Engrossing techno-science delivered with gusto and sure to reach a varied audience.




A veteran science reporter examines the many innovative developments of human sensory enhancement.

Platoni took a year off from teaching narrative writing and reporting at the University of California to immerse herself in modern bioscience and the aspects of technology-mediated human metaperception. She emerged with notebooks filled with interviews about how to broaden our sensory experiences to “make the world feel real.” Consistently fascinating, witty, and candid, Platoni’s sensorial tour begins with the scientific and technological tinkering within the realm of the five senses, and then she moves on to aspects of pain and emotion. All of the sensory chapters offer captivating and memorably relevant information including a visit to a Denver lab experimenting on the taste detection of fatty acids and measuring the physiological responses, the research of French olfactory experts analyzing the restorative powers of smell on memory-deficient Alzheimer’s patients, revolutionary retinal implants in Los Angeles, and adventures in robotic surgery and prosthetic limbs. One commonality among these food scientists, geneticists, biohackers, entrepreneurs, perfumers, and engineers is the competitive nature and time sensitivity of their quests to discover the next trending flavor combination, sound quality, visual experience, artificial intelligence, or even a “sixth taste.” In the second half of the book, the author delves into the development, utilization, and learning experiences shared by augmented reality and metasensory experiences. Segments on time and pain perception are both riveting and worrisome as innovators collaborate to develop a 10,000-year clock, neurobiologists examine time on a cellular level, and impressions of heartsickness and random physical agony are openly shared from a bartender and her patrons at an iconic San Francisco barroom. Platoni’s update on virtual-reality gadgetry is no less intriguing. While the author’s analyses raise tough questions about the increasing need to subvert and expand reality—are we relentlessly exploratory or just bored?—the ways in which scientists are accomplishing this are utterly spellbinding.

Engrossing techno-science delivered with gusto and sure to reach a varied audience.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-08997-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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