THE MILLENNIAL PROJECT

COLONIZING THE GALAXY IN EIGHT EASY STEPS

In this boldly optimistic manifesto, Savage proclaims a master plan for the human race: to spread life throughout the galaxy. To many, space exploration seems irrelevant to Earth's real problems; but humanity may in fact have no other way to secure its long-term survival. To remain confined to Earth, Savage claims, is to court extinction, possibly within a few decades. Savage (an engineer who has established the Millennial Foundation to promote space exploration) outlines his program for transferring a significant portion of humanity off-planet. The crucial first step is to colonize the ocean surface with floating cities, quadrupling the living space available to the growing population of Earth. This allows us to reverse the degradation of the environment by shifting to the thermal energy of the deep ocean as our primary power source. At the same time, spirulina algae (already on sale in health food stores) becomes a major new food crop. The hardware for these oceanic colonies is already within practical reach: Savage provides a detailed inventory of how his floating cities would work and support themselves, with copious citations of the scientific literature. Once this move is well underway, it frees up energy and resources for the next steps. Improved space vehicles make possible orbiting space colonies, then settlements on the moon. A larger step is terraforming Mars—creating an atmosphere and a water supply for our lifeless neighbor to form a human habitat. On an even longer time scale, the race can expand into the rest of the solar system: asteroids and the moons of other planets. Ultimately, artificial habitats may completely surround the sun. With the resources of an entire solar system at our command, according to Savage, humanity can at last send out emissaries to other stars. The stuff of science fiction? Of course—but rigorously built from existing science, carefully documented, and convincingly argued. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-316-77165-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1994

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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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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