Kolata’s is a knowledgeable voice, and her enthusiasm for the chase draws us into the intrigue. Her frightening conclusion?...

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FLU

THE STORY OF THE GREAT INFLUENZA PANDEMIC OF 1918 AND THE SEARCH FOR THE VIRUS THAT CAUSED IT

A still-unsolved medical mystery, expertly told: What caused the influenza pandemic of 1918, a disaster that dwarfs every other epidemic in this century? And could it happen again?

New York Times science reporter Kolata (Clone: The Road to Dolly, 1998, etc.) was a microbiology major in college when the scope of the 1918 flu deaths first hit home for her: “It was a plague so deadly that if a similar virus were to strike today, it would kill more people in a single year than heart disease, cancers, strokes, chronic pulmonary disease, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s disease combined." In spite of the illness’s devastating toll, the origin of the 1918 flu remains a mystery. Was it a mutation in an ordinary human flu virus that caused a transformation into a global killer? Or was it a crossover from an animal disease, like the variant of swine flu that has been investigated as a possible culprit? An especially perplexing aspect of the disease is its W-shaped death curve: There were peaks for children under five years, and for the elderly ages 70 to 74 years—but also a middle peak for 20-to-40-year-olds, a surprisingly vulnerable group. Those trying to determine the mode of transmission were unable to devise any method (and Kolata relates in revolting detail a number of failed attempts) to infect healthy subjects with the disease. Throughout, she provides a number of hair-raising descriptions of the disease, which eventually afflicted more than 25 percent of the U.S. population. Along the way, readers also get a picture of the research world: At one point, many of those studying the elusive influenza viruses dropped that work to go after HIV. “Every virologist loves a new virus," confesses English scientist John Oxford, and they mistakenly thought HIV was an easy cure.

Kolata’s is a knowledgeable voice, and her enthusiasm for the chase draws us into the intrigue. Her frightening conclusion? It could happen again, at any time.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-15706-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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

THE ORDER OF TIME

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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