Category: Recent picks

Recent Science Books

A few more books that have sidled their way across my desk.

Syndetics book coverThe ultimate book of Saturday science : the very best backyard science experiments you can do yourself / Neil A. Downie.
“The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science is Neil Downie’s biggest and most astounding compendium yet of science experiments you can do in your own kitchen or backyard using common household items. It may be the only book that encourages hands-on science learning through the use of high-velocity, air-driven carrots.Downie, the undisputed maestro of Saturday science, here reveals important principles in physics, engineering, and chemistry through such marvels as the Helevator–a contraption that’s half helicopter, half elevator–and the Rocket Railroad, which pumps propellant up from its own track. The Riddle of the Sands demonstrates why some granular materials form steep cones when poured while others collapse in an avalanche. The Sunbeam Exploder creates a combustible delivery system out of sunlight, while the Red Hot Memory experiment shows you how to store data as heat. Want to learn to tell time using a knife and some butter? There’s a whole section devoted to exotic clocks and oscillators that teaches you how.The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science features more than seventy fun and astonishing experiments that range in difficulty from simple to more challenging. All of them are original, and all are guaranteed to work. Downie provides instructions for each one and explains the underlying science, and also presents experimental variations that readers will want to try”–Provided by publisher.

Syndetics book coverThe day the world discovered the sun : an extraordinary story of scientific adventure and the race to track the transit of Venus / Mark Anderson.
“In 1769, in one of the earliest examples of “team science,” expeditions were organized to collect observational data of the transit of Venus-which occurs when the planet’s orbit crosses between the Sun and Earth-from several points on the globe. Spurred by the data from Venus’s 1761 transit, the natural philosophers of the day knew that the 1769 transit measurements were key to calculating with greater accuracy the distance between Earth and the Sun as well as to better determining longitude for ship navigation. Anderson (”Shakespeare” by Another Name) tells the stories of three research voyages: James Cook’s to Tahiti on the British Endeavour, French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche’s on La Concepcion to the Gulf of California, and the Hungarian Jesuit scientist Maximilian Hell’s to the Arctic Circle on the Urania. Their experiences are woven into an adventure tale informed by diary entries of the time. Astronomers today are preparing for a June 6, 2012, transit, which like the 18th-century transit is the second within a decade; the last was in 2004 and the next will be in 2117. VERDICT Recommended for casual students of history and astronomy.-Sara Rutter, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverGravity’s engines : how bubble-blowing black holes rule galaxies, stars, and life in the cosmos / Caleb Scharf.
“We’ve long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billions of times more massive than the Sun, they lurk in the inner sanctum of almost every galaxy of stars in the universe. They’re mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath. Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely different side to black holes. As the astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals in Gravity’s Engines, these chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter. Black holes blow bubbles. With clarity and keen intellect, Scharf masterfully explains how these bubbles profoundly rearrange the cosmos around them. Engaging with our deepest questions about the universe, he takes us on an intimate journey through the endlessly colorful place we call our galaxy and reminds us that the Milky Way sits in a special place in the cosmic zoo–a “sweet spot” of properties. Is it coincidental that we find ourselves here at this place and time? Could there be a deeper connection between the nature of black holes and their role in the universe and the phenomenon of life? We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars”–Provided by publisher.

Syndetics book coverFor the love of physics : from the end of the rainbow to the edge of time– a journey through the wonders of physics / Walter Lewin with Warren Goldstein.
“This largely autobiographical account reveals the author to be one who fell in love first with physics and then with teaching physics to students.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIt’s not rocket science / Ben Miller.
Black holes. Global warming. The Hadron Collider. Ever had that sinking feeling that you really should know about these things, but somehow never quite grasped them? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Before Ben Miller was a comedian, he used to be a physicist, working towards a PhD in Novel Quantum Effects in Quasi-Zero-Dimensional Electron Systems. But then he woke up twenty years later and realised he didn’t know any of this stuff either. And so he set out on a mission. He worked out the ten most vital things in science – the things you really need to know. He talked to experts, he visited research labs, he went to see the Hadron Collider in action… And then he wrote this book.

Syndetics book coverThe complete world of human evolution / Chris Stringer, Peter Andrews.
“Although the title of this book suggests that it is about human evolution, it is really a bit of a misnomer. In fact, Stringer and Andrews (both, Natural History Museum, London, UK) present a nice introductory discussion that encompasses the much broader picture of primate evolution in general–surveying some 30 million years of primate evolution and 5 million years of human evolution in the process. In this regard, the authors emphasize the progressive changes that have occurred in the anatomical, behavioral, and cultural development of modern humans, as well as in the evolutionary relatedness of humans and our nearest living relatives, the great apes. This new edition (1st ed., CH, Sep’05, 43-0409) presents the most up-to-date views on humanity’s ancestral lineage. In addition, the book briefly considers the many long-standing controversies that remain sources of contentious debate among today’s paleoanthropologists. The well-written book is largely accessible to general interest readers. The authors discuss select topics in short, two-to-four-page chapters; hence, only the most basic information is provided. The volume is nicely illustrated with a good selection of black-and-white and full-color photographs and drawings. Overall, a useful supplementary resource for undergraduate students taking introductory courses in anthropology and/or evolution. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers. D. A. Brass independent scholarCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE)

New Science Books

This is just a small selection of some of the new science material that has crossed my desk recently. Enjoy!!

Syndetics book coverScience set free : 10 paths to new discovery / Rupert Sheldrake.
“In Science Set Free, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, one of the world’s most innovative scientists, shows the ways in which science is being constricted by assumptions that have hardened into dogmas that are not only limiting, but also dangerous for the future of humanity” — Front jacket flap.

Syndetics book coverAbout time : from sun dials to quantum clocks, how the cosmos shapes our lives, and we shape the cosmos / Adam Frank.
From a Palaeolithic farmer living by the sun and stone plinths to the factory worker logging into an industrial punch clock to the modern manager enslaved to Outlook’s 15-minute increments, our relationship with time has constantly evolved alongside our scientific understanding of the universe. And the latest advances in physics string-theory branes, multiverses, “clockless” physics are positioned to completely rewrite time in the coming years. Weaving cosmology with day-to-day chronicles and a lively wit, astrophysicist Adam Frank tells the dazzling story of humanity’s invention of time and how we will experience it in the future.
(Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverHow to live forever : and 34 other really interesting uses of science / by Alok Jha.
How to Live Forever is the essential survival guide for anyone who has ever been baffled by science. In a series of intriguing, entertaining and often extraordinary scenarios Alok Jha brings to life 35 key science ideas in a way that anyone can understand. From the microscopic to the cosmic, this book takes you on a glorious tour of the known universe and beyond, taking in cloned sheep, alien worlds, bizarre life forms, quantum weirdness, parallel dimensions and dissected brains along the way. You’ll discover how to travel through time, how to start (and cure) a plague, how the mind works, how to turn sunbeams into oak trees, how to boil a planet, how to turn invisible and much, much more. Both informative and enjoyable, this is a rip-roaring introduction to the wonders of modern science. (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe rocks don’t lie : a geologist investigates Noah’s flood / David R. Montgomery.
“Many theologians and scientists within the Christian tradition have long interpreted the biblical story of Noah’s flood as a worldwide event and a foundation for determining the geological age of the earth. In this rich, animated narrative, geologist Montgomery points out that theologians have often bent an amazing array of geological evidence to support a literal interpretation of Noah’s flood. But what does the Earth itself tell us? Using the evidence he finds in the various strata of rocks in a roadbed in Kentucky, Montgomery contends that the “440 million-year-old, trilobite-bearing limestone” is clearly not a chaotic, mixed-up product of an earth-churning flood. The rocks formed when an ancient “proto-Atlantic Ocean” led to the formation of a thick pile of sediment that gradually accumulated layer by later-stretching from Newfoundland to Alabama. Moreover, plate tectonics shatters the myth of a global flood by explaining the sequences, ages, and assemblages of rocks we find throughout the world, as well as the global distribution of topography. Brilliant and provocative, Montgomery’s exploration of scientific and theological understandings of Noah’s flood vibrantly opens our eyes to the marvels of ancient rocks that are far grander than ourselves. 20 illus., maps. Agent: Elizabeth Wales, Wales Literary Agency. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverRocks and minerals / Ronald Louis Bonewitz.
The new DK Nature Guides form a comprehensive, accessible, and informative series of illustrated reference books that tackle key natural history subjects in DK’s uniquely visual style. Produced in collaboration with expert consultants at the Smithsonian Institution, each guide is expertly written and will give you knowledge of the natural world at your fingertips. (Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverGlobal weirdness : severe storms, deadly heat waves, relentless drought, rising seas, and the weather of the future / [produced by] Climate Central.“We hear so much about climate change, but do we really know all the facts? Climate Central, Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization founded in 2008, is here to help. Instead of long, discursive explanations, the book offers 50 entries that aim to be accessible. Is climate ever normal? What has caused climate change in the past? Find out here; looks to be a great resource for high school papers, too. In clear, accessible prose, a fascinating new book that explains climate change–its implications for the future and what we can and cannot do to avoid further change–to the layperson produced by a highly regarded independent, non-profit journalism and research organization.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe God problem : how a godless cosmos creates / Howard Bloom.
“How does the cosmos do something it has long been thought that only gods could achieve? How does an inanimate universe generate stunning new forms and unbelievable new powers without a Creator? How does the cosmos create?” (Annotation, Library Catalogue)

A smorgasbord of new science books

This month we have a smorgasbord of Biology, Geology and Physics books on offer. Everything from Spider silk to Elephants!!

Syndetics book coverThe elegant universe : superstrings, hidden dimensions, and the quest for the ultimate theory / Brian Greene.
“Greene, one of the world’s leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery to reveal a universe of 11 dimensions where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, in this “New York Times” bestseller that features a new Preface and Epilogue.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSpider silk : evolution and 400 million years of spinning, waiting, snagging, and mating / Leslie Brunetta, Catherine L. Craig.
“This well-received book is the wonderfully entertaining product of a collaboration between Brunetta, a freelance journalist and former Fulbright scholar, and Craig, a respected evolutionary biologist and author of Spiderwebs and Silk (2003). As the book delves into the evolution, properties, and multiple uses of spider silk, it takes the reader on brief forays into Greek mythology, paleontology, the foundations of Darwinian theory, Mendelian genetics, the Watson-Crick model of DNA structure, and protein chemistry. Modern spiders produce six or more different silks, and the changes in the structure of these fibrous proteins allow them to function as glues, water-repellent packaging, rappelling ropes, snares, and trip lines. The scattering of light by protein droplets in the silk even helps to obscure spider webs from flying insects, thus aiding their capture. The authors offer a fascinating look into how modifications of the strength, stickiness, and appearance of the silk used to make trip lines or webs allow spiders to extend their senses and physical reach. Silken webs can provide a spider with a home, a fortress, and a snare, whereas lines allow it to balloon on air currents for hundreds of kilometers.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverThe elephant’s secret sense : the hidden life of the wild herds of Africa / Caitlin O’Connell.The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
“While observing a family of elephants in the wild, Caitlin O’Connell noticed a peculiar listening behavior in which the matriarch lifted her foot and scanned the horizon, causing the other elephants to follow suit, as if they could “hear” the ground. The Elephant’s Secret Sense is O’Connell’s account of her pathbreaking research into seismic listening and communication, chronicling the extraordinary social lives of elephants over the course of fourteen years in the Namibian wilderness.This odyssey of scientific discovery is also a frank account of fieldwork in a poverty-stricken, war-ravaged country. In her attempts to study an elephant community, O’Connell encounters corrupt bureaucrats, deadly lions, poachers, farmers fighting for arable land, and profoundly ineffective approaches to wildlife conservation. The Elephant’s Secret Sense is ultimately a story of intellectual courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKeeper of the nuclear conscience : the life and work of Joseph Rotblat / Andrew Brown.
“Physicist Joseph Rotblat was a Polish Jew who emigrated to England in early 1939 to work in Chadwick’s cyclotron laboratory. He left behind his family and wife with the intention of returning at the conclusion of his internship. Weeks prior to his departure, Curie reported her discovery of nuclear fission and, just after he left, the Nazis invaded Poland. While in Liverpool, Rotblat recognized the military implications of nuclear fission. He was one of the first people to do so and began quietly but reluctantly informing certain people of this realization. Subsequently he worked on the Manhattan Project, where he contributed to the development of nuclear data that were key to designing an atomic bomb. Rotblat’s moral concerns about nuclear weapons caused him to leave Los Alamos before the first nuclear test and return to England, where he began a lifelong effort to control the spread of nuclear weapons. He was an organizer of the Pugwash conferences and an activist for nuclear disarmament. In this well-written biography, Brown (Harvard; The Neutron and the Bomb, CH, Apr’98, 35-4552) does justice to the legacy of Rotblat, whose concern about the implications of a world full of nuclear-armed countries evolved into a personal crusade.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverWhy geology matters : decoding the past, anticipating the future / Doug Macdougall.
“Writing for the popular reader, Macdougall (emeritus, earth sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U. of California, San Diego) offers a clear description of geology and its study. The volume is filled with fascinating accounts of early scientists and their discoveries, described in connection with specific cases and questions of interest to us all, including what happens when an asteroid hits the Earth, how the geologist Brian Atwater recognized the history of massive earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, what we know about ice ages, and what brought on the catastrophic warming of the Paleocene. Filled with recent examples of geologic events, and written in an accessible personal style, the book provides an excellent overview of one of the most relevant of all the sciences.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGravity : how the weakest force in the universe shaped our lives / Brian Clegg.Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives
“Clegg (How To Build a Time Machine: The Real Science of Time Travel) acquaints readers with a very familiar force in their lives: gravity. To most people, gravity seems awfully powerful since it keeps them (and everything else) attached to Earth. As Clegg explains, however, gravity is, in fact, one of the weakest forces of nature, as he indicates in his subtitle. He takes readers on a delightful conversational tour of how gravity works and how humanity came to understand it. He brings to life household names like Newton and Einstein and the scientific circles in which they worked and lived. Explanations of giant stars and atomic nuclei demonstrate aspects of gravity most people don’t think about, which makes this book all the more fascinating. VERDICT Lovers of science who are not well versed in its mechanics will find this book absorbing.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)

Syndetics book coverPlanet dinosaur : the next generation of giant killers / Cavan Scott ; palaeontology specialist Darren Naish.
“The companion book to the upcoming Discovery Channel television series, Planet Dinosaur is an introduction to the latest and most exciting dinosaur discoveries. The last decade has been particularly fruitful in the study of dinosaurs, with more new species found than were discovered in the preceding 200 years. Many of these discoveries easily eclipse previously known species and are rewriting what we know about dinosaurs. Planet Dinosaur is a global survey of the 30 most thrilling dinosaur species found in recent years. It provides a new global perspective on dinosaurs, revealing which species lived at the same time on different continents and how the Earth looked in each time period. Specimens in China, the Sahara, the Arctic, Antarctica and North America are especially exciting. The deadly predator, Giganotosaurus, outsized T-Rex. Dracorex hogwartsia lived in North America 70 million years ago and resembled a real-life dragon.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last lost world : ice ages, human origins, and the invention of the Pleistocene / Lydia V. Pyne and Stephen J. Pyne.
“Daughter-and-father historians of science pretty fully justify their profession in this brilliant explanation of the most recent geological epoch, which, depending on how current debate within the paleontological community over such things as whether the Pleistocene-defining cycle of ice formation and melting is really over, and whether H. sapiens continues to evolve naturally is resolved, may or may not have concluded with the rise of civilization and the proposed Holocene epoch. Their exposition is highly dialectical, for while the Pleistocene is a scientific concept collocating hard facts and materialist theories, it is fundamentally a cultural creation, a thing of the mind shaped by scientifically untestable assumptions about the importance of humanity in the story of Earth’s development. Indeed, the Pynes point out, discussion of and contention over the Pleistocene seem to swirl around whether it is presented as a chronicle a record of things or as a narrative of related and directional events. So-called hard science, rejecting mind, rather favors the chronicle; history, embracing mind, the narrative. For science mavens of a philosophical bent, this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what’s more and better, intellectual exercise.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

New on the science shelves

Make sense of the world with the ideas and views contained within these new science picks. The impact of shrimp farming, lessons we can learn from rats, the shapes and patterns of nature, and more …

Syndetics book coverLet them eat shrimp : the tragic disappearance of the rainforests of the sea / Kennedy Warne.
“When a book’s preface is a fictional account of a crab harvester shot to death by rifle-toting guards of a shrimp farm, readers can only guess that they are not going to find stupefying statistics in the pages that follow. Journalist Warne (founding editor, New Zealand Geographic) has produced a personal account of the results of converting mangrove forests into shrimp farms around the world. Telling the stories of people displaced by intensive shrimp farms in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas, Warne provides evocative tales of economic disparities and disruption of local tradition, but little on the benefits of intensive investment in mangrove forest management. The bibliography lists only 18 references, although it also includes 8 websites that give entry points to a more extensive literature. While inspiring to those interested in participatory journalism, science writing, and the human side of economic development, this book should not be considered a reference work for advanced scientific study or economic analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of intensive shrimp farming. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and undergraduate students. G. C. Stevens formerly, University of New MexicoCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverWar of the worldviews : science vs. spirituality / Deepak Chopra, Leonard Mlodinow.
“Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Hawking have had a major impact on the loud and popular debate between ‘aggressive atheists’ and religion. The huge sales of their bestselling books show just how much interest people have in their ideas. Now ‘the rock star of the new spirituality’, Deepak Chopra, is entering this debate, sparring with leading physicist, Professor Leonard Mlodinow (the co-author, with Stephen Hawking, of “The Grand Design”). In “War of the Worldviews”, Chopra argues that there is design in our universe and a deep intelligence behind life. Without defending organised religion, he debunks randomness as an explanation for how Nature evolves and shows how consciousness comes first and matter second. On the other side, Mlodinow argues the viewpoint of science, specifically what modern quantum physics can tell us about our world. In his view, physics, genetics and cosmology will shed far more light on the big questions than rethinking ancient spiritual concepts can ever do. A major work of our time, “War of the Worldviews” will not only offer more food for thought for those fascinated by the two sides of this modern conundrum – it will also place Deepak Chopra firmly in the ring of some of the most remarkable, and bestselling, thinkers of our era.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lab rat chronicles : a neuroscientist reveals life lessons from the planet’s most successful mammals / Kelly Lambert.
“What can the common laboratory rat tell us about being human? According to behavioral neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, a whole lot. Her twenty-five-year career conducting experiments that involve rats has led her to a surprising conclusion: Through their adaptive strategies and good habits, these unassuming little animals can teach us some essential lessons about how we, as humans, can lead successful lives. From emotional resilience and a strong work ethic to effective parenting and staying healthy, the lab rat is an unlikely but powerful role model for us all. Book jacket.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNonsense on stilts : how to tell science from bunk / Massimo Pigliucci.
“Nonsense on Stilts is a very interesting, useful compendium of thinking about and within science. Science has become more and more a part of daily life, and Pigliucci (philosophy, CUNY; Making Sense of Evolution, coauthor with C. Kaplan, 2006; Denying Evolution, CH, Jan’03, 40-2755) points out the need to differentiate between “good” science and pseudoscience and all shades in between (e.g., “almost” science). Topics discussed cover the nature and limits of science, the psychology of belief, philosophy of science, tools of critical thinking, differentiation between “hard” and “soft” science, historical science, randomness, and causation. Specific examples include AIDS denial, astrology, ESP/paranormal, (pseudo)journalism, climate change, evolution versus creationism, and expertise. The author also describes the evolution of scientific thinking. Although Fuller does not propose a litmus test for scientific boundaries, he advocates the use of a “baloney detector.” Naturalism, theory, and empiricism/testability are key criteria for scientific findings. Valuable as a reference for courses in science, philosophy, political science, and journalism, as well as a handbook for the public. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All libraries. R. E. Buntrock formerly, University of MaineCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverThe watchman’s rattle : thinking our way out of extinction / Rebecca Costa.
“Explains why the human brain has such difficulty dealing with complex global problems, and provides a method for surmounting these limitations in order to end the blights of worldwide recession, global warming, fast-spreading viruses, famine and poverty.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverShapes : nature’s patterns : a tapestry in three parts / Philip Ball.
“Nature is a self-made tapestry, weaving its patterns in space and time. Patterns make themselves from the interplay of physical and chemical forces on materials living and non-living. The result is an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic array of forms. In this, the first of three books exploring nature’s patterns, Philip Ball describes patterns of shape and makes us look at the world with fresh eyes, seeing order and form in everything from crystals and chemical reactions, to butterfly wings, leopard skins, and even entire ecosystems. Ball’s exploration of shapes ranges over all the sciences and links with art and design, taking in the exquisite architecture of coccoliths alongside the stability of bubble rafts.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Recent Science books – Maths, Physics, and the end of it all

If you like the Big Bang Theory, and you are in to Maths and Physics – or are just curious – we have the books for you!

Syndetics book coverThe music of the primes : why an unsolved problem in mathematics matters / Marcus du Sautoy.
“The paperback of the critically-acclaimed popular science book by a writer who is fast becoming a celebrity mathematician. Prime numbers are the very atoms of arithmetic. They also embody one of the most tantalising enigmas in the pursuit of human knowledge. How can one predict when the next prime number will occur? Is there a formula which could generate primes? These apparently simple questions have confounded mathematicians ever since the Ancient Greeks. In 1859, the brilliant German mathematician Bernard Riemann put forward an idea which finally seemed to reveal a magical harmony at work in the numerical landscape. The promise that these eternal, unchanging numbers would finally reveal their secret thrilled mathematicians around the world. Yet Riemann, a hypochondriac and a troubled perfectionist, never publicly provided a proof for his hypothesis and his housekeeper burnt all his personal papers on his death. Whoever cracks Riemann’s hypothesis will go down in history, for it has implications far beyond mathematics. In business, it is the lynchpin for security and e-commerce. In science, it has critical ramifications in Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Theory, and the future of computing. Pioneers in each of these fields are racing to crack the code and a prize of $1 million has been offered to the winner. As yet, it remains unsolved. In this breathtaking book, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy tells the story of the eccentric and brilliant men who have struggled to solve one of the biggest mysteries in science. It is a story of strange journeys, last-minute escapes from death and the unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Above all, it is a moving and awe-inspiring evocation of the mathematician’s world and the beauties and mysteries it contains.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverThe calculus diaries : how math can help you lose weight, win in Vegas, and survive a zombie apocalypse / Jennifer Ouellette ; [illustrations by Jason Torchinsky].
“Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn’t need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun and fascinating account of her year spent confronting her math phobia head on. With wit and verve, Ouellette shows how she learned to apply calculus to everything from gas mileage to dieting, from the rides at Disneyland to shooting craps in Vegas-proving that even the mathematically challenged can learn the fundamentals of the universal language.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverQuantum theory cannot hurt you : a guide to the universe / Marcus Chown.
“Anyone bemused by the CERN collider should lay their hands on this charming and revelatory guide to the innards of atoms. Chown gently coaxes the reader from the fairly straightforward – the first evidence of atoms was an observation in 1800 of pollen grains zigzagging in water “like drunkards returning from the pub” – to the mind-boggling. Quantum computers (already in prototype) can “represent a zero and a one simultaneously”, a phenomenon best explained by the existence of “multiple universes”. Time travel is also possible in theory, but Stephen Hawking has doubts: “Where are the tourists from the future?” – (adapted from The Independent summary)

Syndetics book coverIn pursuit of the unknown : 17 equations that changed the world / Ian Stewart.
“In this new work, Stewart (mathematics, emeritus, Univ. of Warwick, UK; The Mathematics of Life) reviews 17 equations from the Pythagorean theorem of ancient times to the Black-Scholes formula of the late 20th century, including Newton’s law of gravity and Einstein’s theory of relativity in between. He explains the origins of each equation and its initial uses and then goes on to describe ensuing development and newer applications. Stewart’s expertise and his well-developed style (enhanced by a nice sense of humor) make for enjoyable reading. Although readers with an already established background in mathematics and its functions will benefit the most, others will find much to enjoy. In some of the chapters, Stewart’s treatment of historical origins seems a bit perfunctory. VERDICT Overall, a worthwhile and entertaining book, accessible to all readers. Recommended for anyone interested in the influence of mathematics on the development of science and on the emergence of our current technology-driven society.-Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to teach relativity to your dog / Chad Orzel.
“Orzel (physics & astronomy, Union Coll.; How To Teach Physics to Your Dog) tackles the seemingly impossible world of relativity. Playing Gracie Allen to Orzel’s George Burns is the endearing Emmy, the canine star of his previous book. No matter whether Emmy thinks she will be younger by pulling fast on her leash or that she will suddenly fit through a hole in the fence by running as fast as she can toward it, Orzel talks her (and readers) through the principles of relativity, including time dilation and length contraction. No prior mathematical knowledge is required for this book, but some basic knowledge in physics might make readers more comfortable, even if that knowledge comes from watching or reading other popular science titles. Verdict Readers who enjoy Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, or Neil deGrasse Tyson will love this book. Full of sf quotes, math jokes, and silly canines, the book strives to make its audience amazed by, not frightened of, physics. With exuberant Emmy at the lead, readers can’t help but be dragged (willingly!) toward a better understanding of special and general relativity.-Rachel M. Minkin, Michigan State Univ. Libs., East Lansing (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)

Syndetics book coverTweeting the universe : tiny explanations of very big ideas / Marcus Chown & Govert Schilling.
“In 140 pages, two masterly popularisers present 140 explanations of the biggest questions in physics – in the form of 10 or so tweets per page. They set themselves the challenge of boiling down what is essential on each subject into sentences of 140 characters, and the results are both entertaining and brilliantly informative. Not a word is wasted. The reader is not patronized and learns something on every page. If only all science writing could be so precise and so economical. Only science writers of a very high calibre could achieve such compression. Marcus Chown – “the finest cosmology writer of our day” (Matt Ridley) – has known the Dutch writer Govert Schilling for twenty years. Schilling pioneered this very swift form of explanation in a Dutch newspaper, and suggested to Chown that they collaborate on bringing it to a wider audience. “Tweeting the Universe” is unlike any other science book.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverFirst contact : scientific breakthroughs in the hunt for life beyond Earth / Marc Kaufman.First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth
“Kaufman details the incredible true story of science’s search for the beginnings of life on Earth and the probability that it exists elsewhere in the universe.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow it ends : from you to the universe / Chris Impey.
“Although we may try to keep it tucked at the back of our minds, most of us are aware of our own mortality. But few among us know what science, with insights yielded from groundbreaking new research, has to say about endings on a larger scale. What happens when we die? And how will our species and biosphere; the Earth, Sun, and Milky Way; and finally our entire universe meet their eventual ends?How It Ends takes us to the frontiers of science in order to answer these ever-intriguing questions. Along the way, astronomer Chris Impey covers such fascinating topics as the technologies that are being developed to lengthen human lives and the “big rip” that scientists speculate will annihilate our universe. With a healthy dose of humor and an irresistible sense of curiosity, How It Ends opens our eyes to the surprising future of our world. Book jacket.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Recent Science books – Earth and Beyond

This month saw the last occurence of the Transit of Venus for 105 years, and due to inclement weather, we missed it. However, we do have a companion book to the transit, along with other books on our planet and Solar system to help pass a rainy day.

Syndetics book coverTransit of Venus : 1631 to the present / Nick Lomb.
“The transit of Venus across the sun in June 2012 will be the last chance in our lifetime to see this rare planetary alignment that has been so important in history. Rich in historical detail and cutting edge science, along with practical information on how and when to view the transit, Transit of Venus is the must-have companion to this extraordinary astronomical event. From Johannes Kepler’s first prediction of a transit of Venus in 1631, to Captain Cook’s 1769 transit expedition to Tahiti (which led to the European settlement of Australia), and on to our 21st-century quest to find distant Earth-like planets using the transit method, astronomer Nick Lomb takes us on a thrilling journey of exploration and adventure.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverAtlas of the southern night sky / Steve Massey, Steve Quirk.
“The book contains over 100 star charts and maps; hundreds of images, new map charts to navigate the primary features of the Moon with a comprehensive table of lunar targets of the Solar System. There are also instructions on how to observe the Sun and the planets with information on telescopes, binoculars and other accessories for getting the most out of a night under the Southern stars.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverExtraordinary weather : wonders of the atmosphere from dust storms to lightning strikes / Richard Hamblyn.
“Discover the amazing world of freak weather with this incredible collection of images. Richard Hamblyn offers a selection of truly breathtaking weather phenomena, from the beautiful snow rollers that form on icy rooftops to awe-inspiring displays of volcanic lightning. Each stunning photograph is accompanied by commentary by the award-winning science writer, whose intelligent and informative explanations make the science behind these extraordinary events accessible and entertaining. Selected images are taken from a variety of angles to emphasize phenomena considered unbelievable until you have seen them with your own eyes.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)

Syndetics book coverGeology for dummies / by Alecia M. Spooner.
“Geology is the study of the earth′s history as well as the physical and chemical processes that continue to shape the earth today. Jobs in the geosciences are expected to increase over the next decade, which will increase geology–related jobs well above average projection for all occupations in the coming years. Geology For Dummies is the most accessible book on the market for anyone who needs to get a handle on the subject, whether you‘re looking to supplement classroom learning or are simply interested in earth sciences. Presented in a straightforward, trusted format, it features a thorough introduction to the study of the earth, its materials, and its processes.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)

Syndetics book coverMoon : a tribute to earth’s nearest neighbour / Scott L. Montgomery.
“A spectacular tribute to Earth’s nearest neighbour… The view of the heavens has fascinated humankind for as long as we have looked up with a sense of curiosity. And while the life-giving Sun dazzles, and the stars draw constellations in the sky, it is the ever-changing, enigmatic Moon that has captured our imagination. Through history, the Moon has been a deity to worship, a repository for fantastical creatures, a lucky charm, and a bringer of madness. Moon traces the story of how we came to understand and appreciate our neighbour’s true nature.” – (adapted from Google books summary)

Syndetics book coverThe solar system : a visual exploration of the planets, moons, and other heavenly bodies that orbit our sun / written by Marcus Chown.
“Bestselling author Marcus Chown leads us on a grand tour through the incredible diversity of planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and spacecraft that surround the Sun in our cosmic backyard. Illuminating his insightful and surprising text are a wealth of beautiful images and diagrams, printed in full colour, richly detailed and accurately based on real scientific data.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHubble : imaging space and time / [David DeVorkin & Robert W. Smith].
“In the spirit of National Geographic’s top-selling Orbit, this large-format, full-color volume stands alone in revealing more than 200 of the most spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope during its lifetime, to the very eve of the 2008 final shuttle mission to the telescope. Written by two of the world’s foremost authorities on space history, Hubble: Imaging Space and Time illuminates the solar system’s workings, the expansion of the universe, the birth and death of stars, the formation of planetary nebulae, the dynamics of galaxies, and the mysterious force known as “dark energy.” The potential impact of this book cannot be overstressed: The 2008 servicing mission to install new high-powered scientific instruments is especially high profile because the cancellation of the previous mission, in 2004, caused widespread controversy. The authors reveal the inside story of Hubble’s beginnings, its controversial early days, the drama of its first servicing missions, and the creation of the dynamic images that reach into the deepest regions of visible space, close to the time when the universe began.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

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)

New science books – Biology Special

We seem to have gone a bit biology mad this month! Still, you can never have too much of a good thing. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverMicrocosmos : discovering the world through microscopic images from 20 X to over 20 million X magnification / Brandon Broll ; pictures supplied by the Science Photo Library
“Praise for the previous edition: “An amazing array of shapes and textures that would be the envy of Joan Miro.” — The Wall Street Journal “Hundreds of extremely magnified images such as botanicals, minerals and insects, transport the reader into another world. . . . Who knew morning glory could look so interesting!” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDinosaurs : a field guide / Gregory S. Paul.
“This lavishly-illustrated volume is the first authoritative dinosaur book in the style of a field guide. It covers the true dinosaurs – the Tetrapoda – the great Mesozoic animals which gave rise to today’s living dinosaurs, the birds. Incorporating the new discoveries and research that are radically transforming what we know about dinosaurs, this book is distinguished both by its scientific accuracy and the quality and quantity of its illustrations.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEvolution : a little history of a great idea / Gerard Cheshire.
“The smallest book on evolution asks big questions. Anticipating the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” throughout 2009, “Evolution” explores the history of evolutionary theory from Lamarck to Darwin to today’s large questions about life in the universe. With sections on the causes of genetic variation and natural selection, the success in species of altruistic strategies, and why sharks are the same shape in different seas, and with a rich array of rarely published period illustrations and examples of the latest genetic research, this is a timely and thought-provoking book.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEvolution in action : natural history through spectacular skeletons / text by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu ; photographs by Patrick Gries ; [translated by Linda Asher].
“Spectacular, mysterious, elegant, or grotesque, the vertebrate skeletons of Earth’s fossil record carry within them the traces of several billion years of life. Evolution in Action, a resounding success on its initial publication in 2007, is a unique and beautiful attempt to provide a map of those billion years in time. Now updated and presented in a smaller format with seventeen new utterly distinctive photographs, this book steps beyond the debate and presents the undeniable truth of Darwin’s theory, showing through 200 photographs of skeletons both obscure and commonplace, but always intriguing, the process by which life has transformed itself, again and again.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)

Syndetics book coverThe humans who went extinct : why neanderthals died out and we survived / Clive Finlayson.
“On the front cover of this book is the reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman. Doesn’t she look human? Perhaps her strikingly human appearance comes as something of a shock. It erodes our assumptions of uniqueness. Yet we are descended from one of several populations of humans that were around some 50,000 years ago. And, argues Clive Finlayson, our survival and the demise of the Neanderthals was mainly down to luck.Set in a world of changing climates and landscapes, and shifting populations of different kinds of humans, this book presents a humbling account of our rise to world dominance.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLife’s X factor : the missing link in materialism’s science of living things / Neil Broom.
“This richly-illustrated book asserts that biological materialism — the idea that the richness of the living world is fully explained by impersonal processes acting over vast periods of time — blinds us to the intensely mindful qualities of purpose and goal-centredness displayed by even the simplest living things.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverSurvival of the beautiful : art, science, and evolution / David Rothenberg.
“”The peacock’s tail,” said Charles Darwin, “makes me sick.” That’s because the theory of evolution as adaptation can’t explain why nature is so beautiful. It took the concept of sexual selection for Darwin to explain that, a process that has more to do with aesthetics than the practical. Survival of the Beautiful is a revolutionary new examination of the interplay of beauty, art, and culture in evolution. Taking inspiration from Darwin’s observation that animals have a natural aesthetic sense, philosopher and musician David Rothenberg probes why animals, humans included, have innate appreciation for beauty-and why nature is, indeed, beautiful. Sexual selection may explain why animals desire, but it says very little about what they desire. Why will a bowerbird literally murder another bird to decorate its bower with the victim’s blue feathers? Why do butterfly wings boast such brilliantly varied patterns? The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution. What can we learn from the amazing range of animal aesthetic behavior-about animals, and about ourselves? Readers who enjoyed the bestsellers The Art Instinct and The Mind’s Eye will find Survival of the Beautiful an equally stimulating and profound exploration of art, science, and the creative impulse.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)

The book of deadly animals / Gordon Grice.
“Even the most hardcore naturalist may rethink that camping trip or African safari after reading Grice’s rundown of dangerous animals from around the world. From humpback whales to bedbugs, Grice (The Red Hourglass) delights in describing the many ways animals of all sizes can kill us or make us sick. Drawing from antiquity (Herodotus’ 2,400-year-old account of self-sabotaging vipers), pop culture (the infamous mauling of Roy Horn of Sigfried and Roy by a beloved tiger), and first-hand experience (a sac spider imperiously poised atop the author’s own computer), the unsettling anecdotes are far-ranging. But Grice does more than simply catalog the many ways a lion, tiger, or bear can kill-he gives context to the horrors by describing the animal’s place in the food chain and its evolutionary adaptations. To be sure, there are terrifying accounts of sailors lost at sea being feasted upon sharks and gruesome details of black bear attacks (”The carcasses are peeled like bananas”), but Grice tempers his book with grim humor, a genuine enthusiasm for the subject, and fascinating trivia (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was based on an actual whale named Mocha Dick that terrorized the South Pacific). A gifted writer, Grice’s relentlessly detailed descriptions of the effects of spider and snake bites, as well as the outcome of tangling with pencil catfish or alligators, may make this rough going for the easily squeamish, but those with a fascination for wildlife will find this an informative and dramatic study.” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)

New science books

This month we have a wealth of new books ranging from viruses to lights from space, and the origins of humans.

Syndetics book coverLights of mankind : the Earth at night as seen from space / L. Douglas Keeney.
“A new book collects images that offer a different look at the Earth from space, when sunlight is replaced by the lights of human civilization. Lights of Mankind provides a sampling of some of the best such nighttime imagery from six continents. Many cities are visible in sharp detail, revealing their network of roads and patterns of development, from grids to hubs-and spokes to more irregular patterns, that are much harder to see during the day. Keeney matches the images with brief captions describing the images and including in many cases capsule histories of those cities. Included in the book are several essays from astronauts who have flown on the ISS, providing their views of what it was like to view, and photograph, the Earth at night.” – (adapted from Space Review via Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverThe field guide to New Zealand geology : an introduction to rocks, minerals and fossils / Jocelyn Thornton.
“This is the first field guide written for the general public and beginners in geology in New Zealand. Now fully revised and updated, it shows travellers in New Zealand something of the tremendous variety of our rocks, minerals and fossils and describes what to look for in many areas where rock formations are prominent. It covers the history of New Zealand from its beginnings on the sea floor some 600 million years ago to its present patchwork landscape of volcano, range and plain. This land was formed from many different layers of rock – volcanic flows, forest debris, ocean mud. All these have special characteristics, which are explained and illustrated to enable readers to find the layers and understand their origins and what they can tell us about the landscapes of the past. The crystals that grew in the rocks and the remains of living creatures that were preserved are also illustrated and described.” – (adapted from Publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverThe origin of our species / Chris Stringer.
“In this ground-breaking book Chris Stringer sets out to answer all the big questions in the debate about our origins. How can we define modern humans, and how can we recognise our beginnings in the fossil and archaeological record? How can we accurately date fossils, including ones beyond the range of radiocarbon dating? What do the genetic data really tell us? Were our origins solely in Africa? Are modern humans a distinct species from ancient people such as the Neanderthals? And what contact did our ancestors have with them? How can we recognise modern humans behaviourally, and were traits such as complex language and art unique to modern humans? What forces shaped the origins of modern humans – were they climatic, dietary, social, or even volcanic? What drove the dispersals of modern humans from Africa, and how did our species spread over the globe? How did regional features evolve, and how significant are they? What exactly was the ‘Hobbit’ of the island of Flores, and how was it related to us? Has human evolution stopped, or are we still evolving? What can we expect from future research on our origins? This book will make every reader think about what it means to be human.” – (adapted from Amazon.co.uk summary)

Syndetics book coverThe science delusion : freeing the spirit of enquiry / Rupert Sheldrake.
“We must somehow find different, more realistic ways of understanding human beings – and indeed other animals – as the active wholes that they are, rather than pretending to see them as meaningless consignments of chemicals. Rupert Sheldrake, who has long called for this development, spells out this need forcibly in his new book. He shows how materialism has gradually hardened into a kind of anti-Christian principle, claiming authority to dictate theories and to veto inquiries on topics that don’t suit it, such as unorthodox medicine, let along religion. He shows just how unworkable the assumptions behind today’s fashionable habits have become. The ’science delusion’ of his title is the current popular confidence in certain fixed assumptions – the exaltation of today’s science, not as the busy, constantly changing workshop that it actually is but as a final, infallible oracle preaching a crude kind of materialism… His insistence on the need to attend to possible wider ways of thinking is surely right.” – (Mary Midgley, The Guardian via Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe wild life of our bodies : predators, parasites, and partners that shape who we are today / Rob Dunn.
“In this snappy, popular science look at the human condition, North Carolina State biologist Dunn (Every Living Thing) argues that our lives and our bodily functions (including the immune system) are intimately linked to species that live on and around us. Dunn offers lots of eye-popping biological tidbits-such as how worms may set you free if you suffer from a variety of stomach disorders; or the supposedly useless appendix actually helps the microbes in our guts; and scary movies satisfy our brain parts that still tell us we’re being chased by predators. Ticks and lice may have triggered our relatively hairless evolution. Yet there’s far more than fun facts; Dunn begs us to look toward a future in which we interact more with the species we have moved away from. Dunn challenges us to view a “web of life in which we evolved, that once shaped us and whose rediscovery could benefit our bodies and our health.” (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)

Syndetics book coverFree radicals : the secret anarchy of science / Michael Brooks.
“This is a bold expose of science’s mavericks. For more than a century, science has cultivated a sober public image for itself. But as bestselling author Michael Brooks explains, the truth is very different: many of our most successful scientists have more in common with libertines than librarians. This thrilling exploration of some of the greatest breakthroughs in science reveals the extreme lengths some scientists go to in order to make their theories public. Fraud, suppressing evidence and unethical or reckless PR games are sometimes necessary to bring the best and most brilliant discoveries to the world’s attention. Inspiration can come from the most unorthodox of places, and Brooks introduces us to Nobel laureates who get their ideas through drugs, dreams and hallucinations. Science is a highly competitive and ruthless discipline, and only its most determined and passionate practitioners make headlines – and history. To succeed, knowledge must be pursued by any means: in science, anything goes.” – (adapted from Amazon.com summary)

Syndetics book coverA planet of viruses / Carl Zimmer.
“Zimmer, popular science writer and author of “Discover” magazine’s award-winning blog The Loom, takes readers on an eye-opening tour through the frontiers of biology as he explores the hidden world of viruses.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

New science books: exploding shrubs & other wicked plants, plus earthquakes and vulcanology

Our picks of the new science books this month feature a scientific history of the 1848 Wellington earthquake and a catalogue of botanical atrocities – including exploding shrubs, vines that strangle, and the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother. Plus, vulcanology and the Gogo Fish (the world’s oldest mother, a fossilized armoured shark discovered three years ago, complete with a perfectly preserved embryo still attached by an umbilical cord). Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverViolent Earth / Robert Dinwiddie, Simon Lamb, Ross Reynolds.
“Violent Earth” is an authoritative, stimulating, and visually arresting exploration of the dramatic forces that are constantly shaping the planet. Using powerful photography, specially commissioned illustrations, and intuitive infographics, this book explores plate tectonics, vulcanology, and seismology in unprecedented detail.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe visitation : the earthquakes of 1848 and the destruction of Wellington / Rodney H. Grapes.
“‘It is my most painful duty to inform your Excellency that a terrible calamity has overtaken this province. An earthquake has occurred, and the town of Wellington is in ruins.’ Lieutenant Governor John Eyre to Sir George Grey, 19 October 1848. Wellington was only a fledgling settlement of some 3000 people when it was struck by a cluster of devastating earthquakes in 1848. The fearful violence of the shocks, the destruction of property, and the frequency and continuance of the danger caused universal alarm, and it was feared the settlement and its future was ruined. But Wellington did recover, quite quickly. The British immigrants were not going to be deterred after coming halfway around the world, and in any case, most had nothing to go home to. Their direct accounts of the earthquake and its aftermath make compelling reading. Along with describing the effects of the 1848 earthquakes and the social response to them, The Visitation also explains their cause – the relationship between earthquakes and movement on fault lines, first discovered in the late 1880’s by the celebrated New Zealand geologist, Alexander McKay, following a large earthquake in North Canterbury on 1 September 1888. It also discusses the fault that ruptured during the first great shock of the 1848 earthquakes; what remains of the 1848 rupture today and its relation to large earthquakes in the past; and the geological context of the 1848 earthquakes as products of the convergence of two great tectonic plates through the Marlborough-North Canterbury area of the South Island of New Zealand; and ends with a possible scenario of a future large earthquake in Wellington generated by movement of the Wellington Fault.” (Global Books)

Syndetics book coverHung like an Argentine duck : a journey back in time to the origins of sexual intimacy / John Long.
“Dr John Long discovered the Gogo Fish. What’s that you say? It’s a 380 million-year-old fossilized armoured shark-like fish replete with a perfectly preserved embryo still attached by an umbilical cord. The Gogo is described as the oldest mother in the world and its discovery three years ago has pretty much rewritten evolutionary history. John is one of the world’s leading palaeontologists. His find showed the first evidence of sexual behaviour in the prehistoric past. [...] So what’s this book about? It’s a scientific but engaging look at how and why animals first became “intimate” and where sex fits into the whole evolution theory.” (Global Books)

Syndetics book coverSciencia : mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy for all / [edited by John Martineau].
“From the structure of the cosmos to that of the human body, the discoveries of science over the past few hundred years have been remarkable. Scienca spans the realms of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy, offering an invaluable introduction to each. Curious about quarks, quasars, and the fantastic universe around you? Ever wanted to explore a mathematical proof? Need an introduction to biochemistry? Beautifully illustrated with engravings, woodcuts, and original drawings and diagrams, Sciencia will inspire inquisitive readers of all ages to appreciate the interconnected knowledge of the modern sciences” (Cover)

Syndetics book coverWicked plants : the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother & other botanical atrocities / Amy Stewart ; etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs ; illustrations by Jonathon Rosen.
“A tree that sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed that stops the heart; a shrub that causes paralysis; a vine that strangles; and a leaf that triggered a war. In “Wicked Plants,” Stewart takes on over two hundred of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations. It’s an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend. You’ll learn which plants to avoid (like exploding shrubs), which plants make themselves exceedingly unwelcome (like the vine that ate the South), and which ones have been killing for centuries (like the weed that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother). Menacing botanical illustrations and splendidly ghastly drawings create a fascinating portrait of the evildoers that may be lurking in your own backyard. Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, this compendium of bloodcurdling botany will entertain, alarm, and enlighten even the most intrepid gardeners and nature lovers.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe beginning of infinity : explanations that transform the world / David Deutsch.
“A bold and all-embracing exploration of the nature and progress of knowledge from one of today’s great thinkers. Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life’s mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. In this important new book, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve.” (Global Books)

Syndetics book coverField notes on science & nature / edited by Michael R. Canfield.
“”Meticulous record keeping is at the heart of good science, and this is especially true for field scientists and naturalists,” states editor Canfield (organismic and evolutionary biology, Harvard U.). He continues by further explicating the importance of field notes and relating his own endeavors to find a way to make such notes in an efficacious, efficient manner. For this work he asked biologists in various disciplines (as well as a couple of science illustrators) to explain what they do personally to record observations in the field and what they suggest as best practices, including, for example, such practicalities as what kind of notebook or technology to use, how to use photos, how and what to draw. The contributors were also asked to supply example pages from their notebooks, which are reproduced in facsimile and offer an intimate and practical view of the incredibly important activities of looking, seeing, and recording.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDesigning audio power amplifiers / Bob Cordell.
“Cordell (electrical engineer, audio test equipment designer) offers what is more than a “cookbook,” as he puts it. His instructional guide is intended to teach the reader how to think about audio power amplifier design and to appreciate its concepts and nuances, and to analyze and take advantage of the possible variations. While the book covers advanced topics, it also contains enough introductory material for readers relatively new to the field to use it. The text is divided into six parts: the basics, advanced design techniques, real-world design considerations, simulation and measurement, topics in design, and class D amplifiers.” (Syndetics summary)


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