A guide for laymen written with gusto and assurance.



An enthusiastic account of all the light we cannot see from a science popularizer with a knack for presenting hard facts clearly and stylishly.

Berman (Zoom: How Everything Moves: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees, 2014, etc.), a columnist for Astronomy magazine and science editor of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, promises that in his latest book of popular science, “myths will be busted and wild facts will abound.” He keeps that promise as he clarifies for the nonscientist the nature of the many forms of radiation around us. First, the author tackles visible light, introducing the difficult concept that light is both a particle and a set of waves of electricity and magnetism. From there, he moves on to light outside the visible spectrum: infrared, ultraviolet, radio waves, microwaves, X-rays, gamma rays, and other forms of radiation that surround us and bombard us. Due to information overload, some readers may be inclined to skim or skip ahead in certain sections. Aware that the material is occasionally dense, Berman cues readers with lines like, “read the preceding paragraph one more time,” and “I hope you’re taking notes on all this.” Thankfully, the author interweaves his science lessons with selective profiles of pioneers in the field and fascinating tales from fiction and real life—e.g., Archimedes’ supposed burning of enemy ships with focused sun rays, the death rays depicted by H.G. Wells in The War of the Worlds, and astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s brain wave–based ESP experiments during the Apollo 14 mission. Berman includes a chapter on solar eclipses, a favorite phenomenon of his, and there is a bit on the Big Bang and cosmic radiation. For those concerned about health and safety, the author deftly separates fact from myths about cell-phones, brain scans, and other sources of radiation. For those curious about what lies ahead, he takes a look at future applications of invisible light in medicine and computing.

A guide for laymen written with gusto and assurance.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-31130-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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