Curious about that froth on your cappuccino? Here’s the place to take its measure. But it is the reader who will have to...

UNIVERSAL FOAM

FROM CAPPUCCINO TO THE COSMOS

An exploration of the science of foam that is also an engaging appreciation of its cultural uses—think of your beer’s head or cappuccino’s cap—from physicist Perkowitz (Empire of Light, 1996).

Foam is one of those peculiar and intriguing semi-states, not really liquid or gas or solid, but an arrangement of adjoining bubbles and cells of gas within a liquid or solid. Perkowitz takes readers on a Cook’s Tour through the substance’s extensive and quirky world, from ocean whitecaps to champagne, pumice, and bread—the foamy turmoil of quantum events. He works his thrall mostly in the cultural aspects of foam: how it effects the flavor of beer, the taste of bread; how it brought about an environmental crisis with its near indestructibility as exemplified by packing peanuts and Macdonald’s clamshell burger containers; the ethereal pleasures of meringues and soufflés and mousses; the aesthetic chords struck by paintings of churning waves from Hokusai to Homer. But when Perkowitz delves into the physics of foam, he gets bogged down. It may be that the mechanical and dynamic properties of foam are simply not compelling, but it does seem as though something as wondrous as sonoluminescence (the act by which bubbles change sound into light) ought to have readers gasping in awe. It doesn’t, here. More problematical is that Perkowitz at times comes perilously close to a tone of cooing condescension: “No doubt you’ll soon notice the remarkable diversity of matter that surrounds us.” At the end of the book, he does manage to make his science sing when he describes the cosmos as having the distinct qualities of foam as witnessed through the distribution of galaxies across space.

Curious about that froth on your cappuccino? Here’s the place to take its measure. But it is the reader who will have to provide the initial spark of interest, for though Perkowitz can be entertaining, he is not alluring.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8027-1357-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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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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