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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


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?


A Forgivably Flat Classic

Colin C. Adams

A review of Flatland: An Edition with Notes and Commentary, by Edwin A. Abbott. Edited by William F. Lindgren and Thomas F. Banchoff. The plot is creaky, says Adams, but Flatland is great mathematical literature—required reading for anyone who wants to be culturally literate in mathematics


Imagining the Invisible

Jeremiah James

A review of Image and Reality: Kekulé, Kopp, and the Scientific Imagination, by Alan J. Rocke. Figuring out how atoms connect to form molecules was one of the landmark achievements of 19th-century science. Rocke chronicles the emergence of structure theory through the efforts of a network of chemists in several countries


Plant Portraits

Sandra Knapp

A review of The Art of Plant Evolution,by W. John Kress and Shirley Sherwood, and Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty, by Catherine Herbert Howell. Kress and Sherwood explain the evolutionary interrelationships of plants depicted in paintings by contemporary botanical artists; Howell uses botanical art of the past to explore the history of plant exploration and exploitation


Electrifying Language

Brian Hayes

A review of A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution, by Dennis Baron. Virtual paper is displacing the real thing. Will this shift be a positive development in human culture?


Beauty and the Beast

Joan Roughgarden

A review of Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology, by Erika Lorraine Milam. As Milam’s history of sexual selection demonstrates, the subject of how secondary sexual characteristics evolve has been contentious and politically loaded ever since Darwin first theorized about it. Roughgarden notes that the science is still far from settled


The Joys of Speculation

Mark Denny

A review of Glimpses of Creatures in their Physical Worlds, by Steven Vogel. If you’re looking for food for thought, this book about biomechanics provides a feast, says Denny


Learning to “Fly” Biology

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

A review of Biology Is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life, by Robert H. Carlson. Is a future in which people will be able to build synthetic biological systems in their garages out of BioBricks just around the corner?





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