> SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND
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
The Oxford biologist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors
The University of Chicago biologist makes the case for evolution
A review of The Art and Politics of Science, by Harold Varmus. Varmus's engaging memoir deserves to be followed by a second volume, says Cook-Deegan
A review of The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn, by Louisa Gilder. This vividly imagined re-creation of some of the most subtle intellectual history of the 20th century is grippingly readable, says Mermin
A review of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, by Rose George, The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis, by Maggie Black and Ben Fawcett, and The Culture Of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage, by Jamie Benidickson. George and Black and Fawcett offer an NGO’s-eye view of a feces-smothered world in search of solutions, says Hamlin. But can it really be true, as Benidickson’s legal history of hydraulic sanitation suggests, that public health is founded in private property and is a private matter?
A review of Structure and Randomness: Pages from Year One of a Mathematical Blog, by Terence Tao. Tao’s book and blog provide a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the best mathematicians working today, says Shalizi
A review of Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World. Edited by Raphael D. Sagarin and Terence Taylor. There are surely lessons that the field of international security could learn from evolutionary biology, says Gusterson, but this book fails to deliver them
A review of Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman, and Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage, by James Cuno. Waxman describes high-profile cases of museums returning stolen works of ancient art to their country of origin, focusing on the flamboyant personalities involved, whereas Cuno, a museum director, defends the mores of his profession, decrying the nationalism that has given rise to demands that objects be returned
A review of The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces, by Frank Wilczek. This lively, playful book does a superb job of introducing readers to our current understanding of the nature of matter and the forces that govern the universe, says Dzierba
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