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BOOK REVIEW

The Meme Machine, Margaret Mead: Coming of Age in America and more . . .

For those who would like to take seriously Richard Dawkins's concept of "meme" (a cultural element that may be inherited nongenetically), The Meme Machine (Oxford, $28) by Susan Blackmore offers an antidote to much of the noise and nonsense you'll find about the subject on the Web. Blackmore’s book is fun and easy, with plenty of pondering for your own meme machine.

Joan Mark's slim, elegant Margaret Mead: Coming of Age in America (Oxford, $20, paper) chronicles the career of the famous anthropologist who made the average American think about Western ideas of sex, marriage and family. Generally gentle, Mark does not shy away from shooting the bull right between the eyes: "Mead seemed to have a compulsion in her later years to keep speaking and publishing, even when she did not have much to say." Although written with the young adult in mind, anyone curious about Mead's life will find no better overview.

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, perhaps the only person to have interviewed every female Nobel scientist alive today, has updated her informative and inspirational biographical collection Nobel Prize Women in Science (Carol, $19.95, paper). This second edition incorporates the story of Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard, a developmental biologist and the latest woman-scientist/ Nobelist (in 1995 for her discovery of the genes that govern the embryo's early development).

Picture the movie The Thing without the monster to distract the ice-bound characters and you have the setting for Innocents on the Ice (Colorado, $29.95), John C. Behrendt's memoir of setting up the Ellsworth research station on Antarctica's Filchner Ice Shelf in 1957. Behrendt recalls, often in excruciating detail, his struggles with the elements, machines and his fellow explorers—30 men cut off from the rest of the world, hunkering in the ice.

William Dietrich, Pulitzer-winning former Seattle Times science writer and author of two acclaimed nonfiction books on the Pacific Northwest, offers an imaginative (and page-turning) vision of Antarctica: Ice Reich (Warner Books, $25), a science-laden fictional account of nasty Nazis and an even nastier biohazard. The story was inspired by two events: an actual 1938 Nazi Antarctic expedition and Dietrich's more recent trek as a guest of the National Science Foundation.

Ivor Grattan-Guinness is unabashed about being on a mission in The Norton History of the Mathematical Sciences ($35). The Middlesex University professor of mathematics history and logic aims to make up for the light treatment the 19th century has received in like works of the past, and he does so with a vengeance, with no fewer than eight chapters covering the period. He also stresses other areas he feels have been neglected, such as applications, national differences and lesser figures who have been ignored in favor of what he calls the "Great Man" approach.

Sky Atlas 2000.0: Deluxe Edition by Wil Tirion and Roger Sinnott (Cambridge, $50, spiral bound) is the second edition of a modern classic that belongs on the desk of any serious amateur astronomer. Now based on the Hipparchos and Tycho Catalogues, the atlas includes 80,000 stars to magnitude 8.5 and about 2,700 deep-sky objects plotted on 33 color charts printed on huge pages that fold out to 22"x16." It’s a work of art.

Astronomer James B. Kaler really shines in his explanation of stellar evolution for the general reader in the handsomely illustrated Stars (Scientific American Library, $20, paper).

Do you lie awake at night wondering about superstrings, hidden dimensions and the quest for an ultimate theory of the universe? If so, you should browse Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe (Norton, $25.95) and dip into Igor Novikov's The River of Time (Cambridge, $15.95), well-written accounts (without equations) from the forefront of cosmology and physics. For anyone with a little background in the physical sciences who is interested in the observational aspects of cosmology, Addison-Wesley offers ($22 each) Ripples on a Cosmic Sea: The Search for Gravitational Waves by David Blair and Geoff McNamara and Cosmic Bullets: High Energy Particles in Astrophysics by Roger Clay and Bruce Dawson.

In Gardening with a Wild Heart: Restoring California's Native Landscapes at Home (California, $17.95, paper), Judith Lowry suggests that gardeners have a greater environmental impact than perhaps any other group—the estimated $23 billion they spend annually may even exceed expenditures on public lands and parks. She shares tips on how ecologically minded gardeners everywhere can prevent erosion, keep non-native plants from taking over, avoid attracting unwanted bird species and much more.

Why is French wine such an institution? You may not think of this as a scientific question, but don't tell that to James E. Wilson, author of Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate and Culture in the Making of French Wine (California, $39.95). Wilson's is an amply illustrated reference that will be required reading for any earth or atmospheric scientist who also practices enology—and also, perhaps, for those of us who only dabble on weekends.

As early as the fourth century B.C., the Chinese had articulated in the Mo Ching, "If there is no opposing force . . . the motion will never stop," scooping Newton by a couple of millennia. So says Robert Temple in The Genius of China (Prion, $24.95), filled with similar delightful West-humbling discoveries and inventions and reprinted in an attractive and accessible paperback edition.

In 1968, computer pioneer J. C. R. Licklider foresaw the Internet: "In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face." In 1914, H. G. Wells, borrowing from a radiochemist of his day, predicted the atomic bomb. This is but an inadequate sampling of the goodies from The Making of the Atomic Bomb-author Richard Rhodes's fascinating compendium Visions of Technology (Simon & Schuster, $30), a chronological look at the 20th century through the eyes of Licklider, Wells and a host of other such luminaries as Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Rachel Carson, Kurt Vonnegut and E. O. Wilson.

How We Became Posthuman by N. Katherine Hayles (Chicago, $18, paper) explores the relation between the computer revolution and our changing ideas of what it means to be a human being. Her pet theme: how information became an entity in itself, divorced from the material that carries it, in both science and literature. Norbert Wiener meets P. K. Dick.

Next time your on-line connection goes down, grab a copy of Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet (Walker, $22). In this light, quick read, Standage tells how the world used to be really wired, via the electric telegraph network. He sketches the eerie parallels between the modern Internet and its 19th-century predecessor—with its own on-line weddings, con artists, encryption schemes and info-glut.

Paul Ceruzzi's History of Modern Computing (MIT, $35) is a workmanlike account of the computer from 1945 to 1995. Ceruzzi brings a curator's attention to the minutiae of his subject—a museum tour through mainframes, minicomputers, personal computers and network systems. Some readers may wish for less raw data and more analysis of how technological innovation, business considerations and social factors have changed not just the computing industry but all of modern society.

Long before the Science Wars, Gerald Holton brought a balanced, insightful approach to the study of science as a psychological, social and historical phenomenon. So Harvard's re-release of Holton's The Scientific Imagination ($19.95, paper, from 1978), and The Advancement of Science, and Its Burdens ($18.95, paper, 1986), is welcome news. These essay collections, with new introductions, still stand out as lucid, original contributions to our understanding of how science really works.

New-in-paper picks: Restoring Life in Running Waters, James R. Karr, Ellen W. Chu (Island Press, $29.95); Matters of Life and Death, John Cairns (Princeton, $14.95); Pests of the Garden and Small Farm, 2nd ed., Mary Louise Flint (California, $35); Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes, Martin J. S. Rudwick (Chicago, $19); Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Tom Wolf and Barbara Sparks (Colorado, $24.95); The Way Life Works, Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson (Times Books, $25).

Nanoviewers: William J. Cannon, Lil Chappell, Daniel Radov, Michael Szpir, William Thompson


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