Just a few of the shiny new items that have graced my desk this month.
Hubble’s universe : greatest discoveries and latest images / Terence Dickinson.
“The Hubble Space Telescope, which prolific astronomy writer Dickinson calls a remarkable discovery machine, has been orbiting the earth since 1990, inspiring many a book showcasing its astrophotography. What makes this superbly well-produced volume unique is its presentation of 300 images that have never been made public before. Dickinson’s expert and enthusiastic commentary also makes the Hubble wondrous all over again. He explains the 2009 reboot and how astronomers use a process called drizzling to create Hubble’s astonishingly sharp images, such as a staggering two-page look at a small segment of the night sky the size of a period in this book held at arm’s length, filled with thousands of galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Dickinson elucidates Hubble’s top discoveries, from proof that supermassive black holes are common in galaxies to success in measuring the universe’s expansion rate. With images of the birth and death of stars and the marvelous shapes nebulae take, reflected in such names as Helix, Jewel Box, Loch Ness, and Cat’s Eye, any engagement with this cosmic portfolio, from picture gazing to deep reading, is grandly rewarded.–Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (Syndetics)
This explains everything : deep, beautiful, and elegant theories of how the world works / edited by John Brockman.
“In this latest volume of erudition from Edge.com founder John Brockman (This Will Make You Smarter), the question “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” serves as the prompt for over a hundred concise essays. The topics cover the gamut of the sciences while also including answers from other realms including economics and the arts. Darwin and Einstein, while not the precise subject of many answers, feature prominently as do ideas of human consciousness and cognition. As with other collections of this ilk, the essays widely vary in ease of comprehension and level of profundity. While there is no structure beyond the individual essays, occasionally a few essays in close proximity will touch on similar matters, as when Nicholas Christakis’s essay on why the sky is blue is followed by Philip Campbell’s on “The Beauty in a Sunrise”, each referencing the work of Lord Rayleigh on the scattering of light. … this collection will satisfy anyone who is looking to stretch his thinking. (adapted from the Syndetics review)
How to build a habitable planet : the story of Earth from the big bang to humankind.
“Geochemist Langmuir (Harvard) and earth scientist Broecker (Columbia) attempt to squeeze all of natural history between two covers in this enlarged new edition (1st ed., 1985). They strike a nice balance with roughly an equal number of chapters devoted to life, earth, and extraterrestrial processes. After outlining their systems approach, they move rapidly from the formation of matter and galaxies through the formation of rocky planets like Earth and the appearance of human-like life. Chapter topics include the internal differentiation of the Earth, human resource exploitation, and detecting exoplanets with atmospheres like ours. What makes it work is the authors’ admirable job of focusing tightly on how the many processes they outline feed into life’s makeup or systems needed to support it. This necessitates summaries of subjects ranging from nuclear physics and organic chemistry to asteroid impacts. They turn many pieces of conventional wisdom on their heads along the way, e.g., arguing entropy helps explain the appearance of life rather than making it improbable. Their explanations are elegant but very terse, so readers not already well read in these fields may be challenged. The book includes several general readings after each chapter and a glossary but no detailed bibliography for further investigation. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. B. M. Simonson Oberlin CollegeCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE) (Syndetics)
Heart of darkness : unraveling the mysteries of the invisible universe / Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton.
“For Conrad, it was the Congo; for Ostriker (Formation of Structure in the Universe) and Mitton (The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy), it’s deep space, dark matter, and dark energy. In this stimulating study, the Princeton astrophysics professor and University of Cambridge scholar offer a compelling insider’s take on how astronomers have worked to reveal the mystery that is our universe. After a quick review of the long history of astronomy, the duo dive headlong into the 20th century and Einstein’s paradigm-crushing work on relativity, gravity, and time, which-coupled with technological improvements-laid the foundations for a modern cosmology based on “expansion-of vision, mind-set, and of the physical universe itself.” Indeed, the Big Bang sent galaxies racing outward, and the resulting universe is a “quantum soup” riddled with ” ‘holes,’ ‘filaments,’ and ‘walls.’ “… Ostriker and Mitton’s knowledge is vast, and while they acknowledge that our understanding of the universe is far from complete, this thought-provoking presentation is as accessible as it is exciting. (adapted from the Syndetics review)
The where, the why, and the how : 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science / by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe ; foreword by David Macaulay.
“Scientists and artists take on, answer, and illustrate some of the most intriguing and baffling questions in the sciences, a majority of which likely do not ever occur to most people, such as “What triggers reversals of earth’s polarity?” Readers may need a refresher on basic high school biology or chemistry, but that’s a good thing and, really, a minor distraction from what this book actually is: a work of art. The 75 illustrations that accompany each question are rich and stylistically diverse enough that the book can be read either as a well-written mini-textbook or a coffee table-worthy compendium. The authors set out to challenge our overly Wikipedi-ized minds less by explaining answers as by opening them to theorizing and wondering; it’s clear that the point is to pique curiosity and delight with beautiful visuals. Pop-science buffs will find the subject matter intriguing, and those who admire graphic novels or comic art will find a plethora of eye candy. To the book’s further credit, each artist’s website is listed opposite his or her artwork, allowing for further engagement each one’s work. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly) (Syndetics)
Into great silence : a memoir of discovery and loss among vanishing orcas / Eva Saulitis.
“This sensitively written memoir chronicles the 25 years poet and scientist Saulitis (Leaving Resurrection) spent as a field biologist in Prince William Sound, AK. She observed a specific group of transient orcas, also known as killer whales, as they traveled through the area, photographing them, observing and recording their behavior, and listening to their vocalizations. The meticulous, detailed, even tedious nature of such work is apparent, yet Saulitis conveys her deep appreciation for the whales and their surroundings. Unfortunately, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill fouled this environment and contributed to the premature deaths of several of the orcas. A list of books about the spill, a map, a family tree of the whale population under study, and several photographs are included.” (adapted from the Syndetics review)
Wonders of life / Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen.
“This is the story of the amazing diversity and adaptability of life told through the fundamental laws that govern it. Through his voyage of discovery, Brian will explain how the astonishing inventiveness of nature came about and uncover the milestones in the epic journey from the origin of life to our own lives.”–publisher website. (Syndetics)
RHS Latin for gardeners : over 3000 plant names explained and explored / Lorraine Harrison.
“This illustrated guide unlocks the mysteries of botanical Latin, explaining what plant names mean and the descriptive clues they conceal.” (Syndetics)
The year without summer : 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history / William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman.
“The violent eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, almost unnoticed by the Western world when it happened, had an enormous global impact. As much as a hundred cubic kilometers of material was ejected, creating a world-girdling cloud that reflected sunlight and changed weather everywhere. Famines and food riots spread across North America and Europe. Thousands of New England farmers, ruined by snow in June, migrated west. Irish peasants starved. The end of the world was repeatedly prophesied; religious revivals multiplied; governments tottered. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during a rainy, cold July at a Swiss resort. J.M.W. Turner painted the spectacular sunsets created by stratospheric dust. In a world unfamiliar with climate change, where news traveled at the pace of a sailing ship, the phenomena were mysterious, seemingly God-driven, portentous, and terrifying. Popular historian William K. Klingaman and meteorologist Nicholas P. Klingaman have combined scientific and social narratives to good effect.” (adapted from the Syndetics review)