It’s difficult to be turgid in a microessay (one paragraph to four, rarely five, pages); a few academics manage, but most...

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TODAY'S MOST INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC IDEAS, DISCOVERIES, AND DEVELOPMENTS

The latest installment of the editor and literary agent’s near-yearly anthology of brief essays on a specific scientific theme or subject.

Brockman (Life: The Leading Edge of Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Anthropology, and Environmental Science, 2016, etc.), publisher of the science website Edge.org, poses a question to a few hundred world intellectuals, mostly scientists. Perhaps because he is also a leading literary agent, most dutifully respond, including stars such as Freeman Dyson, Steven Pinker, and Lisa Randall. Here, Brockman reveals 197 delightfully short answers to the question, “what do you consider the most interesting recent scientific news?” Readers of the first dozen will assume the answer is global warming until they realize that Brockman sorts them by topic, and dozens of physicists arrive to air their frustration with dark matter, dark energy, and quantum gravity as well as their disappointment with the great Large Hadron Collider. Other topics include the manipulation of genes, which has become dazzlingly easy; the innumerable planets that orbit distant stars; big data and artificial intelligence, both of which are exploding but not always in a good way. As usual, a minority of the contributors answer a question they’d prefer to answer or merely muse. Weather prediction has quietly become really accurate; the platinum rule (do unto others as they would have you do unto them) is superior to the golden. There are some jolts. An amazing number of published scientific studies can’t be reproduced, and cold fusion, long dismissed by the establishment, gets a good word. Among the dozens of well-known contributors are Mario Livio, Lee Smolin, Jared Diamond, A.C. Grayling, Alison Gopnik, and Amanda Gefter.

It’s difficult to be turgid in a microessay (one paragraph to four, rarely five, pages); a few academics manage, but most deliver lucid intellectual hors d'oeuvres that deserve rereading.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-256206-7

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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