From opsins to Technicolor movies, Rogers covers the colorscape with brio, dash, and crystal clearness.

FULL SPECTRUM

HOW THE SCIENCE OF COLOR MADE US MODERN

The author of Proof: The Science of Booze (2014) returns with a lucid study of the physics, chemistry, and neuroscience of color and its influence on the human condition.

The natural world is bursting with seemingly endless color, writes Wired deputy editor Rogers in this sharp, often jocular look at waves and particles, fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic and electrical fields, and the electromagnetic spectrum, of which humans only experience a small visual slice. Since prehistory, we have gone about repurposing objects around us; one example is the engineering of chemicals to provide color. Those colors are picked up by the photoreceptors in our eyes and then processed. Rogers discusses how our neurophysiological and psychophysiological impressions help create our sense of the world, examining color as knowledge (discovering a good place to find food), color as commerce (desire, rarity, trade), color as semiotics, “to know how someone will see those colors once applied.” Rogers is particularly illuminating in his discussions of the history of color and our ever growing appreciation of it, from Aristotle to Arab physicists to the Chinese to the caves at Lascaux and beyond, as craft expertise blossomed into a revolution that marched in parallel with that of optics. While the author is in his element exploring the evolution of dyes and pigments, from the highly toxic to the highly opaque and bright, he is on less firm ground when approaching the “salience” of color, its “cultural and personal significance”—of course, this is understandable given that science has only begun to plumb the subject. Rogers also makes valiant attempts to discern the universality of color—“Do people who speak different languages literally see different colors?”—and through all the scientific concepts, he brings a tinder-dry humor and evident enthusiasm for the subject.

From opsins to Technicolor movies, Rogers covers the colorscape with brio, dash, and crystal clearness.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-328-51890-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

Two science podcasters answer their mail.

In this illustrated follow-up to We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe (2017), Cham, a cartoonist and former research associate and instructor at Caltech, and Whiteson, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, explain the basic science behind subjects that seem to preoccupy the listeners of their podcast, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. Most of the questions involve physics or astrophysics and take the form of, is such-and-such possible?—e.g., teleportation, alien visitors, building a warp drive, entering a black hole). The authors emphasize that they are answering as scientists, not engineers. “A physicist will say something is possible if they don’t know of a law of physics that prevents it.” Thus, a spaceship traveling fast enough to reach the nearest star in a reasonable amount of time is not forbidden by the laws of physics, but building one is inconceivable. Similarly, wormholes and time travel are “not known to be impossible”—as are many other scenarios. Some distressing events are guaranteed. An asteroid will strike the Earth, the sun will explode, and the human race will become extinct, but studies reveal that none are immediate threats. Sadly, making Mars as habitable as Earth is possible but only with improbably futuristic technology. For those who suspect that we are living in a computer simulation, the authors describe what clues to look for. Readers may worry that the authors step beyond their expertise when they include chapters on the existence of an afterlife or the question of free will. Sticking closely to hard science, they deliver a lucid overview of brain function and the debate over the existence of alternate universes that is unlikely to provoke controversy. The authors’ work fits neatly into the recently burgeoning market of breezy pop-science books full of jokes, asides, and cartoons that serve as introductions to concepts that require much further study to fully understand.

A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18931-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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