A broad and engaging examination of surfaces and their roles in nature and technology.

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UNDERSTANDING SURFACES

A debut science book explores the physical and geometric aspects of surfaces.

In this work, Lulashnyk opens with a clear demonstration of the power of a surface area. A cube 10 centimeters on each side has a surface area of 600 square centimeters. But if that cube is sliced into a thousand 1-centimeter cubes, its area is 10 times larger. The author takes readers through examples of small and large surface areas in the natural world, the human body, and technological innovations. Lulashnyk shows how the relationship between surface area and volume allows the intestines to extract nutrients, solar panels to produce electricity, and diamonds to shine brilliantly. Simple line drawings by Baines (Daddy’s Blue Eyes, 2018, etc.) appear throughout the book to illustrate the concepts, such as a comparison of the different glasses used for wine, Champagne, and brandy, or the tendency of superhero costumes to include surface area-expanding capes. Although the author focuses primarily on the empirical aspects of surface area—why small animals have high metabolism; how gills extract oxygen from water—the work occasionally takes a more whimsical turn, like its description of dance costumes: “Feathers, fabric and other materials are utilized to increase surface area and provide the entertainer with a larger-than-life sense of self.” The volume does a good job of drawing connections between different examples of the same principles, like branching, which occurs in lungs as well as trees in order to maximize surface area within a given space. The book’s topics are wide-ranging, though many are treated only glancingly, with intriguing tidbits (spherical tanks are the most efficient way to store liquids; dust particles can remain airborne for weeks) presented without significant discussions of why these facts matter and how readers can apply them to other contexts or practical applications. Lulashnyk is knowledgeable and has provided an intriguing perspective on observing the world through the idea of surface area. But the work would benefit from a stronger sense of the conclusions readers can draw and why understanding surfaces is a crucial element of scientific inquiry.

A broad and engaging examination of surfaces and their roles in nature and technology.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4602-7429-3

Page Count: 140

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2019

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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