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On the Bookshelf

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

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

From Planar Patterns to Polytopes

Jaron Lanier

A review of The Symmetries of Things, by John H. Conway, Heidi Burgiel and Chaim Goodman-Strauss. “This book is a plaything,” says Lanier, “an inexhaustible exercise in brain expansion for the reader, a work of art and a bold statement of what the culture of math can be like, all rolled into one”

Hubble: Toil and Trouble

Michael J. Disney

A review of The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It, by Robert Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s blow-by-blow account of how the Hubble got built is a cracking good read, says Disney

Innovators and Iconoclasts

Audra J. Wolfe

A review of Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology, edited by Oren Harman and Michael R. Dietrich. Highlighting the value of dissent, these 19 essays open a new conversation on the nature of scientific innovation, says Wolfe


Brian Hayes

A review of The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel, by William Goldbloom Bloch. This mathematical companion to Borges’ austere fable offers new ways to engage with the themes of the fiction

Particles on the Prairie

Kate Scholberg

A review of Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience, by Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb and Catherine Westfall. Reviewed by Kate Scholberg. At the center of this account of the fascinating rise of Fermilab are the charismatic personalities of its first two directors—Robert Wilson and Leon Lederman

In the Land of Plenty

Robert L. Dorit

A review of Western Diseases: An Evolutionary Perspective, by Tessa M. Pollard. Pollard argues that our physiology, honed in a time of small population groups, scarcity and episodic plenty, betrays us in a modern world that has become increasingly sedentary, urbanized and calorie-rich

Online Exclusive: Children's Books Galore

William Cannon, Fenella Saunders, Kristen Greenaway, Catherine Clabby, David Schoonmaker, Nancy Schoonmaker

Scientists' Nightstand: Emily Monosson

Anna Lena Phillips

Environmental toxicologist, author of Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out

Scientists' Nightstand: Chris Sangwin

Anna Lena Phillips

Mathematician, coauthor of How Round Is Your Circle? Where Engineering and Mathematics Meet

Schrödinger's Goose

Theodore M. Porter

A review of The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation, by Steven Shapin. Have the advantages of entrepreneurial science been oversold? Are contemporary funding regimes subtly eroding the integrity of science? Quite possibly so, Porter concludes

Keeping the Net Stupid

Hal Abelson

A review of The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It, by Jonathan Zittrain. The creative work inspired by the enormous flexibility of the Internet is threatened, says Zittrain, by a trend away from open platforms and toward what he calls "tethered appliances"

Never at Rest

David Lindley

A review of Kelvin: Life, Labours and Legacy, edited by Raymond Flood, Mark McCartney and Andrew Whitaker. Why, asks Lindley, has Lord Kelvin's remarkable catalog of achievements left so little impression?


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