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HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > March-April 2002 > Bookshelf Detail

BOOK REVIEW

A Century of Physics, Timebomb, and more...

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Physics fans who missed the centenary celebration of the American Physical Society in 1999 might enjoy a talk-in-a-box version of that meeting’s sweeping opening address by D. Allan Bromley, former APS president and presidential science adviser. In A Century of Physics ($59.95), Springer presents an expanded narrative with Bromley’s fine sampling of images of 20th-century physics—including a demonstration (left) of the transition from laminar to turbulent fluid flow. Unfortunately, reading the book makes one wish to have been at the real talk, to avoid having to flip pages to see the picture being described. The glorious dust-jacket photograph—which once appeared on the cover of this magazine—is a tragically timed choice: The Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector, shown being filled with purified water, suffered a devastating accident just as this book was coming off the press. Bromley’s upbeat text will convince you that there’s a wealth of work to keep physicists busy while Super-K is put back together.

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Timebomb: The Global Epidemic of Multi-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (McGraw-Hill, $24.95), by Lee B. Reichman, director of one of the world’s leading TB centers, and science journalist Janice Hopkins Tanne, reads something like a murder mystery: Characters refuse to listen to reason, death hangs in the air and, although you’re pretty sure you know how it’ll end, you hope and pray for last-minute redemption. The book begins with a brief history of tuberculosis, going back 25 centuries. Before the advent of antibiotics, the main therapies were rest and open-air living (the woman shown, who could not afford a mountain sanatorium, made do with a tent on the roof of her tenement building). Currently two billion people—one-third of the world’s population—are infected with latent TB and face a 1 in 10 chance of conversion to the active (and infectious) form of the disease during their lifetimes. Resistance to the World Health Organization’s recommended treatment protocols, along with a severe lack of funds and supplies in “hotspot” countries such as Russia, has contributed to the unchecked growth of the multi-drug–resistant form of the disease. The entire world is now threatened, because each undiagnosed, untreated, infectious individual may unknowingly infecttens of others.

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For better or worse, birding field guides tend to foster a “collector’s” attitude: Check the name off the lifelist and then move on to the next sighting. What’s often missing is what Barbara McClintock called “a feeling for the organism.” But The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior (Knopf, $45) serves to remind us that birds are more than pretty targets for binoculars. Authors Chris Elphick, John B. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley, who love birds and have tried to understand what “birdness” is, offer the results of their explorations in this mini-encyclopedia on the nature of birds.

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Part I, “The World of Birds,” describes birds in general—their biology, evolution, behavior, habitats and conservation issues. Part II provides specifics about each of the bird families of North America, covering such topics as taxonomy, habitats, plumage and vocalizations, food and foraging, breeding, movements or migration, and conservation. The book will make you recognize things you might not have considered when in checklist mode. Consider the dramatic change in the appearance of the male Northern cardinal when it fluffs its feathers to retain heat during cold weather (cardinal on the left, above) or compresses them in the heat of the summer (cardinal on the right, above). Or the cleverness of a dark-eyed junco that rides a slender grass stem to the ground so that it can feed on the seed clusters at the top (right). You’ll actually see more in your binoculars after you read this book. And, incidentally, there is a checklist at the end.

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After the World Trade Center attacks caught the United States by surprise last fall, the Central Intelligence Agency was widely faulted for having relied on technology-based spying at the expense of “human intelligence.” National Security Archive Fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson presents plenty of evidence of the triumphs (as well as the failures and political struggles) of techno-intelligence projects in The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology(Westview Press, $26). The A-12 or Oxcart surveillance plane was one of the engineers’ successes, but politics, manufacturing problems and a climate of anxiety after a U-2 spy plane was shot down in 1960 limited the A-12’s operational life to 13 months. Simpler problems plagued attempts to recruit animals as spies: A carrier pigeon trained as an aerial photographer did come home from its first mission—on two feet, nearly two days after its release. The weight of the camera around its neck had made it impossible for the bird to keep flying.

 

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