The Scientists’ Nightstand e-newsletter offers news of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the Web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
Reviews from American Scientist, May–June 2013
by Hallie Sessoms
A brief review of Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas, by Eva Saulitis. The personal and the scientific intersect in Saulitis’s study of orcas off the Alaskan coast, representing “a microcosm of the inextricably linked human and environmental health issues we face,” Sessoms explains.
by Fenella Saunders
A brief review of Hubble’s Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images, by Terence Dickinson. Saunders describes the technical virtuosity of the Hubble Space Telescope and the brilliant images this book contains.
by David Schoonmaker
Brief reviews of Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent, by Gabrielle Walker, and Secrets of the Ice: Antarctica’s Clues to Climate, the Universe, and the Limits of Life, by Veronica Meduna. Digging into the topic of the seventh continent, Schoonmaker discovers that paired readings of these books provide an intellectual and visual feast.
by Fenella Saunders
A review of Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, by George Dyson. This narrative of the dramatic technical ascent and decline of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, which developed the Mathematical and Numerical Integrator and Computer, or MANIAC (the early computer that, according to Dyson, “broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things”), serves as both cautionary tale and digital epic.
Off the Table
Here we feature a selection of reviews and other science books content from around the Web.
In her New York Times review of Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center, by Ray Monk, Janet Maslin observes that although the biography “does aspire to be more comprehensive than earlier volumes” focused on the theoretical physicist, particularly in its discussions of the science itself, Monk provides less detail of the nature of this complex, charismatic, troubled man than have previous biographers. For the San Francisco Chronicle, G. Pascal Zachary provides an alternate view of Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center, arguing that “Monk is at his best when teasing apart Oppenheimer’s confusing inner life, finding in his ‘enigmatic elusiveness’ and ‘his inability to make ordinary close contact’ with others the source of his acknowledged genius in leading the Manhattan Project.” Michael Pollak reviews Lee Sandlin’s Storm Kings, a narrative covering three centuries of American tornado study; he describes the book as being short on scientific detail but long on the history of scientists obsessed with researching twisters, including how to detect and predict their formation. In her review of Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, former software engineer Ellen Ullman observes that the text “crackles with intellectual energy” as it studies technology’s effects on everything “from politics to criminology to the endless quest to lose weight.” In the New York Review of Books, Jerome Groopman considers The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek, praising the book’s “fluid prose and . . . logical connection among its diverse topics,” noting that “Grandin has reached a stunning level of sophistication about herself and the science of autism.” Meanwhile, Salon has published an excerpt from Grandin and Panek’s book: “Temple Grandin on DSM-5: ‘Sounds like diagnosis by committee.’” Of Lee Smolin’s work Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, in which the theoretical physicist subverts doctrine and argues that time is real—and that timelessness is, in fact, the illusion—James Gleick says, “[Smolin’s] argument from science and history is as provocative, original, and unsettling as any I’ve read in years.” Edge has posted a conversation with Smolin, “Think About Nature,” in which he discusses his ideas with Arnold Trehub, Sean Carroll, Bruce Sterling and Amanda Gefter. In “He Conceived the Mathematics of Roughness,” Jim Holt reviews Benoit B. Mandelbrot’s The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick and discusses the man who developed the concept of self-similarity, creating a branch of geometry that has “deepened our understanding of both natural forms and patterns of human behavior.” Mike Jay reviews Permanent Present Tense: The Man with No Memory, and What He Taught the World, by Suzanne Corkin, about “the most famous case of amnesia in 20th-century science, a man known only as ‘H. M.’ until his death,” as told by the neuroscientist whose responsibility H. M. became. John Dupuis briefly reviews The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible, by Lance Fortnow, on his blog, Confessions of a Science Librarian, saying that the work, which discusses the pursuit of a problem at the heart of theoretical computer science, is a “fine book” well worth the effort it takes “to grasp every example and problem description.” In an interview with Petra Mayer for National Public Radio, anthropologist Barbara J. King, discussing her book How Animals Grieve, says, “Credible definitions, cautious observation, and winnowing out what doesn’t count as grief in the array of animals’ responses to death are all important. But I think the primary requirement is a refusal to assume on principle that human emotions are unique in the animal kingdom.”
News from the world of science books publishing, including book review venues, presses, new technologies for the book and more.
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) has launched. Robert Darnton, writing for the New York Review of Books, describes the DPLA as “a distributed system of electronic content that will make the holdings of public and research libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies available, effortlessly and free of charge, to readers located at every connecting point of the Web.” Katie McDonough writes of a paperless library opening in a suburb of San Antonio, Texas. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has made a timeline documenting changes in Associated Press Style. A piece by David Crotty titled “The Limits of Crowdsourcing in the Scientific Disciplines” posted to the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s blog, The Scholarly Kitchen, considers the question “Can crowdsourcing drive excellence?” And finally, if you’re discouraged by the news of the end of Scientists’ Bookshelf, our more extensive book review section that appeared in American Scientist for nearly 70 years, perhaps it will help to recall that as early as 1959, Elizabeth Hardwick was bemoaning the loss of book reviews in the pages of Harper’s. If a demise is under way, at least it’s a slow-moving one.
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American Scientist, the magazine of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society