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Scientists' Nightstand

Making Sense of the Brain’s Mysteries

Simon Baron-Cohen

A review of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, by V. S. Ramachandran. By showing how neuroscientists set out to make sense of the brain’s mysteries, this book may inspire a new generation of students to enter the field


Encounters with Vanishing Species

Daniel Simberloff

A review of Listed: Dispatches from America’s Endangered Species Act, by Joe Roman. Using the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as a springboard, Roman explores a number of conservation issues, using disputes over various species to reveal problems and conflicts that are pervasive in conservation worldwide


Thinking About Looking

Alix Cooper

A review of Histories of Scientific Observation, edited by Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck. The essays in this collection explore the rich history of difficulties, problems and dilemmas that have beset the practice of scientific observation over the past 15 centuries


Digital Dystopia

Jacqueline Olds

A review of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle. Turkle reflects on the ways we are being changed by technology that provides us with substitutes for face-to-face connections with real people


Beautiful Brains

Michael Szpir


Galileo’s Discoveries After 400 Years

Noel M. Swerdlow

A review of Galileo, by J. L. Heilbron, and Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, by David Wootton. These two fascinating biographies of the famous scientist contain many incidents that will be new to nearly every reader; Heilbron’s excels in its detailed account of Galileo’s scientific work


Visualizing Disciplines, Transforming Boundaries

William J. Rankin

A review of Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know, by Katy Börner. Börner presents 18 maps of science meant to serve as tools for understanding scientific literature. These graphic portrayals of scientific authorship show that clear disciplinary boundaries are the exception rather than the rule, says Rankin


DNA Evidence

Simon A. Cole

A review of The Double Helix and the Law of Evidence, by David H. Kaye, and Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties, by Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli. Both of these books are valuable, says Cole, but they’re quite different: Kaye provides a history of the disputes over the legal admissibility of DNA evidence during the early and mid-1990s, and Krimsky and Simoncelli address the privacy and civil-liberties concerns associated with law-enforcement DNA databases


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


Bonobo Handshake

Catherine Clabby


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





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