Well written, congenial, and full of lore—about both England and the history of science.

WALKING ZERO

DISCOVERING COSMIC SPACE AND TIME ALONG THE PRIME MERIDIAN

A brief history of science, in the context of a walking tour along the Greenwich meridian.

Raymo (Climbing Brandon, 2004), an astronomy and physics professor, points out that the Prime Meridian passes through several sites important to the history of science. Beginning at Brighton, he headed north along the numerous walking paths that crisscross the English countryside. Each chapter begins with the landscape, then zooms out to look at how our sense of time and space has expanded since Greek times, when the first measurement of the earth's size was made near Alexandria. Successive scientific revolutions have progressively removed Earth and the human race from the center of the cosmos. Raymo's course brings him near sites where the first dinosaur fossils were found (forcing a revised estimate of the earth's age), near Darwin's home in Down, and near the London home of the Royal society, where Newton and other scientific giants first made their findings known. A key site is the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where various Astronomers Royal did work that enlarged our conception of the universe, continuing the process begun by the Greek philosopher Aristarchus, whose work anticipated Copernicus. There he also finds John Harrison's clocks, which solved the problem of determining longitude at sea, and gave a reason for locating the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. The final stop is at the radio telescopes at Cambridge, where research established that the universe is some 13 billion years old. Raymo enriches his picture by including the likes of Samuel Pepys, who combined membership in the Royal Society with a career that took him to all levels of Restoration society. Like Pepys, Raymo has a good eye for colorful detail, and brings it to bear on his narrative.

Well written, congenial, and full of lore—about both England and the history of science.

Pub Date: May 2, 2006

ISBN: 0-8027-1494-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more