MOLECULAR STORMS

THE PHYSICS OF STARS, CELLS AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

A stimulating exploration of thermodynamic science.

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Graham, who has a degree in theoretical physics from Cambridge University, plumbs theories from thermodynamics for the keys to unlock the mysteries of life.

The author observes that some consider thermodynamics—the study of heat in motion—to be the “poor cousin of modern physics.” But he contends that an understanding of thermodynamics is essential to understanding the origin and nature of life itself, and that the field provides intriguing portals into such topics as the character of human consciousness. One must grasp the “wild complexity” of cells and their inner machinations—a “complex dance of minutely choreographed activity.” A cell is basically a collection of molecules, he explains, that are always moving and colliding with one another in random ways; this chaos of motion is sometimes referred to as “thermal noise,” but Graham prefers a less “tame” descriptor: It’s a “molecular storm.” In order to understand life, he asserts, one must understand this storm, which accounts not only for life’s initial appearance but also its subsequent development: “The molecular storm blows like a hurricane in air thick as treacle, driving everything that happens.” Graham displays a magisterial command of the material, offering a concise overview of the basic ideas of thermodynamics—his account of entropy is particularly edifying to the uninitiated—and also explains how these categories help to illuminate, and even demystify, the elemental processes of life. Graham also extends the scope of his study to grander questions, including humanity’s place in the cosmos, all seen from a materialistic perspective. The author overstates the case when he writes that this book is suitable for “all those who are curious about how the world works”; readers will need more than mere curiosity to understand this often-challenging work. But it’s as lucid an exposition as one could reasonably expect, given the technical nature of the subject, and it’s a thought-provoking reflection on the deepest of questions.

A stimulating exploration of thermodynamic science.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2023

ISBN: 9783031386800

Page Count: 291

Publisher: Springer

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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