ALMOST EVERYONE'S GUIDE TO SCIENCE

THE UNIVERSE, LIFE, AND EVERYTHING

Gribbin, assisted by his occasional co-author Mary, tops himself with this one-volume summary of the current state of scientific knowledge. Author of numerous science books for the layperson (The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything, 1999), Gribbin steps back to show the broad perspective of what science knows about the universe, from the subatomic level up. After stating the central principle of science (“If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong”), Gribbin begins with the concept of atoms and elements, which led to much of modern science. As useful as the atomic hypothesis was, it wasn—t until Einstein that it was widely accepted as a factual description of reality. By that point, there was a growing body of evidence that the atom itself was a complex entity, made of smaller particles. The activity of one of those particles—the electron—is responsible for all of chemistry. Thence Gribbin leads the discussion to organic chemistry, through the structure of DNA, and thus to genetics and evolution. In such small but closely connected steps, the discussion goes on to geology and the history of the Earth, to astronomy and stellar evolution, all the way to cosmology and the structure of the universe as a whole. Gribbin is quick to make connections among the various sciences he discusses: for example, the simple quantum mechanical reason for the vital fact that ice floats—without which life as we know it would certainly be impossible. He smoothly introduces anecdotes about the scientists responsible for various theories and discoveries, and draws usefully on everyday experience to illustrate his material. And while he provides sufficient detail to give the various subjects immediacy, his eye is always on the big picture—how the world fits together and what it means to each of us. A definitive treatment of the subject, clearly and elegantly written. If you’re going to own just one general science book, you’d do well to make it this one.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-300-08101-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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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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