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Scientists' Nightstand

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


Looters

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


A letter regarding Michael Bérubé's review of Beyond the Hoax


Post Hoax, Ergo Propter Hoax

Michael Bérubé

A review of Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture, by Alan Sokal. In his new book Sokal leaves the terrain of literary theory, says Bérubé, and enters “realms where the distinction between justified and unjustififed belief actually matters to the world—specifically, the history and philosophy of science . . . and religion.”


Einstein's Worldview and Its Effects

Daniel Kennefick

A review of Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture, edited by Peter L. Galison, Gerald Holton and Silvan S. Schweber. Twenty essayists consider what elements formed Einstein’s view of the world and what effects his work and persona have had


Monumental Geometry

Alasdair Whittle

A review of Solving Stonehenge: The New Key to an Ancient Enigma, by Anthony Johnson. Johnson argues that the builders of Stonehenge had an understanding of the geometry of squares and circles that allowed them to lay out the different elements of the stone monument with impressively regular proportionality


Love, Death and Darwinism

Sander Gliboff

A review of The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought, by Robert J. Richards. This book marks a major rehabilitation of Haeckel as a mainstream Darwinian, says Gliboff


The Worst Is Yet to Be

Charles Perrow

A review of Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years, by Vaclav Smil. By enriching our understanding of the complexity of nature and society, Smil shows that we have much more to fear than accumulating carbon dioxide


Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision

John C. Butcher

A review of Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life. By Robin Wilson. Wilson’s brief life of Charles Dodgson explains for a general audience his work as a mathematician and includes samples of the problems and puzzles found in his books on recreational mathematics





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