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BOOK REVIEW

Encyclopedia of the Solar System, Reasoning with the Infinite and more . . .

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Science writers and college teachers will appreciate the effort behind the 1,000-page, 40-chapter, 50-author tour de force Encyclopedia of the Solar System (Academic Press, $99.95), edited by Paul R. Weissman, Lucy-Ann McFadden and Torrence V. Johnson. Each chapter gives an intelligent, authoritative and accessible introduction to fundamental questions that astronomers are asking about the planets.

Michel Blay's Reasoning with the Infinite (translated by M. B. DeBevoise, Chicago, $30) is a scholarly study of the subsequent change in the program of European physics during the 17th and 18th centuries, from one of elucidating meaning to one of formulating methods of calculation.

The Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian ?rsted (Princeton, $89.50) is handsomely produced and a beautiful translation by Karen Jelved, Andrew Jackson and Ole Knudsen. ?rsted not only discovered electromagnetism (in 1820) but was a scientist of wide interests, ranging from amniotic fluid to Kantian first principles of metaphysics. If English-speaking science historians are going to reassess ?rsted's place in 19th century science, they must read this.

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If you're in an ecological state of mind this winter, you can get cozy with a couple of completely different takes on the subject. In Hungry Hollow: The Story of a Natural Place (Springer-Verlag, $26) former Scientific American columnist A.K. Dewdney teaches us about the workaday activities of life in a forest. His graceful writing can make you feel nostalgic about the last time you walked in the woods or flipped through an L. L. Bean catalog. In Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times (California, $29.95), historian Peter Coates examines the history of the idea of nature from classical to modern times. Coates covers a lot of ground, so be prepared to read about the ancient roots of ecofeminism, the ecological sensitivity of the Nazis, gardens as nature in bondage, Christianity and the exploitation of nature, as well as biotechnology and the future of nature among countless other subjects. Left: A trilobite. From Hungry Hollow.

Developmental biologist Jonathan M. W. Slack writes about his field while providing a real-world perspective for students who think they might like to make a career of it in Egg and Ego: An Almost True Story of Life in the Biology Lab (Springer-Verlag, $24.95 paper). It's all here: growth factors, professors' salaries, frogs, flies, career paths, the homeobox and the endless pursuit of grants, publishing and happiness.

Keith Devlin's The Language of Mathematics (Freeman, $24.95) describes how mathematics helps make the invisible visible, uncovers hidden patterns in the universe and helps us comprehend the complexities of life and nature. Writing for a scientifically literate audience and with few equations but plenty of illustrations, Devlin surveys math and its applications from an historical perspective. His readable style will help you forget those high-school algebra classes.

In The Invisible Computer (MIT, $25) Donald Norman opines on why good products can fail, why personal computers are so complex and how "information appliances" (which he defines as specialized devices for knowledge, facts, graphics, images, video or sound) will be a solution to the complexity barrier of PCs. This provocative book is worthwhile reading for any computer user.

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In Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8 (Four Walls Eight Windows, $25.95), Robert Zimmerman offers a nostalgic, anecdote-filled recounting of the first Apollo mission to orbit the moon. In child-friendly prose, Zimmerman celebrates the astronauts' decision to read from the Bible as a personal expression of freedom of speech and religion. Not a bad book, but it might disturb taxpayers who would have preferred a reading from another sacred document—the one that begins, "We the People." Right: The view from Apollo 8.

Hans Moravec's Robot: From Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (Oxford, $50) extrapolates a future universe composed of pure artificial mind, starting only with a reasonable set of assumptions about increasing computer power. His mind-bending speculations are masterful gems. A riveting, hope-filled read.

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New-in-paper picks: Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others, Martin Rees (Perseus, $13); The Desert's Past: A Natural Prehistory of the Great Basin, Donald K. Grayson (Smithsonian, $27.95); Traces of the Past, Joseph B. Lambert (Perseus, $18) (far left); Conservation and Biodiversity, Andrew P. Dobson (Scientific American/Freeman $19.95) (immediate left).

Nanoviewers: Randall Black, Samuel J. Petuchowski, Michael Szpir, William Thompson

 

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