Even veteran stargazers won’t find much value in the oddball approach, and for younger ones, more cogent, readable print and...

ASTRONOMY FOR YOUNG AND OLD

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO THE VISIBLE SKY

This quirky introduction to the solar system and constellations aims for a broad audience—and scores a clean, complete miss.

With deliberate emphasis on Copernican (i.e., fixed Earth) astronomy, Kraul not only devotes three full chapters to the sun’s “apparent” annual motions and how they are “seen from space,” but describes in tedious detail the angled rising and falling of stars and constellations from various latitudes. He also traces the moon’s movements through the zodiac and the retrograde loops that the “superior” and “inferior” planets seem to make to earthly observers. Some of the illustrations are photographs, but more are small watercolor sky scenes that are hard to read despite the removal of extraneous stars and other details such as the names of zodiacal signs (though the symbols for each remain). Instructions for constructing a planisphere and a lunarium from card stock offer no advice for using either at night. The text is plagued by several copy editing (or possibly translation) errors and is prone to opaque or poorly phrased statements (“All the stars in the course of their daily movement culminate as they pass through the meridian”). Furthermore, the author makes a true but possibly misleading claim that seasons “are connected to the Sun’s position in the zodiac” and errs outright in claiming that if the Earth did not rotate, one side would always be light and the other dark.

Even veteran stargazers won’t find much value in the oddball approach, and for younger ones, more cogent, readable print and digital aids abound. (index, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-178250-046-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Floris

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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