A welcome contribution to the history of science, one that merits shelving alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John McPhee.

THE MAN WHO FOUND TIME

JAMES HUTTON AND THE DISCOVERY OF THE EARTH’S ANTIQUITY

Engaging biography of the Scottish scientist (and, in his day, renowned eccentric) who braved the “fire of damnation” by suggesting that the Book of Genesis was a metaphor, not a documentary.

Repcheck, a science editor at Norton, reckons that James Hutton is something of an obscure figure today for several reasons: he lacked Charles Darwin’s genius for self-promotion, announced his greatest hypotheses at a time when the English-speaking world’s attention was fixed on the American Revolution, and, plainly put, “was not a gifted communicator.” Moreover, his massive magnum opus, The Theory of the Earth, was a jumble of mathematical formulas and learned quotations in many languages, hard to slog through and in any event printed in an edition of only 500 copies. Yet, as Repcheck ably shows, Hutton’s work was profoundly influential. He presented formal proof, for the first time, that the world was far older than the 6,000 years the Bible allowed—a chronology, Repcheck writes, that was held to be sacred and irrefutable, for which reason Hutton was widely denounced as a heretic, even though he, like Copernicus (but unlike Darwin), “had strong faith in God.” Furthermore, Hutton recognized that the Earth’s form required long periods of time by which cyclical processes such as volcanism and erosion could do their work—an idea that was of transformational importance to the new science of geology. “For Hutton,” Repcheck writes, “there was no need to call upon unseen and unknowable catastrophes from the past, such as the Deluge or the Universal Ocean, to explain any geological formations; they were all understandable based on knowledge and processes still occurring.” In other words, on evolution—and Repcheck does a fine job of showing how Hutton’s ideas paved the way for those of Lyell and Darwin, whose iconoclastic theories would soon overshadow his own.

A welcome contribution to the history of science, one that merits shelving alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John McPhee.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7382-0692-X

Page Count: 229

Publisher: Perseus

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

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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