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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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