New Science Books: how humans became humans, and science at the fringe

With this months recent picks, you can learn to build your own time machine, make your own clone, and throughly confuse yourself with physics!!

Syndetics book coverBuild your own time machine : the real science of time travel / Brian Clegg.
“In How to Build a Time Machine, Brian Clegg provides an understanding of what time is and how it can be manipulated. He explores the remarkable possibilities of real time travel that emerge from quantum entanglement, superluminal speeds, neutron star cylinders and wormholes in space. With the fascinating paradoxes of time travel echoing in our minds will we realize that travel into the future might never be possible? Or will we realize there is no limit on what can be achieved, and take on this ultimate challenge? Only time will tell.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverPhysics on the fringe : smoke rings, circlons, and alternative theories of everything / Margaret Wertheim.
“Australian science writer Wertheim has an unusual hobby that she freely admits most physicists would wince at. On her office shelves, Wertheim has amassed dozens of manuscripts from fringe engineers and mathematicians touting alternative theories of matter that sharply diverge from those endorsed by mainstream science. In this informative, often witty overview of outsider physicists, Wertheim offers an extended rumination on the role such amateur theorists play in science’s public acceptance. Readers are shown visions of a universe immersed in ether (an abandoned nineteenth-century concept), one that contracts rather than expands, and one that eliminates field theory but embraces a twisted version of quantum mechanics. The crown jewel in her menagerie of eccentric visionaries, however, is James Carter, a do-it-yourself mechanic whose theory of everything has been percolating for five decades. Insisting that physics should be comprehensible to the layman, Carter’s theory features a donut-shaped particle as matter’s fundamental building block. Yet far from belittling Carter, Wertheim uses his inspiring example as a potent reminder that today’s cranks may be deemed tomorrow’s geniuses.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverMasters of the planet : the search for our human origins / Ian Tattersall.
“Tattersall (The Fossil Trail), a noted expert on human evolution and an emeritus curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, offers a concise history of how humans became humans. He explains how the sparse skeletal remains of ancient human predecessors are studied, how the shape of a molar, the tip of a pelvis, the design of the knee or the ankle all offer clues to the genealogical maps of our past. He revisits the usual suspects: the famous three-million-year-old Lucy; the unprecedented (in 1984) hominid structure of the Turkana Boy; and the 400,000-year-old Heidelberg man. Tattersall moves through the complex fossil records effortlessly and with a welcome sense of wonder. He also consistently conveys a deep knowledge of his subject. His discussion of the origin of symbolic behavior and the many theories that seek to explain early humans’ unprecedented leap in capacity, including the acquisition of language, the development of art, and the ability to deal in the abstract, is provocative and illuminating. Tattersall’s combination of erudition and a conversational style make this is an excellent primer on human evolution.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverSimply Einstein : relativity demystified / Richard Wolfson.
“Einstein’s basic message is so simple that a single English sentence suffices to state it all, promises Wolfson (physics, Middlebury College). It is the implications that are disturbing and can become endlessly complicated. He does use numbers now and then when they can help illustrate an idea, but his approach is narrative.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverParadox : the nine greatest enigmas in science / Jim Al-Khalili.
“How can a cat be both dead and alive at the same time? Why will Achilles never beat a tortoise in a race, no matter how fast he runs? And how can a person be ten years older than their twin? Throughout history, scientists have been coming up with theories and ideas that just do not seem to make sense.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe handy physics answer book / Paul W. Zitzewitz.
“In a question-and-answer format, Zitzewitz (emeritus physics and science education, U. of Michigan-Dearborn) explains fundamentals about physics to general readers. Among the sections are motion and its causes, thermal physics, sound, electricity, what the world is made of, and unanswered questions. He has revised the first edition, which was written by P. Erik Gundersen. He has kept the structure and style, and some of the questions and answers, but has altered others and added new ones.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe velocity of honey and more science of everyday life / Jay Ingram.
“Why does the journey to a new location always take longer than the trip home? What is the science behind the theory of “six degrees of separation?” Why doesn’t honey flow out in all directions? In this delightful and amusing text, Jay Ingram explores the extraordinary science behind ordinary happenings. Ingram, host of the Discovery Channel Canada’s “Daily Planet” and best-selling author of “The Science of Everyday Life” has written an engrossing work which broadens our knowledge of the everyday world and deepens our appreciation for the mysteries of science. Addressing a diverse set of topics and reaching unorthodox conclusions, he explores the science behind proverbial expressions, delves into the uncharted territory of the connection between history and the contemporary scientific world, and highlights mysterious links between the worlds of art and science.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverUnnatural : the heretical idea of making people / Philip Ball.
“Can we make a human being? That question has been asked for many centuries, and has produced recipes ranging from the homunculus of the medieval alchemists and the clay golem of Jewish legend to Frankenstein’s monster and the mass-produced test-tube babies in “Brave New World”. All of these efforts to create artificial people are more or less fanciful, but they have taken deep root in Western culture. They all express fears about the allegedly treacherous, Faustian nature of technology, and they all question whether any artificially created person can be truly human. Legends of people-making are tainted by suspicions of impiety and hubris, and they are regarded as the ultimate ‘unnatural’ act – a moral judgement that has its origins in religious thought. In this fascinating and highly topical study, Philip Ball delves beneath the surface of the cultural history of ‘anthropoeia’ – the creation of artificial people – to explore what it tells us about our views on life, humanity, creativity and technology, and the soul. From the legendary inventor Daedalus to Goethe’s tragic Faust, from the automata-making magicians of E.T.A Hoffmann to Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein – the old tales and myths are alive and well, subtly manipulating the current debates about assisted conception, embryo research and human cloning, which have at last made the fantasy of ‘making people’ into some kind of reality.” (Amazon.com)