Orzel’s point is well-taken: Like breathing, we are engaging in the scientific process much of the time, even if we don’t...

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DISCOVERING YOUR INNER SCIENTIST

Orzel (Physics/Union Coll.; How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, 2012, etc.) explains that we all think like scientists, at least some of the time; we just may not know it.

What is science? Most of all, writes the author, it is a process. Its many products may be bewildering, but its process is anything but inscrutable (“not some incidental offshoot of more general human activity; it’s the very thing that makes us who we are”). In writing that is welcoming but not overly bouncy, persuasive in a careful way but also enticing, Orzel reveals the “process of looking at the world, figuring out how things work, testing that knowledge, and sharing it with others.” In the first part of the book, the author looks for patterns. He uses the pleasures of collecting things as a way of polishing his awareness of the importance of close observation. The next step—using your experiences in life, the frame of what you know—allows you to fashion your observations into a model, which is not just a story as to why something happened, but a source of optimism, as well, since it provides a real notion that the world is comprehensible. With an easy hand, Orzel ties together card games with communicating in the laboratory; playing sports and learning how to test and refine; the details of some hard science—Rutherford’s gold foil, Cavendish’s lamps and magnets—and entertaining stories that disclose the process that leads from observation to colorful narrative. There will be false leads, dead ends and red herrings, but the beauty is in the chase and in the pleasing fact that the practice of science is open to all races, genders and persuasions.

Orzel’s point is well-taken: Like breathing, we are engaging in the scientific process much of the time, even if we don’t know it.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0465074969

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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