An engaging exploration of the profound historical relationship between science and culture, written in a lively style with...

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THE TIDE

THE SCIENCE AND STORIES BEHIND THE GREATEST FORCE ON EARTH

An exploration of “the discovery and science of the cosmic rhythm that governs our planet.”

The words “time” and “tide” are connected through language as well as in nature, writes British science writer Aldersey-Williams (In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind, 2015, etc.), who delves into the scientific and cultural influence of the tides. Noting the linguistic link between “tide” and “zeit,” the German word for time, as well as other linguistic references, the author makes insightful connections among science, language, culture, and tradition. The author also examines how metaphors coupling “time” and “tide” are preserved in memorable sayings. “The aphorism time and tide wait for no man,” has incorrectly been attributed to both Shakespeare and Chaucer but predates both of them. The tide exerts a strong force through the action of waves and the corresponding rise and fall of the water level. Observation of the twice-daily variation between high and low tides helped Isaac Newton expand on some of Galileo's theories. He was able to explain “why, in most places, there are generally two tides a day,” which occur at roughly 12-hour intervals. “Tidal forces,” writes the author, “raise a tide on the side of the earth facing the moon…but there is…also a new force of acceleration to be taken into account, acting on the earth in the opposite direction, away from the moon, owing to its orbital motion.” Newton formulated this model in Principia, which laid the basis for his mathematical explanations of the interplay among the gravitational pulls of the sun, the moon, and Earth. Today, writes Aldersey-Williams, oceanographers are studying below-the-surface forces to determine their potential impact on climate change and coastal erosion. As in previous books, the author makes the science accessible and makes important connections to other relevant disciplines.

An engaging exploration of the profound historical relationship between science and culture, written in a lively style with clear scientific explanations.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24163-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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