A clear call for common sense and reason that will likely fall on ears covered with headphones.

A darkling view of what our world—and what we—will be like if codex reading eventually surrenders to the flickering screens of e-readers.

Baron (Linguistics/American Univ.; Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World, 2008, etc.) has several purposes here: to summarize research (hers and others’) on the differences between e-reading and print; to rehearse the benefits of the latter, the deficits of the former; and to offer advice to readers in this age of transition. There is no doubt where the author stands. Both explicitly and implicitly, she prefers print publications—and emphasizes the abundant supporting research. But she also salts her text with numerous references to authors of canonical literature, among them Edith Wharton, Austen, Dickens, Chaucer, Proust, Descartes, Molière, and more recent notables like Gass and Iyer. This leaves little doubt that one of her principal worries is that the proliferation of e-readers will consign these all-stars to the bench, where they will watch other hitters at the plate: the authors of the Twilights of the world. Baron begins with the emergence of the e-book, then pauses to discuss what reading even is, offering a brief history of the codex and celebrating the glories of marginalia. She notes how the decline in codex reading has affected today’s college students, to whom professors assign fewer—and shorter—texts than in the past. She notes the obvious advantages of e-reading (including its democratization) but adds that the majority of readers prefer the codex and cites research confirming what many have long felt—that retention is much better with codex reading. Her own research study is a little questionable—as she acknowledges, she had no random sample, for instance.

A clear call for common sense and reason that will likely fall on ears covered with headphones.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-19-931576-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014



A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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