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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

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

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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