A top-notch science book from a leading researcher.

DARK MATTER AND THE DINOSAURS

THE ASTOUNDING INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF THE UNIVERSE

Randall (Theoretical Particle Physics and Cosmology/Harvard Univ.; Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, 2011, etc.) explores the causes of the fifth major extinction event, which occurred 66 million years ago and wiped out terrestrial dinosaurs and three-quarters of all other species living on Earth.

Dinosaurs dominated life on Earth for 135 million years. Geologists and paleontologists now agree that their relatively sudden extinction is attributable to the impact of a comet or asteroid hitting the Earth and precipitating major climate change. The author seeks to test her hypothesis that "a disk of dark matter in the plane of the Milky Way was responsible for triggering the meteoroid's fatal trajectory." For Randall, the role of dark matter in the evolution of the universe is the next scientific frontier. Dark matter constitutes 85 percent of the matter in the universe. It is not composed of atoms or electrons (the stuff of ordinary matter), and it does not interact with light or other radiation. We only know of its existence because of its measurable gravitational effects. Randall believes that it may have played a significant role in the existence of life on Earth not only by triggering a major climate-changing meteoroid collision, but by precipitating smaller impacts that deposited the heavy elements necessary for life (e.g., carbon) and possibly even amino acids. Now that the existence of the Higgs boson has been confirmed, the author is setting her sights on this exciting scientific area, which is built on the advances in scientific understanding of cosmic events over the past 50 years. Specifically, this involves establishing the possibility that there was a periodicity in the five extinction events reflective of still-unknown cosmic events possibly involving dark matter. Writing in a deceptively chatty narrative style, Randall provides a fascinating window into the excitement of discovery and the rigor required to test and elaborate new hypotheses.

A top-notch science book from a leading researcher.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-232847-2

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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