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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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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