A superb composite of scientific knowledge that will no doubt inspire readers of all ages to learn more about our enigmatic...

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THE ZOOMABLE UNIVERSE

AN EPIC TOUR THROUGH COSMIC SCALE, FROM ALMOST EVERYTHING TO NEARLY NOTHING

A beautifully illustrated survey of the universe and its constituent parts, from quarks to galaxies and beyond.

Billions of years ago, exploding stars and other events expelled atoms that became the building blocks of the universe as we know it. Today, these ancient atoms form everything on Earth, including our bodies. Scharf (The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Possibilities, 2014, etc.), the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center, and Miller (Spaceships: An Illustrated History of the Real and the Imagined, 2016, etc.), a Hugo Award–winning illustrator and former art director of the National Air and Space Museum’s Albert Einstein Planetarium, take readers on a spectacular journey, starting in the farthest reaches of the universe and ending in the deepest depths of the atom. Using the power of 10 to incrementally scale down, each chapter explains the physics powering the many systems that work together to form the universe. Miller’s stunning illustrations pair perfectly with Scharf’s compelling writing, which introduces complex ideas using everyday language and lucid metaphors. Complementary infographics are fun to read and help put massive numbers in perspective—e.g., consider that our solar system is a tiny speck in the Milky Way galaxy, which is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. Though they make sure that every page is accessible to nonscientists, Scharf and Miller don’t skimp on the science, providing plenty of depth in their discussions of general relativity, the composition of planets, the bizarre behavior of particles in the quantum realm, and everything in between. The clever sequence of chapters makes the book enjoyable when read from start to finish, but each chapter tells its own story, and many chapters have two-page illustrations that are discrete tools as entertaining as they are educational.

A superb composite of scientific knowledge that will no doubt inspire readers of all ages to learn more about our enigmatic universe.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-71571-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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