First it was The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science (1960), revised in 1965 to become The New IMGTS. By 1972 "man" was gone, and the particular man was in—giving us Asimov's Guide to Science. Now, twelve years later, comes an update appearing shortly before the author's 65th birthday (January '85), "by which time he will be the author of 300 published works." Whatever one's reaction, Asimov is right in bringing out a new edition. Twelve years translates to orders of magnitude in some fields: neuroscience, astronomy, computer-robotics, particle physics. How does 1984 read in those areas? For a start, not so good on the nervous system: traditional anatomy, 19th- and early-20th-century physiology; no new biochemistry, disease findings, or theories on cognitive processes. Mostly pre-1965 material, in toto, giving surprising prominence to conditioning in human behavior. Astronomy? Here one expects strength; and there are indeed fat chapters, with gobs of data, tracing knowledge from ancient to modern times, up to recent space probes. Completing the physical sciences are chapters on the elements and on particles that spell out how these fields were organized, then disordered—and are now undergoing rebirth with new tables of particles or attempts at unifying field theories. Part I ends with a survey of physical science applications ranging from electricity, the internal combustion engine and television to reactors, fission, and fusion. Part II, on the biological sciences, takes microcosms as its base—and proceeds from organic molecules, proteins, and the cell (with sections on DNA and heredity) to larger structures: microorganisms (including cancer and the immune system), the body, species, and evolution. One must remember that Asimov earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and taught biochemistry to understand his concentration on food constituents—vitamins, minerals—and enzymes and hormones. Part II ends on the mind and behavior, computers and artificial intelligence. Asimov repeats his well-known rules of robotic behavior and waxes philosophical. He predicts an uncomfortable time as jobs are automated out of existence, but does not see a real threat. Computer-robots should march with us as friends and allies "—if we do not destroy ourselves before the march can begin." As a one-volume condensation of an Asimovian lifetime of science writing, something other than the sum of its parts—and as an information source, surely a bargain.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1984

ISBN: 0140172130

Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1984

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


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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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