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HOME > SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND

Scientists' Nightstand

Fresh Water from the Ocean, by Cecil B. Ellis et al.

Kirtley F. Mather


Composition of Scientific Words, by Roland Wilbur Brown

Harry M. Hubbell


The Genetic Code, by Isaac Asimov

Thomas H. Jukes


Book Reviewing in the Sciences: A Conversation

Carl Zimmer, Phillip Manning, Anna Lena Phillips

Three science writers and editors consider the state of science book reviews


Trouble at the Back End

Allison Macfarlane

A review of Fuel Cycle to Nowhere: U.S. Law and Policy on Nuclear Waste, by Richard Burleson Stewart and Jane Bloom Stewart. This comprehensive book details efforts to manage nuclear waste in the United States and, in doing so, offers useful lessons for policy makers and the public


Mathematical Road Trips

Brian Hayes

A review of In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman: Mathematics at the Limits of Computation, by William J. Cook. The traveling salesman problem falls into that set of mathematical problems that are very difficult, but not impossible, to solve, says Hayes. This book celebrates its idiosyncrasies


Insect Escape Artists

Elsa Youngsteadt

A review of How Not to Be Eaten: The Insects Fight Back, by Gilbert Waldbauer. Waldbauer has written another book that delights in the intricacies of the insect world. Seasoned entomologists will find no revelations here, says Youngsteadt, but the book may help convince their friends and family members of the wonders of the field


A “Simple” Piece of Plastic

Emily Willingham

A review of The Global Politics of the IUD: How Science Constructs Contraceptive Users and Women’s Bodies, by Chikako Takeshita. The scientific and social history of the group of birth-control devices known as IUDs (intrauterine devices) is fraught with instances of design under- or uninformed by empirical knowledge of how IUDs work and even of how the uterus is shaped, says Takeshita


Turning Scientific Perplexity into Ordinary Statistical Uncertainty

Cosma Shalizi

A review of Principles of Applied Statistics, by D. R. Cox and Christl A. Donnelly. Cox and Donnelly’s book “stands as a summary of an entire tradition of using statistics to address scientific problems,” says Shalizi. The lessons the book contains will allow those entering the field to “make original mistakes”


Science and Poetry

Anna Lena Phillips

In this special review section, we consider recent poetry collections that engage with science and mathematics—and offer a few poems as well


Poetry in the Wild

Emily Grosholz

A review of Approaching Ice: Poems, by Elizabeth Bradfield, and Darwin: A Life in Poems, by Ruth Padel. Scenes from the history of science are rendered in these two well-referenced collections. One offers glimpses into the lives of a plenitude of polar explorers, the other a verse biography of Charles Darwin


Quantum Metaphors

Robin Chapman

A review of Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science, by Alice Major. What might a poet who has devoted much time to the consideration of science have to say about these two disciplines? Plenty, it turns out: “Major offers us the pleasure of watching another writer’s mind in motion at every scale,” says Chapman


Querying Science

Rick Mullin

A review of Hypotheticals, by Leigh Kotsilidis. In poems that are at their best engaging, quirky and sharp, Kotsilidis not only delves into the language of science, but questions the enterprise itself, says Mullin


Songs of Scientists

Sarah Glaz

A review of The Scientific Method, by Mary Alexandra Agner. This slim chapbook contains substantive work, including seven poems that take as their subjects the lives and work of historic women scientists


A Useful Pageant

Anna Lena Phillips

A review of Between Page and Screen, by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse. Borsuk uses the medium of poetry to investigate the interface of print and code, with all its attendant dilemmas and anxieties. This investigation is embodied in the project’s form: a print book that requires a webcam-containing device to be read


Mosquitoes

Alison Hawthorne Deming

A poem


Holy Heathen Rhapsody

Pattiann Rogers

A poem


Social Justice: Is It in Our Nature (and Our Future)?

John T. Jost

A review of The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice, by Peter Corning. “At this moment in history,” Jost writes, “when our problems are so much clearer than their solutions, it is a genuine contribution to offer clearheaded analysis and moral encouragement to take much-needed steps in the direction of social and economic justice.”


Race Finished

Jan Sapp

A review of Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, and Race and The Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. The notion of race as a biological construct has long been out of scientific favor, but the idea persists in medicine and law enforcement, among other areas, leading to inaccurate assessments and inequitable treatment. These two books discuss this problem with critical acuity, says Sapp


Skeletons in the Biomedical Closet

Hugh Gusterson

A review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This story of medicine, genetics, ethics and race has received much acclaim, and appropriately so, says Gusterson; readers who have not picked it up yet should add it to their reading list


Do I See What You See?

Colin Allen

A review of Mindreading Animals: The Debate over What Animals Know about Other Minds, by Robert W. Lurz. The question of whether animals have a “theory of mind,” the ability to attribute mental states to themselves and to other animals, is a contentious one. Lurz suggests an array of experiments designed to show whether an animal is relying on a theory of mind or simply making judgments based on the behavioral cues given by another animal. The experiments are intriguing, says Allen, but they do not fully answer the question of whether animals can “mind read”


Well-connected Brains

Terrence Sejnowski

A review of Networks of the Brain, by Olaf Sporns. The vast amount of data that neuroscientists are collecting about the brain requires equally complex systems to analyze it. Sporns relates neuroscience to network science, detailing significant advances in brain imaging, especially for the human brain, and describing what remains to be done in order to understand how our minds work


Sneaky Silk Moths

Anna Lena Phillips

A review of Giant Silkmoths: Colour, Mimicry and Camouflage, text by Philip Howse, photographs by Kirby Wolfe. The family Saturniidae includes the giant silk moths, which are found in locations around the world and are known for their bold markings. Howse and Wolfe offer descriptions and photographs of many species, grouped according to their mimetic and camouflage strategies


Bridging the Millennia

Colin Renfrew

A review of Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present, by Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail, with Timothy Earle, Gillian Feeley-Harnik, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Clive Gamble, April McMahon, John C. Mitani, Hendrik Poinar, Mary C. Stiner and Thomas R. Trautmann. The articles in this volume stress the very remote past of the hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era, says Renfrew, and then leap to modernity without sufficiently considering the mediating effects of ancient civilizations.


A Drier and Hotter Future

Donald Worster

A review of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, by William deBuys. DeBuys reports on how and why the precipitation and ecology of the Southwest are changing in unpredictable and nonlinear ways


Exploring the Dark Universe

Jonathan L. Feng

A review of The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, by Richard Panek. Panek has a talent for elucidating difficult concepts and explains the history of dark energy beautifully, says Feng





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