A bright, informative resource for readers seeking to understand science through the eyes of the men and women who shaped...

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THE STORY OF SCIENCE

FROM THE WRITINGS OF ARISTOTLE TO THE BIG BANG THEORY

The prolific author of the Story of the World series explores the history of science through the prism of key scientific texts.

Bauer (Writing and American Literature/Coll. of William and Mary; The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, 2003, etc.) explains that her intention is to trace “the development of great science writing—the essays and books that have most directly affected and changed the course of scientific investigation.” The author divides the book in five parts, and she provides a historical context for the texts she recommends and explains the reasons for her choices. Part I, “The Beginnings,” looks at the seminal writings on medicine by Hippocrates, as well as Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, and Copernicus, who wrote his groundbreaking Commentariolus in 1514. Bauer compares different translations of the original text and explains their respective merits. In the second part, “The Birth of the Method,” the author introduces Newtonian physics, and parts III (“Reading the Earth”) and IV (“Reading Life”) deal with geology and biology, from earth science to Darwin's theory of natural selection and Crick and Watson's groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA. Bauer’s recommendations include Watson's The Double Helix and Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. In the final section, “Reading the Cosmos,” the author begins with Einstein's theory of relativity and covers works on quantum theory, cosmology, and chaos theory. In addition to guiding inquisitive readers to the original texts that record landmark discoveries, Bauer also seeks to explain “the why” of scientific discovery. The scope of the book makes it susceptible to a certain amount of superficiality—e.g., Bauer's discussion of determinism in the context of chaos theory—but that does not detract from its value.

A bright, informative resource for readers seeking to understand science through the eyes of the men and women who shaped its history.

Pub Date: May 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24326-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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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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