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On the Bookshelf

Of Passion and Polonium

Mary Jo Nye

A review of Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss. Redniss’s extraordinary visual art illuminates a spare and poetic biography of the Curies, which is interspersed with vignettes on the uses and perils of the radioactive elements they studied


Finding Meaning in the Martian Landscape

David H. DeVorkin

A review of Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet, by K. Maria D. Lane. The Mars canal craze that seized the public imagination around the turn of the 20th century has a surprising amount to teach us about ourselves, our institutions and what constitutes evidence and argument


Feynman’s Legacy

Silvan S. Schweber

A review of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, by Lawrence M. Krauss. This biography has much to recommend it, says Schweber. He praises Krauss’s treatment of those parts of Feynman’s physics having to do with QED, weak interactions and quantum computing, but criticizes him for portraying Feynman as a mythic hero and minimizing the importance of the contributions of other remarkable individuals


From Rainmaking to Geoengineering

Rasmus E. Benestad

A review of Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, by James Rodger Fleming. In this history of weather modification, which covers everything from the rainmaking efforts of charlatans to proposed geoengineering solutions for anthropogenic global warming, Fleming emphasizes the folly of such attempts at control


Making Sense of the Genomic Revolution

Simone Vernez, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee

A review of The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, by Francis S. Collins, The $1,000 Genome: The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New Era of Personalized Medicine, by Kevin Davies, and Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics, by Misha Angrist. Three recent books portray the challenges that lie ahead as we begin to try to incorporate individual genomic data into health care


A Bold New Bird Book

Michael Szpir

A review of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, by Richard Crossley. Crossley has crammed more than 10,000 photographs of birds onto this book’s 640 plates, each of which presents a single species in a lifelike scene typical of its habitat


Untangling the Morass

Daniel W. McShea

A review of The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, by Evelyn Fox Keller. This slim volume may be just the thing for scientists and students struggling to conceptualize the nature-nurture problem, says McShea


Getting Better All the Time?

David E. Nye

A review of What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly. Is all of technology, taken collectively, the equivalent of an evolving seventh kingdom of life, as Kelly maintains? Is its trajectory one of inevitable progress?


Heady Holism

Brian T. Shea

A review of The Evolution of the Human Head, by Daniel E. Lieberman. This book is most impressive, says Shea, for masterfully incorporating all sorts of interesting research on the soft tissues that are associated with cranial features and discussing them within the context of evolutionary morphology and the fossil record of the human skull


A Mixed Legacy

Gregg Herken

A review of Judging Edward Teller: A Closer Look at One of the Most Influential Scientists of the Twentieth Century, by Istvan Hargittai. Hargittai focuses on Teller’s three exiles: from Hungary at age 18, from Germany when the Nazis came to power, and from the physics community when he was ostracized by many after he gave damaging testimony at Oppenheimer’s security hearing


The Future Is Now

Michael P. Branch

A review of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben. The planet we knew and loved as Earth is gone, says McKibben. Welcome to Eaarth, a place so imperiled that both commitment and luck will be required if we’re to sustain any kind of civilization


The Search for the Age of the Universe

Helge Kragh

A review of How Old is the Universe?, byDavid A. Weintraub. Weintraub explains in considerable detail how astronomers and physicists arrived at the conclusion that our universe can be traced back in time to an explosive event that took place 13.7 billion years ago


Images of Evolution

Robert J. Richards

A review of Darwin’s Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837–1874, by Julia Voss. Voss, who considers the visual representations in Darwin’s works in the context of other images, has produced a book that is rich in insight into Darwin’s achievement, says Richards


Nurture Before Birth

Ethan Remmel

A review of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, by Annie Murphy Paul. Paul, a science writer, provides an accessible review of the research on fetal origins of adult disease, combining it with the story of her own pregnancy


How Our Minds Make Sound into Music

Peter Pesic

A review of The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It, by Philip Ball. Writing vividly, Ball provides a feast of information on a variety of topics, says Pesic, with particular attention to contemporary neurological and psychophysiological approaches to music


Unraveling the Significance of Childhood

Michael E. Lamb

A review of The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind, by Melvin Konner. Konner's new, nearly encyclopedic book is masterfully written, says Lamb


A Tale of Vectors, Viruses and Victims

David Arnold

A review of Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914, by J. R. McNeill. McNeill demonstrates that differential immunity to mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever and malaria played an important role in the military and political history of the Greater Caribbean


Atomic Escapism?

Hugh Gusterson

A review of Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism From Hiroshima to al-Qaeda, by John Mueller. Readers of all political persuasions will find things to be annoyed at in Mueller’s argument that both the dangers and the importance of nuclear weapons have been exaggerated


At the Cutting Edge of Human Adaptation

Melvin Konner

A review of The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania, by Frank W. Marlowe, and Life Histories of the Dobe !Kung: Food, Fatness, and Well-Being Over the Life-Span, by Nancy Howell. These superb books tell us much about what it is like to live by foraging for wild food on an open plain in a warm climate


Fenceline Patrol

Lauren Byrnes, Sara Mele, Daniel Faber

A review of Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States, by Steve Lerner. Lerner describes 12 communities whose residents, plagued by pollution from some of the most environmentally hazardous sites and facilities in the United States, are fighting for their right to a clean and healthy environment


Machines, Minds and Madness

Brian Hayes

A review of The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future, by Andrew Pickering. Pickering has deeply engaging stories to tell about the lives and work of six men who were key members of the British cybernetics community


A Fantasy Future

David Satterthwaite

A review of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future, by Matthew E. Kahn. Kahn is confident that market forces, human ingenuity and economic growth will support adaptation to climate change and has little use for the idea that government could have a constructive role to play


Crossing the Danube

Peter Pesic

A review of Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation, by Anton Zeilinger. In a tour de force of exposition, Zeilinger explains with verve and charm how quantum effects are made visible and measurable in experiments


Of Birds and Bureaucracy

Jared Farmer

A review of Seeking Refuge: Birds and Landscapes of the Pacific Flyway, by Robert M. Wilson. Wilson recounts the history of governmental efforts to provide wetlands where birds can sojourn during migration


Speaking for the Data

Elsa Youngsteadt

A review of Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter, by Nancy Baron, and Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work, by Dennis Meredith. Baron and Meredith offer tips for scientists wanting to improve their ability to explain and promote their research


Honor Among Thieves

Cosma Shalizi

A review of The Calculus of Selfishness, by Karl Sigmund. Sigmund provides an excellent introduction to the use of evolutionary game theory to investigate reciprocity, says Shalizi


Golden State Ecology

Anna Lena Phillips

A review of A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California, by Laura Cunningham. Drawing on 30 years of research and field observation, Laura Cunningham uses paintings and sketches to portray California’s ecological history


Scientists' Nightstand: Melvin Konner

Greg Ross

The Emory University biological anthropologist reviews his recent reading and favorite authors


Embracing Nature’s Imperfections

Lee Smolin

A review of A Tear at the Edge of Creation, by Marcelo Gleiser. Is the search for a theory of everything fundamentally misguided?




 

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