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Scientists' Nightstand

Missing, and Sorely Missed

Peter A. Bednekoff

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


Family Album

Brian Hayes

A review of Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World, a book of portraits by Mariana Cook


Overpopulated, but Still Untamed

Fenella Saunders

A review of Wild China: Natural Wonders of the World’s Most Enigmatic Land, by Phil Chapman and the BBC Wild China Team


For Every Bird a Nest

Anna Lena Phillips

A review of photographer Rosamund Purcell's Egg and Nest


An Interview with Eugenie Samuel Reich

Greg Ross

A science journalist investigates the frauds of physicist Jan Hendrik Schön


With a Little Help from My Friends

William McGrew

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


Europa Emerging from the Sea

Bettina Arnold

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


Summations and Distillations

Peter Pesic

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


Off to a Good Start

Douglas Erwin

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


Strangers in a Strange Land

Edward W. Felten

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


Crosshatching in the Crosshairs

Brian Hayes

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 Radical Thinker Comes to America

Seymour Mauskopf

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


Outsourcing the Mind

Dan Lloyd

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 Creature of the Soil

Richard H. Kessin

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


South by Southwest

Neil Safier

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”


Short takes on three books

David Schoonmaker, Elsa Youngsteadt, Greg Ross

The Model T • American Pests • Flotsametrics and the Floating World


Scientists' Nightstand: Donald Johanson

Greg Ross

The noted paleoanthropologist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors


An Interview with Daniel Sperling

Greg Ross

The UC-Davis transportation expert on the future of cars


An Interview with Harold Varmus

Catherine Clabby

The former NIH director on the future of American science


Superorganism—or Family Business?

Michael T. Ghiselin

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


The Domestication of the Savage Mind

Cosma Shalizi

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


The Tragedies and Treasures of Afghanistan

Frank L. Holt

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


Truth and Consequences

Robert L. Dorit

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?


The Politics of Proliferation

John F. Ahearne

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


Chemicals We Have Loved—and May Need to Break Up With

Emily Monosson

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


Public Defenders

Frank N. von Hippel

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


An Epistolary Episode

Brian Hayes

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


Twice-Sold Tales

William Cannon

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


Short takes on three books

Anna Lena Phillips, Morgan Ryan, Greg Ross

Potato • Gaither’s Dictionary of Scientific Quotations • Decoding the Heavens


Scientists' Nightstand: Derek Bickerton

Greg Ross

The University of Hawaii linguist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors





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