Despite the author’s fervor, this story ultimately fizzles.

THE BIGGEST EXPLOSIONS IN THE UNIVERSE

A book for young readers about the science of astronomy.

Howard, an aerospace engineer, enthusiastically instructs readers on the intricacies of the stars–the “biggest explosions” of her title. Beginning with a primer on our place in the universe, she then guides readers through the birth of stars, star groupings, dying stars, supernovae, the lifecycle of the sun, “weird, wacky, and mysterious” stars and the most violent outbursts in the universe. Enticed by the explosive title, some readers will be especially interested in the more frightening aspects of our cosmos, and the author satisfies with information about the eventual death of our sun, and black holes. Her stated goal is to demystify the lifecycle and role of stars, and with the help of eye-catching photographs and relatively nontechnical language, she succeeds. However, while Howard’s passion for the subject is certainly evident, her ability to connect with her intended audience is less assured–her nimble command of the subject matter is in stark contrast to the awkward tone of the prose. At times, it doesn’t seem like she’s addressing young readers. She begins her book by instructing her readers to “pile the whole family into your car,” but it’s unlikely the average child reader would be licensed to drive. On one page, Howard give a complicated lesson on calculating the distance to the edges of our solar system in light years–two pages later, she talks about gravity’s effect on “puppy dogs [and] kitty cats.” Stranger still, she anthropomorphizes the objects she submits to scientific rigor. She claims “a star smiles with its light and dances with joy” and that when “baby stars” are born, “they ignite their smiles [and] give off a big cough and blow all the dust and particles far away from themselves.” Treating the stars as entities with discernable lifecycles is one thing, but suggesting that they have emotions is disingenuous.

Despite the author’s fervor, this story ultimately fizzles.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4392-1527-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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Entertaining and enlightening.

THE DISAPPEARING SPOON

AND OTHER TRUE TALES OF MADNESS, LOVE, AND THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THE PERIODIC TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS

In his debut, Science magazine reporter Kean uses the periodic table as a springboard for an idiosyncratic romp through the history of science.

Ranking Dmitri Mendeleev’s creation of the first version of the periodic table (“one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind”) alongside achievements by Darwin and Einstein, the author extends the metaphor of a geographical map to explain how the location of each element reveals its role—hydrogen and chlorine in the formation of an acid, carbon as the building block of proteins, etc.—and how gaps in the table allowed for future discoveries of new elements. Kean presents the history of science beginning with Plato, who used the Greek word for element for the first time in the belief that elements are fundamental and unchanging. The author then looks at Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for her discovery that the radioactivity of uranium was nuclear rather than chemical. Kean suggests that nuclear science not only led to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb, but was instrumental in the development of computers. The women employed by the Manhattan Project, he writes, in “hand-crunching long tables of data…became known by the neologism ‘computers.’ ” The author is a great raconteur with plenty of stories to tell, including that of Fritz Haber, the chemist who developed nitrogen fertilizer and saved millions from starvation, and applied his talents in World War I to creating poison gas, despite the protests of his wife, who committed suicide. “Between hydrogen at the top left and the man-made impossibilities lurking along the bottom,” writes the author, “you can find bubbles, bombs, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, poison, crime, and love. Even some science.” Nearly 150 years of wide-ranging science, in fact, and Kean makes it all interesting.

Entertaining and enlightening.

Pub Date: July 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-05164-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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Nothing new or revelatory here, but the book can serve as a good introduction to Jobs and will impress with its concision...

STEVE JOBS

INSANELY GREAT

A free-wheeling graphic biography of Steve Jobs.

The late visionary behind Apple and Pixar lent himself to caricature, and illustrator Hartland (Bon Appétit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, 2012, etc.) takes full advantage. Her inspirational version of the “insanely great” Jobs is a misfit who refused to follow the rules or play well with others, who was as rebellious as he was smart. Eventually becoming one of the richest men in the world, he followed a spiritual path of asceticism, looking for gurus, seeking a purer truth than can be found in material possessions. Yet he showed a remarkable lack of compassion and empathy toward his associates and was forced out of the Apple he had founded because others considered him so difficult. He wasn’t the computer whiz that his early collaborator Steve Wozniak was, but the marketing acumen of his passion for design and simplicity proved equally crucial in Apple’s transformation of the personal computer from a hobbyist pursuit into a paradigm-shifting commercial product. “Woz is the engineering genius,” the author writes in a kid’s scrawl that matches the rough-hewn illustrations. “Steve is the salesman with the big picture.” As she later quotes her subject, who saw Apple prosper beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, “I don’t think it would have happened without Woz and I don’t think it would have happened without me.” Recognizing his own deficiencies, Jobs recruited Pepsi’s John Sculley to run the company: “While Steve knows himself to be quirky, tactless, confrontational, and insensitive, he knows Sculley is polite, polished, and easygoing”—though inevitably, there was a power struggle between the two. The narrative somehow squeezes Jobs’ important innovations—the iMac, the music empire of iPods and iTunes, the smartphone revolution, the iPad—into a breezy narrative that engages and entertains.

Nothing new or revelatory here, but the book can serve as a good introduction to Jobs and will impress with its concision those who already know a lot about him.

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-98295-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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