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Scientists' Nightstand

When the World Went Digital

Fenella Saunders

A review of Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, by George Dyson


A Note from the Editors

After a nearly 70-year run, the Scientists’ Bookshelf will cease publication


Sparring with the Great Geometer

Brian Hayes

A review of The King of Infinite Space: Euclid and His Elements, by David Berlinski. “Berlinski offers a meditative monologue on Euclid’s place in the history of mathematics and the history of ideas,” says Hayes


Crafting a Narrative of Care

Julianne Lutz Warren

A review of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, by William Souder. Souder’s sensitive and thorough biography of Carson, Warren writes, “helps us see her life work as crafting a narrative in which science is used to care for Earth”


A Theory of Theory of Mind

Michael Bérubé

A review of Getting Inside Your head, by Lisa Zunshine. Zunshine employs concepts from cognitive science to explain humans’ appetite for fictional scenes in which characters’ mental states are unintentionally revealed to us. This theory, says Bérubé, is “helpfully specific,” although the effort to extend it over a wide range of scenarios and art forms falls a bit flat


Imperial Imagery

Peter H. Raven

A review of Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment, by Daniela Bleichmar. Naturalists and artists on Spanish expeditions to the New World created thousands of botanical images; this well-researched book explores an archive of them


A Wealth of Complexities

Carol Dorf

A review of Complexities: Women in Mathematics, edited by Bettye Anne Case and Anne M. Leggett, and A Wealth of Numbers: An Anthology of 500 Years of Popular Mathematics Writing, edited by Benjamin Wardhaugh. These two very different anthologies open unique windows on mathematical history


Craniate Obsession

Katie L. Burke

A brief review of Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection, by Simon Winchester, with photographs by Nick Mann


The Tinkerers

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great, by Alec Foege


The Fraught History of a Watery World

Nancy Langston

A review of The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples, from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina, by Christopher Morris. Environmental and social issues converge at the mouth of the Mississippi River: Morris documents a history of repeated attempts to control the river's flow, many made at the expense of African Americans


Father of Fractals

Brian Hayes

A review of The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick, by Benoit B. Mandelbrot. In this posthumously published memoir, Mandelbrot is not shy about proclaiming his own achievements. But his choice to exclude some important characters in his stories of mathematical and scientific advancement is troublesome, says Hayes


Curie as Celebrity

Emily Buehler

A review of Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science’s First Family, by Shelley Emling. This biography of Curie and her daughters Irene and Eve tends toward the dramatic early on, but later chapters reveal much about the lives of the women that are its subject, as well as about their contemporaries


Ecological Dependency

Katie L. Burke

A review of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen. Quammen’s latest book tackles the thorny questions and sometimes-gruesome details of the quest to understand diseases transmitted from animals to humans. His fans will not be disappointed


Living Cartography

Tim Stallmann

A review of Atlas of Design, Volume 1, edited by Timothy R. Wallace and Daniel P. Huffman. This collection of maps focuses on cartography that takes design as seriously as it does science, says Stallmann. The result is a diverse set of maps that illuminates new directions in the practice of cartography


Picturing the Cosmos

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of Picturing the Cosmos: Hubble Space Telescope Images and the Astronomical Sublime, by Elizabeth A. Kessler


An Ecology of Happiness

Anna Lena Phillips

A brief review of An Ecology of Happiness, by Eric Lambin, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan


From Plants to Planets: Our Favorite Coffee-Table Books of 2012

The Editors

Each winter we peruse the year’s large-format books about science and present brief reviews of the ones we like best


A Supersized View of the Universe

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, by Michael Benson


At the Heart of Pine

Katie L. Burke

A brief review of Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North America’s Richest Forest, by Bill Finch, Beth Maynor Young, Rhett Johnson and John C. Hall


The Power of Two Wheels

David Schoonmaker

A brief review of Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together, by Max Glaskin


Modern-day Botanicals

Anna Lena Phillips

A brief review of Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations, by Ken Druse. Botanical photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp


A Map of the Universe

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of Space Atlas, by James Trefil


Series of Milestones

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of The Math Book, The Physics Book and The Medical Book, by Clifford Pickover


Conservation for the Win

Daniel Simberloff

A review of Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success, by Andrew Balmford. Balmford presents seven conservation efforts that are working, says Simberloff, primarily because they begin by trying to understand the human actors involved


A Tale of Tales

Michael Bérubé

A review of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall. Evolutionary biology and neuroscience may have lessons for the study of literature, says Bérubé, but thus far the concept is not entirely convincing


A History of Racket-Making

Peter Pesic

A review of Discord: The Story of Noise, by Mike Goldsmith. This social history of noise tells the story of the phenomenon from the Big Bang to the present


King Solomon Revisited

William A. Searcy

A review of Calls Beyond Our Hearing: Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Voices, by Holly Menino. Menino’s recounting of various research on animal vocalizations is a pleasure to read, but the scientific explanations don’t all pass muster, says Searcy


Online Optimism

Jacqueline Olds

A review of Networked: The New Social Operating System, by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman. Drawing on research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project, the authors provide suggestions for how to thrive as “networked individuals”


Dreamland

Katie L. Burke

A brief review of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, by David K. Randall





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