A collection of reviews and essays first published in the New York Review of Books, from Dyson (The Scientist as Rebel, 2006 etc.), a celebrated elder statesman of modern science.
The themes here are similar to those in the author’s previous volume of reviews, which covered his contributions to the NYRB from 1996 to 2006. Although Dyson is a physicist, he predicts that advances in biology will trump those in physics over the next 50 years and that biotechnology will usurp the role presently played by computers. Peering into the future, the author imagines that solar collectors will be made obsolete by highly efficient, genetically engineered black-leaved plants that substitute silicon for chlorophyll. More controversially, he suggests that the computer models on which predictions of global warming are based are too high by a factor of five. These simplifying assumptions, he writes, “neglect some messy processes that they cannot calculate such as the variable input of high energy particles from the sun and the detailed behavior of clouds in the atmosphere.” Reviewing a recent book about Manhattan project Director Robert Oppenheimer, whom Dyson knew during his tenure at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the author suggests that Oppenheimer lost his security clearance because he advocated developing tactical nuclear weapons rather than big bombs, an issue then hotly contested between the Air Force and the Army. One of the charms of this book is Dyson’s openness to criticism of his reviews, which he excerpts along with his responses. He especially welcomes justified factual corrections—e.g., a reference to “David” rather than Daniel Kahneman.
Readers who enjoyed the first volume of reviews will be pleased with this follow-up, and new readers will be delighted by the fascinating insider's view of the scientific community and its intersection with the political establishment.