A fun, accessible introduction to a variety of scientific topics that readers can explore further. For Sanders, “everything...



A wonder-filled excursion into the sometimes-baffling and formidable world of science.

Sanders (The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World, 2016, etc.) takes readers on a lively, nonstressful journey through the world of science in short chapters or “musings,” each accompanied by her own whimsical color line drawings. Presenting information in a charming, conversational style, the author seeks to demystify science with panache. Each “muse” covers one specific topic, mostly astronomical but some natural and human sciences as well. She avoids scientific language, which “isn’t designed to appeal to human ears, isn’t especially melodic”; it “remains stubbornly inaccessible for most nonscientists.” However, she will resort to some when the need arises—e.g., eigengrau, the gray color eyes see in the dark, or chronoception, the perception of time. Sanders also enlists the services of professionals such as physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, astronomer Arthur Eddington, and physicist Richard Feynman. Sanders is quite fond of statistics and factoids, and most of them are useful. Someone who is 80 years old “may have taken more than 700 million breaths” and walked the “equivalent of Earth’s circumference five times…more than 110,000 miles during their lifetime.” Their hearts will have beat 2.6 billion times. In the titular piece, about the sun, photosynthesis, and plants, the author discusses the “digestible sun fuel that we are consuming….It’s astonishing to think that we have been solar powered since the beginning of anything at all.” Plants, scientists have discovered, possess “memory, learning, and problem-solving,” and “more than one in five is threatened with extinction.” While there are more than 3 trillion trees on Earth, “they can’t keep up with the amount of carbon dioxide that we are pouring into the atmosphere.” Planting more “seems a more important pastime than ever,” and global warming is even “having an effect on the very spin of Earth.”

A fun, accessible introduction to a variety of scientific topics that readers can explore further. For Sanders, “everything is fascinating,” and she hopes readers will agree.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313316-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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

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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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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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