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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

A letter regarding Hugh Gusterson's review of Natural Security

Scientists' Nightstand: Keith Thomson

Greg Ross

The Oxford biologist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors

An interview with Jerry Coyne

Greg Ross

The University of Chicago biologist makes the case for evolution

Dr. Varmus Goes to Washington

Robert Cook-Deegan

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

An Entangled Drama

David Mermin

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

Deep Doo-Doo

Christopher Hamlin

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?

Obstacles and Tricks

Cosma Shalizi

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

On the Origin of Specious Arguments

Hugh Gusterson

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


Jenifer Neils

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

QCD with a Light Touch

Alex Dzierba

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

The Sun Yet Warms His Native Ground

Rob Dunn

A review of Lost Land of the Dodo: An Ecological History of Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues, by Anthony Cheke and Julian Hume. The story of the Mascarenes illustrates how human activity can devastate ecosystems—and, in color paintings of the islands’ extinct flora and fauna, Hume offers a glimpse of what has been lost

The Saga of Snowbasin

Susan L. Smith

A review of Bargaining for Eden: The Fight for the Last Open Spaces in America, by Stephen Trimble. Trimble tells the story of the struggle to keep Mount Ogden, Utah, from being developed

Things that Teach

Fernando Gouvêa

A review of Tools of American Mathematics Teaching, 1800–2000, by Peggy Aldrich Kidwell, Amy Ackerberg-Hastings and David Lindsay Roberts. This book surveys the “material culture” of the mathematics classroom: protractors, blocks, beads, geometric models, slide rules, calculators and the like

Short takes on three books

Amos Esty, Greg Ross, Tony Miksanek

Trying Leviathan What Have You Changed Your Mind About? The Lost Art of Walking

Scientists' Nightstand: Lorraine Daston

Anna Lena Phillips

Historian of science, coauthor with Peter Galison of Objectivity

An interview with Irene Pepperberg

Greg Ross

The Brandeis University psychologist discusses her work the Alex, the African gray parrot

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