An informal, often entertaining excursion in the history of science.

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EINSTEIN’S LUCK

THE TRUTH BEHIND OUR GREATEST SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES

An iconoclastic, decidedly revisionist look at the hit-or-miss business of science.

Forget everything you know about snakes swallowing their own tails and the burning of blue, gemlike flames. All too often, writes Waller (History of Medicine/University College, London; The Discovery of the Germ, not reviewed), science evolves despite the institution of science, in which the race goes not to the most elegant solution but to the fellow with the biggest research grant and the most political power. Waller merrily revisits several famous moments in science, among them Pasteur’s elucidation of germ theory, Robert Millikan’s divination of the electron, and Einstein’s development of relativity theory. In this account, none happened quite the way the textbooks tell us they did. Pasteur, for instance, fudged results, stole his assistants’ ideas and passed them off as his own, refused to replicate results, and “suppressed a considerable amount of negative data” along the way to pasteurization; moreover, he could never quite reconcile his reactionary political and religious beliefs to what his experiments told him about the invisible world. Millikan essentially blundered his way to finding the electron, beset by the ever-shifting value of e and glad to overlook inconsistencies in the data; “had he not been judged correct in the long run,” Waller harrumphs, “it’s likely that modern commentators would invoke his story as a homiletic warning against reasoning from weakly attested theories.” As for Einstein: suffice it to say that Arthur Eddington’s astrophysical proofs of general relativity were a lucky hit for all concerned. Waller’s interest lies more in the telling anecdote than the overarching moral, but he does a good job overall of showing the role of accident—and referees willing to look the other way—in the everyday work of scientists, whether conducted in Dr. Lister’s filthy operating theater or in the most gleaming of labs.

An informal, often entertaining excursion in the history of science.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-19-860719-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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