Recent Science Picks

Here are a few of the new science books that I have come across in the last wee while.

Syndetics book coverThe edge of the sky : all you need to know about the all-there-is / Roberto Trotta.
“Explaining complex ideas in accessible language is the goal of every popular science writer, but Trotta, a theoretical cosmologist at Imperial College London, stretches that effort to creative extremes, telling the story of modern cosmology with only the “ten hundred” (aka 1,000) most common English words. At first glance, the deliberately simple language feels childish, more of a distraction than a valuable, creative approach. Airplanes are “flying cars,” planetary rovers like Curiosity are “space-cars,” a large telescope is a Big-Seer, and planets, with their wandering paths across the heavens, are Crazy Stars. But Trotta’s deft word choices quickly draw the reader into a surprisingly vivid alternate reality where student-persons (scientists) strive to pierce the mysteries of the All-There-Is: the universe.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverTuring : pioneer of the information age / B. Jack Copeland.
“Described by his mother as an “unsociable and dreamy child,” Turing found his calling in mathematics, applying his talents to WWII code-breaking intelligence (efforts “kept secret for almost sixty years”), but the breakthroughs that earned him a place in history were those in software-centric and stored-program computing, developments that gave rise to the fields of artificial intelligence and artificial life. Turing’s work was an exploration of the human mind via computers, though he theorized that there is nevertheless a “mysterious something” in the human mind that goes “beyond computability.” It is an increasingly relevant inquiry, as Turing’s inventions have spread from military-industrial applications into the everyday.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe quantum moment : how Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg taught us to love uncertainty / Robert P. Crease, Alfred Scharff Goldhaber.
“Histories of quantum theory are typically dense with complex, abstract ideas, but philosopher Crease and physicist Goldhaber offer a new twist, adding a fascinating look at the ways the mainstream world has embraced (though not always accurately!) the concepts of quantum mechanics. Pop culture took up the quantum cause with far more gusto than most physicists. When first proposed, quantum theory was deemed “ugly, weird, unpredictable,” and “quite distasteful.” Experimentalist Robert Milliken tried to kill the idea, but his lab results kept confirming it. While physicists struggled to fill in the missing bits of their incomplete theories, quirky quantum ideas became parts of a “sphinxian riddle” that captured the mainstream imagination and inspired everyone from cartoonists and sculptors to such writers as Ian Fleming and John Updike.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe science of Interstellar / Kip Thorne.
“Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. Thorne shares his experiences working as the science adviser on the film and then moves on to the science itself. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar, describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverI think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that : selected writing / Ben Goldacre.
The very best journalism from one of Britain’s most admired and outspoken science writers, author of the bestselling Bad Science and Bad Pharma. In ‘Bad Science’, Ben Goldacre hilariously exposed the tricks that quacks and journalists use to distort science. In ‘Bad Pharma’, he put the $600 billion global pharmaceutical industry under the microscope. Now the pick of the journalism by one of our wittiiest, most indignant and most fearless commentators on the worlds of medicine and science is collected in one volume. (library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverOcean : the definitive visual guide / project editor, Rob Houston.
“From mangrove swamp to ocean floor, mollusc to manatee, the Japanese tsunami to Hurricane Sandy, unravel the mysteries of the sea. Marvel at the oceans’ power and importance to our planet – as the birthplace of life on Earth, a crucial element of our climate, and as a vital but increasingly fragile resource for mankind. You will discover every aspect, from the geology of the sea floor and the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere, to the extraordinary diversity of marine life. Includes an inspiring introduction by editor-in-chief Fabien Cousteau. Ocean captures both the beauty and scientific complexity of the ocean, making it perfect for families and students alike.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverPlanet of the bugs : evolution and the rise of insects / Scott Richard Shaw.
“Shaw, professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, takes an arthropodist stand against “human-centric bias that seeks to place our vertebrate ancestors in some kind of elevated position,” as he frames evolutionary history from the vantage point of insect development. The million distinct catalogued species that Shaw says “rule the planet” only constitute a subset of those that are documented in the fossil record or that have been discovered in the microniches of environments such as the tropical rainforest. Shaw looks at groups of species in terms of the structural features that developed to exploit emerging habitats and examines them in light of their parallel development with plant or animal species for which they might be prey, parasites, or pollinators.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverTen million aliens : a journey though the entire animal kingdom / Simon Barnes.
“Life on Planet Earth is not weirder than we imagine. It’s weirder than we are capable of imagining. We’re all part of the animal kingdom, appearing in what Darwin called “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful”. In this breathtakingly audacious book, Simon Barnes has brought us all together, seeking not what separates us but what unites us. He takes us white-water rafting through the entire animal kingdom in a book that brings in deep layers of arcane knowledge, the works of Darwin and James Joyce, Barnes’s own don’t-try-this-at-home adventures in the wild, David Attenborough and Sherlock Holmes. Ten Million Aliens opens your eyes to the real marvels of the planet we live on.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe amoeba in the room : lives of the microbes / Nicholas P. Money.
“Writing passionately about a subject he clearly loves, Money, professor of botany at Miami Univ. (Ohio), explains the critically important, but largely overlooked, roles microbial organisms play in the world. He points out, for example, the amazing role that marine diatoms play in moderating climate change: “By absorbing 20 billion tons of carbon per year-about one fifth of the global total-they are a greater refrigerant on this warming planet than tropical rainforests.” Money goes on to note that the number of individuals and species of microorganisms is staggering: the average gram of human feces contains 40 billion bacteria, a full 90% of the living matter in the oceans are microscopic, and “we have characterized only one millionth” of the viruses inhabiting the soil.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverH is for hawk / Helen Macdonald.
“In this elegant synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing, an English academic finds that training a young goshawk helps her through her grief over the death of her father. With her three-year fellowship at the University of Cambridge nearly over, Macdonald, a trained falconer, rediscovers a favorite book of her childhood, T.H. White’s The Goshawk (1951), in which White, author of The Once and Future King, recounts his mostly failed but illuminating attempts at training a goshawk, one of the most magnificent and deadly raptors. Macdonald secures her own goshawk, which she names Mabel, and the fierce wildness of the young bird soothes her sense of being broken by her father’s untimely death. The book moves from White’s frustration at training his bird to Macdonald’s sure, deliberate efforts to get Mabel to fly to her.” (Publisher Weekly)