TELLER'S WAR

THE TOP-SECRET STORY BEHIND STAR WARS

New York Times science-writer Broad (Star Warriors, 1985, etc.), twice a Pulitzer-winner, presents a refreshingly factual account of how physicist Edward Teller sold the Star Wars concept to two conservative Administrations—and adds some prescient comments on how to prevent such apparent abuses of power in the future. Teller, co-inventor of the hydrogen bomb, has long been known as one of America's most enthusiastic cold warriors. According to Broad, the charismatic Hungarian refugee's lifelong habit of spouting off innumerable wild scientific ideas, depending on peer review to separate out the good ones, turned dangerous as his increasing power and right-wing politics served to isolate him from his colleagues while winning him friends among conservative politicians. As a result, Broad says, when Teller became obsessed with the experimental X-ray laser project that would form the heart of Star Wars, he went straight to the White House to lobby for funds, ignoring a chorus of criticism from a wide array of experts. Teller's enthusiasm, the author explains, won the heart of Ronald Reagan, among other technologically unschooled officials, to the tune of $25 billion to date. Broad's thesis—that this phenomenal waste of funds (and Star War's potential to create instability among superpowers) was the result of a deplorable abuse of personal privilege, the defense industry's tradition of secrecy, and a lack of a governmental advisory panel for judging the technical merit of proposed weapons projects—is convincingly backed up by facts presented here. And it gives this tale of a man who in his enthusiasm may have betrayed ``the central principle of his profession''—and who continues to promote Star Wars' replacement project, Brilliant Pebbles—a particularly frightening resonance. A few gratuitous personal remarks (``Hungarians have a reputation for morose introspection, with associated high suicide rates'') detract from what is otherwise an important and eye- opening exposÇ. (B&w photographs and drawings—not seen.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-70106-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller

SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Close Quickview