> SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND
A review of Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert, by David Rains Wallace. Wallace presents a history of the various hypotheses scientists have come up with over the decades to explain when and how the California desert originated and its inhabitants evolved
A review of Majority Judgment: Measuring, Ranking, and Electing, by Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki. Balinski and Laraki propose a system in which voters give every candidate for election a grade (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor or Reject, for instance) and the candidate with the highest median grade is declared the winner
A review of The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds, and the Invention of Monogamy, by Bernd Heinrich. As he describes each step of the nesting process from mate selection through the fledging of nestlings, Heinrich interweaves his own observations of birds with the latest scientific findings and ponders why birds parent their young in so many different ways
The University of California philosopher reviews her recent reading and favorite authors
The author of Delusions of Gender discusses the problem of "premature speculation" about the origins of sex differences
A review of Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science, by Philip Mirowski. Mirowski explores the historical and ideological roots of the growing commercialization of academic science.
A review of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, by David Kaiser. Kaiser maintains that members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group—New Age physicists who held brainstorming sessions at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in the late 1970s—planted seeds that later blossomed into today’s field of quantum information science
A review of Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, by David Easley and Jon Kleinberg. This wide-ranging and thought-provoking textbook explores social networks (especially those defined by transactions), computer networks, and places where these intersect
A review of The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness, by Oren Harman. George Price, “a real-life Forrest Gump,” was present at the making of the bomb and the development of the transistor but is best known for reformulating the idea of kin selection in evolution
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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?
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 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
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
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
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