> SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND
A review of The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street, by Justin Fox. The theory of efficient markets in finance should be relegated to the Museum of Nice Tries, says Shalizi; he praises Fox’s book recounting its history, calling it “a model of what the popularization of social science can be, but too rarely is”
A review of Critical Transitions in Nature and Society, by Marten Scheffer. Like canoes, natural systems have tipping points, argues Scheffer; once a hard-to-recognize threshold is exceeded, runaway change can occur that is difficult to reverse—a relatively wet area can turn to desert, a heavily wooded area can become a savanna. Could the integrated study of complex systems give us the insight to predict and control such shifts?
A review of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. Mooney and Kirshenbaum offer a media-centric diagnosis of the problem of scientific illiteracy, says Miller, and they see improvements to science journalism rather than improvements to the educational system as the solution
A review of The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences, by Herbert Gintis. Empirical findings have necessitated that game theorists modify their assumption that players are rational—that they can figure out the payoff of all possible moves and choose the most favorable one. Gintis wrestles with findings that contradict conventional rationality assumptions, but his attempts to explain those findings are not entirely satisfactory, according to Sigmund, who is disappointed that Gintis allows only a marginal role for evolutionary game theory
A review of Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, by Greg Milner. Milner, who has considerable technical expertise, takes a dour view of the state of the recording industry, deploring in particular the pursuit of loudness at any cost that has led to a compression of dynamic range
Fresh Pond • No Impact Man • In Search of Jefferson’s Moose • The Stuff of Life
The prolific science writer reviews his recent reading and favorite authors
The Emory University primatologist on nature's models for a just society
The author of the Gaia hypothesis reviews his recent reading and favorite authors
The former Stanford economist considers how technology evolves
A review of The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor, by Colin Tudge, with Josh Young. According to Beard, the 47-million-year-old fossil Ida differs in minor details from other adapiform fossils, but not in ways that make it likely that she is an ancestor of living monkeys, apes and humans
A review of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, by Alison Gopnik. Gopnik argues that studying the psychology of young children provides insight into issues of consciousness, identity and morality—and that philosophers have failed to appreciate that fact
A review of Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. Did Darwin’s antislavery sentiments lead him to reject racial hierarchy, thereby opening the way for him to believe in the common descent of the human races and then in the common descent of all creatures?
A review of Plato's Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics, by Jeremy Gray. Modern mathematics took shape between 1890 and 1930, during the same era that modernism became the dominant form in literature and the arts. Is it just a coincidence that the nature of mathematical truth was being put into question at the same time that radical societal, cultural and scientific changes were occurring?
A review of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, by P. W. Singer. Singer first hypes new robotic technologies designed for the battlefield and then explores their ethical and political implications, asking farsighted questions
A review of Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty Through Graphical Display, by Howard Wainer. According to Goodchild, this is a book not so much about uncertainty as about the communication of facts and the interplay of information with interpretation, emotion and other subjective dimensions of the human experience
A review of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, by Michael S. Gazzaniga. If you want to learn what we know about how human brains and minds transcend those of other species, this is the book for you, says Konner
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
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