From his vantage point as host of NPR’s popular radio show Science Friday, Flatow (They All Laughed...From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives, 1992, etc.) has acquired an impressive overview of current science. Unfortunately, this book fails to go beyond that overview.
The book is divided into 12 chapters: new research on the brain, cosmology, climate change, alternate energies, nanotechnology, space travel, ocean life, the science versus religion controversy, scientific pioneers, the future of cyberspace, new approaches to science and the pros and cons of stem-cell research. By covering such broad terrain, the author sets himself the nearly impossible task of adequately exploring each concept. Lacking footnotes or a bibliography, it may be difficult for readers to seek further reading on any of the included subjects. The book’s strength lies in the author’s balanced coverage of controversial issues, such as the feasibility of switching to biofuels or using nuclear energy as a replacement for gasoline. The high point is Flatow’s discussion of why planes fly, based on NASA researcher Norman Smith’s crusade to substitute Newton’s third law of motion for Bernoulli’s principle. Many of the interviews cover intriguing, cutting-edge material—including a discussion of quantum computers with Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and quantum gravitation with Lee Smolin, a research physicist at the Perimeter Institute. But other parts of the book feel dated, such as the section covering memory and the effects of age on the brain, conducted with Dr. Aaron P. Nelson, chief of neuropsychology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Flatow certainly has a knack for finding the appropriate professionals to discuss each topic, but the resulting narrative will likely confuse newbies and frustrate more knowledgeable readers.
A disappointingly superficial book about a number of fascinating subjects.