An important book by a visionary with his feet planted on the ground.




The director of Duke University's Environmental Laboratory offers an exciting evaluation of the potential for colonizing Mars by the end of the century.

Piantadosi (The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments, 2003) reviews the history of the space program, with special emphasis on the biological challenges of human space exploration in a zero-gravity environment. In his view, establishing a manned moon base is a critical first step. “To get to Mars,” he writes, “astronauts must function in deep space for years and will face huge challenges in doing so.” While the moon is readily accessible, a population living on Mars would face the significant constraints imposed by distance and orbital mechanics. A Mars-based society would need to be self-sufficient, with fail-safe life-support systems in place (even a temporary loss of power would be catastrophic.) Further, colonists on the moon or Mars would face increased exposure to cosmic radiation, the loss of bone and muscle density, and possible challenges to their cardiovascular and immune systems. Despite the lower cost and reduced risk of the unmanned space program, Piantadosi believes that America (“the unquestioned leader in space since Project Apollo”) should also maintain its commitment to manned space exploration in order to keep its technological edge. While robots on the moon are already gathering important scientific information, only humans have the flexibility and imagination to allow scientists to pursue the unexpected. The author also considers the prospect of going beyond Mars to colonize the outer planets and beyond in the foreseeable future. He puts forth the lesson that the difficulties involved offer “the best incentives we have to take the best possible care of Spaceship Earth.”

An important book by a visionary with his feet planted on the ground.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-231-16242-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.


Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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