An excellent preview of what may be the next big scientific breakthrough.



An up-to-the-minute look at the frontiers of the search for life outside Earth.

Washington Post science and space reporter Kaufman provides useful updates on the newly respectable field of astrobiology. Scientists in a variety of fields are finding evidence that humanity may well have company in the universe. The author begins by looking at extremophiles—living creatures in environments we thing would be hostile to life. Bacteria have been found in South African gold mines, in boiling water near volcanic outlets, high in the stratosphere in the Antarctic and even in arsenic-laden Lake Mono in California. Conditions on Mars may well have been quite favorable to the beginnings of life in the past. Meteorites of Martian origin appear to contain biological material, and an experiment conducted by the Viking Mars lander in 1975 detected what could be interpreted as biological activity. Neither result has been widely accepted, but there is plenty of further research to be performed. A key to finding extraterrestrial life is finding environments where it could thrive. In our own solar system, Mars and the Jovian moons still appear to hold promise, but the big question is whether other stars harbor Earth-like planets that could support life. Data from the Kepler space telescope appears to give an affirmative answer; still, some scientists argue that life beyond Earth will prove to be rare, and intelligent life even rarer. The search continues, nonetheless, using radio telescopes orders of magnitude better than when the Green Bank and Arecibo dishes were state of the art. Kaufman also explores the idea that the constants of physics—such as the weights of elementary particles—show a “fine tuning” without which the universe we know would be impossible. While the concept seems popular with cosmologists, its value for the search for life beyond Earth isn’t obvious. Still, by talking to many of the scientists whose results he describes, Kaufman provides an invaluable summary of the current state of research into extraterrestrial life.

An excellent preview of what may be the next big scientific breakthrough.

Pub Date: April 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0900-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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