion, by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen and Harry Lewis. The authors explore a variety of policy and social issues arising from our increasing dependence on digital technologies
A review of The Grid Book, by Hannah B. Higgins. Higgins, who examines the cultural significance of devices for organizing space and time, has produced “an informative and sometimes provocative meditation on the place of geometry in human life,” says Hayes
A review of The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America, by Steven Johnson. The title is a double entendre, says Mauskopf, referring both to Priestley’s work in pneumatic chemistry and to the genesis of the terrestrial atmosphere. One of Johnson’s principal themes is that Priestley was a significant influence on such early American leaders as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
A review of Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, by Andy Clark, and Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness, by Alva Noë. Are the mechanisms of mind all in the head? These authors think not
A review of The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds, by John Tyler Bonner. Bonner offers an evolutionary and ecological perspective in this book, which focuses on the history of the early discoveries about Dictyostelium
A review of The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies, by Nicholas Wey Gómez. Wey Gómez posits Columbus as the precursor of a particularly sinister form of European expansion,” says Safier, “and as a geographical elitist who believed that the torrid zone—and the people who inhabited it—would serve Europe as an abundant and exploitable material mine”
The Model T • American Pests • Flotsametrics and the Floating World
The noted paleoanthropologist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors
The UC-Davis transportation expert on the future of cars
The former NIH director on the future of American science
A review of The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. The idea that a colony of social insects is the equivalent of an organism is at the heart of this book, which addresses some of the most profound and difficult questions that evolutionary biologists have ever faced
A review of What Is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect, by James R. Flynn. James Flynn discovered two decades ago that IQ scores have been rising across the industrialized world for as far back as the data go. This book, which is his attempt to explain why, is an important take on what we have made and might yet make of ourselves, says Shalizi
A review of Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, edited by Fredrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon. This lavishly illustrated catalog for a traveling exhibition with the same title is essential reading for anyone planning to see the exhibit, says Holt. It can also stand alone, inviting reflection on war, suffering and endangered relics
A review of Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry A. Coyne. Coyne presents stunning examples of evolution at work and does a good job of discussing the philosophical implications of the evolutionary worldview, says Dorit. But will the naysayers listen?
A review of The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation, by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman. Reed and Stillman shed new light on some of the history of nuclear proliferation and warn that not enough is being done to restrict access to materials for making nuclear weapons
A review of The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being, by Nena Baker. Baker’s descriptions of the threats posed by “emerging contaminants” and loopholes in the regulation of hazardous chemicals should serve as a useful springboard for discussions of policy, says Monosson
A review of Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America’s Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad, by Jeffrey T. Richelson. If you want to learn more about NEST, this book is the place to start, von Hippel says, but readers wanting insight into the technical aspects of detecting nuclear explosives will be disappointed
A review of The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter That Made the World Modern, by Keith Devlin. Devlin offers readers a chance to look over the shoulders of two eminent mathematicians as they struggle with confusions over probability theory
A review of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008, edited by Jerome Groopman, series editor, Tim Folger; The Best American Science Writing 2008, edited by Sylvia Nasar, series editor, Jesse Cohen; and The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins. Read penetrating articles like the ones in these anthologies while you can, says Cannon, for the venues that paid people to write them are fast disappearing
Potato • Gaither’s Dictionary of Scientific Quotations • Decoding the Heavens
The University of Hawaii linguist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors
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