These are some of the new books that have been stacking up on my desk in the last wee while:
Star-craving mad : tales from a travelling astronomer / Fred Watson.
“Watson, Australia’s most popular astronomer, offers a lighthearted excursion into the history of mankind’s understanding of the universe. The subtitle refers to the astronomy tours he leads, which also inform the book’s structure, and the book is a combination of travelogue-incorporating time spent aboard an astronomy cruise-and popular science, as it explores several continents, eras, and scientists of historic note. Colloquial riffs on cell phone coverage, bad acronyms in science organizations, and commercial space flight’s “well-heeled joy-riders hooning [sic] into space,” keep the tone light. While the conversational, anecdotal voice conveys Watson’s personality, the scientific material suffers, as it is only broadly summarized; the result is somewhat shallow. Limited to introductions to the most famous breakthroughs in astronomy and physics, Watson offers little to readers already familiar with the development of telescopes, Newtonian physics, relativity, Copernicanism, or quantum mechanics. ” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)
Seven elements that have changed the world / John Browne.
“‘The progress and prosperity that humanity has achieved …’, writes John Browne, ‘is driven by people – scientists, business people and politicians’. The author has the rare distinction of having wide and deep experience of all three fields, and this is what makes Seven Elements such a fascinating and enjoyable book. Part popular science, part history, part memoir, these pages are infused with insight, shaped by the experience of a FTSE 100 Chief Executive and lifted by the innate optimism of a scientist. — Brian Cox Seven Elements is a boon for those, like me, who gave up science much too soon in our teens. John Browne has found a fascinating way of helping us break through the crust of our ignorance. The scientific literate too will relish his personal mix of historical knowledge and technical prowess with his gift for making the complicated understandable. — Peter Hennessy The human quest for knowledge and insight has led to extraordinary progress. It has transformed the lives we lead and the world we live in. But that onward march has also thrown us huge challenges about how we treat each other and the planet on which we live. This book forces us to confront these realities and does it in a unique and fascinating way. It weaves science and humanity together in a way that gives us new insight. This is an expertly crafted book by a unique thinker and talented engineer and businessman. — Tony Blair John Browne uses seven elements, building blocks of the physical world, to explore a multitude of worlds beyond. From the rise of civilizations, to some of today’s most important challenges and opportunities, to the frontiers of research, he weaves together science, history, politics and personal experience. Browne tells a lively story that enables us to see the essential elements of modern life in a new, original and highly engaging way. — Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Of The Quest: Energy, Security And The Making Of The Modern World And The Prize.” (Amazon.com)
30-second astronomy : the 50 most mindblowing discoveries in astronomy, each explained in half a minute / editor, Francois Fressin ; foreword by Martin Rees ; contributors, Darren Baskill … [et al.].
“How hot is Venus? Can you distinguish between a pulsar and a quasar? Is there a universe or a multiverse? Where do we fit into the infinitely grand scheme of things? How do we map the Cosmic Microwave Background? Most tantalizing of all: Is there anyone out there? The answers to these and many other far-out questions lie in your hands. Everyone’s gazing at the heavens, but a voyage through the star-studded contents of this book will blow your mind. Astronomy encapsulates the terrifying hugeness of the cosmos into bite-size particles that mere earthlings can understand: 50 incredible discoveries brought down to Earth using no more than two pages, 300 words, and a picture. This one small volume takes you on a cosmic tour, shedding light on the most awesome of objects and places, explaining some very big ideas, concepts, and discoveries, and presenting the scientists and observers who have done so much to crack Life, the Universe, and Everything. Welcome aboard.” (Amazon.com)
Maths 1001 / Richard Elwes.
The ultimate smart reference to the world of mathematics from quadratic equations and Pythagoras’ Theorem to chaos theory and quantum computing. (Library catalogue)
The universe in the rearview mirror : how hidden symmetries shape reality / Dave Goldberg.
“A Drexel University physics professor offers readers an informative, math-free, and completely entertaining look at the concept of symmetry in physics. Goldberg begins by explaining that for something to be considered symmetrical, it must look the same after undergoing a transformation-whether being flipped over, spun around, or reflected in a mirror. Sounds simple enough, but Goldberg insists that symmetries reveal some compelling rules of the universe. For example, CPT symmetry (or charge, parity, and time symmetry, the kind found when all particles and antiparticles have been turned into the opposite of themselves, everything has been flipped in a mirror, and the flow of time has been reversed-basically the ultimate transformation) suggests that “the universe is more or less the same in all directions and in all places.” Throughout his fascinating discussion, Goldberg’s writing remains accessible and full of humor. Intriguing asides cover topics like the veracity of Star Trek (it “could totally happen”), how black holes shrink the more matter they consume, and why you should never teleport a teaspoon of material from a neutron star into the cargo hold of your starship. Seasoning his expose with pop culture references that range from Doctor Who to Lewis Carroll to Angry Birds, Goldberg succeeds in making complex topics clear with a winning style.” (Publisher Weekly)
Genes, cells, and brains : the Promethean promises of the new biology / Hilary Rose and Steven Rose.
“Although biotechnology has become a multibillion dollar business, the actual benefits to individuals have been surprisingly rare, according to the Roses (Alas Poor Darwin), she a sociologist and he a biologist in England. They do an impressive job of providing brief histories of the rise of the Human Genome Project, stem-cell research, and the field of neuroscience, documenting the claims proponents of each have made about the way medicine would be transformed and arguing that virtually none of the promised benefits have come to pass. They offer both scientific and sociological explanations for the lack of results. On the scientific front, they explain how the underlying biology is far more complex than originally thought while, from a sociological perspective, they posit a business model that privileges the wealthy and disregards important issues associated with race and class. Their political perspective is clear: “Since the banking meltdown of 2007-08, the neoliberal leaders of Europe and the U.S. are agreed that the welfare of the majority, above all the most vulnerable, must be replaced by welfare payments to bankers.” Some will find this argument powerful, others strident, but many will find much to consider.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)
The universe within : discovering the common history of rocks, planets, and people / Neil Shubin.
“University of Chicago paleontologist Shubin wrote about the fishy origins of humanity in 2009’s Your Inner Fish. In his new book, he goes farther back and further out, explaining how humans bear the markings of cosmic phenomena; as he puts it, “Written inside us is the birth of the stars.” Here, the author surveys everything from glints in “Greenlandic rocks” to the spreading signs of supernovae to reveal “deep ties to the forces that shaped our bodies.” He demonstrates how mammals owe their “high-energy lifestyle[s]” to oxygen released hundreds of millions of years ago as continents spread apart, and how color vision arose after continental drift cooled the planet, diversified flora, and resulted in biological competition that favored those organisms who could identify nutritious plants according to hue (“Every time you admire a richly colorful view, you can thank India for slamming into Asia”). Shubin is a leading proponent of the fusion of paleontology, developmental genetics, and genomics, and the result of his efforts is a volume of truly inspired science writing. Appropriately vast in scope, Shubin deftly balances breadth and depth in his search for a “sublimely beautiful truth.”” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)
Living in a dangerous climate : climate change and human evolution / Renée Hetherington.
“In this ambitious and wide-ranging book touching on paleoclimatology, economics, biology, sociology, and anthropology, Hetherington (Canada-based natural resources consultant; coauthor with R. Reid, The Climate Connection, CH, Nov’10, 48-1452) provides a highly readable overview of how environmental change has affected humans from the time Homo species appeared in the geologic record through evolutionary changes, to the advent of civilizations, development of agriculture, and modern societies. The book begins with a summary of the climatic history of Earth along with an overview of evolutionary theory and a description of human evolution, migrations out of Africa, and ultimately the development of agriculture. The remainder of the book ties these two themes together using examples from the scientific literature to illustrate the way that environmental changes (resulting from natural phenomena or human factors) have caused humans to adapt. From these past examples, Hetherington then tackles future climate change and addresses topics such as why societies have been slow to respond to predicted threats from these climatic changes, how the economic system interferes with scientifically driven decision making, and what this means for future generations and how humanity might survive challenging climatic conditions in years to come. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, general readers, and professionals. D. Goldblum Northern Illinois UniversityCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE)
Polar bears : the natural history of a threatened species / Ian Stirling.
“Stirling (scientist, emeritus, Canadian Wildlife Svc.; biology, Univ. of Alberta) has studied polar bears for over 40 years. In this highly readable natural history of the polar bear in a nontechnical reference format, he presents the basic facts about polar bears in response to the general public’s heightened awareness of the species because of climate change. As polar bears rely on an ice-based environment, global warming is a serious threat to their existence. In this book, readers learn about polar bears’ distribution, evolution, feeding habits, morphology, physiology, reproduction, conservation, behavior, and threats to their survival. Stirling draws extensively from his own research as well as from traditional knowledge from different groups of native peoples, such as the Inuits, who have interacted with polar bears for thousands of years. Verdict? Not just for mammalogists, this title will appeal to readers with an interest in arctic ecology or the effects of global warming.” (Library Journal)
A photographic guide to fossils of New Zealand / Hamish Campbell … [et al.].
“A new addition to the popular New Holland series of natural history and science photographic guides, the thirteenth title focuses on plant and animal fossils commonly found in New Zealand. Fossils are the preserved remains of past life and are very much part of the natural environment in this country. The range of fossils described covers the geological time-scale of Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic periods. The younger Cenozoic rocks are especially widespread in New Zealand and for this reason Cenozoic fossils are the most common. Readers will learn to recognise the distinctive features of each group of fossils – shape, size, texture, colour and type of preservation – that serve as clues to the identity of any individual fossil organism. Excellent photographs provide a visual reference and individual entries provide essential geological information, along with biological and environmental detail about what fossils ate and where they lived. Written and researched by an expert team of paleontologists and geologists from GNS Science in Wellington, the authority of this guide is undeniable, but it is presented in a highly readable format.” (Fishpond.co.nz)