Here are a few of the new books to have come across my desk in the last month:
Trespassing on Einstein’s lawn : a father, a daughter, the meaning of nothing, and the beginning of everything / Amanda Gefter.
“Opening with the author’s attempt to sneak herself and her father into a conference attended by the planet’s great scientific thinkers (including Brian Greene, Max Tegmark, and coiner of the term “black hole” John Wheeler), Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn takes readers on an exhilarating and memorable journey to the mysterious heart of the universe.” (Provided by publisher)
The neutrino hunters : the chase for the ghost particle and the secrets of the universe / Ray Jayawardhana.
“While the Higgs boson has dominated recent physics news, astrophysicist Jayawardhana (Strange New Worlds) directs attention toward neutrinos, the “pathologically shy” elementary particles that offer a window into supernovas and may help answer questions about antimatter, dark matter, dark energy, and the early universe. With no electric charge and very little mass, neutrinos seldom interact with matter, for the most part passing untouched through the Earth itself; detection requires looking for particles created in the wake of the scant interactions that do occur. With clarity and wry humor, Jayawardhana relates how Wolfgang Pauli “invented” the neutrino to explain where missing energy went during beta decay, then later bet a case of champagne that it would never be detected experimentally. After neutrinos were finally observed for the first time in 1956, scientists expanded the hunt from Earth to space, examining the rays emitted by the Sun. From deep underground in South Dakota’s Homestake Gold Mine to Antarctica’s IceCube, currently the world’s largest neutrino detector, Jayawardhana vividly illuminates both the particle that has “baffled and surprised” scientists, and the researchers who hunt it.” (Abridged from Publisher Weekly)
Quantum mechanics : the theoretical minimum / Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman.
“Considered volume II in Susskind’s “Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics” series (volume I covered classical mechanics), the authors offer highly motivated readers an introduction to the advanced mathematics needed to study quantum mechanics. As Susskind, a professor of theoretical physics at Stanford, and Friedman, a student of his physics lectures, explain, quantum mechanics requires us to rewire “our intuitions with abstract mathematics.” The book presents some basic quantum mechanical concepts, like spin and qubits, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, entanglement, wave functions, and Schrodinger’s Equation, but most of the text focuses on mathematics, from Boolean logic and statistics to vectors, matrices, and path integrals. The authors mean for this book to be “fully accessible to mathematically literate nonphysicists,” and it’s clear that those without a college-level grounding in math will find it difficult going. As it stands, the book will work well as a companion text for university students studying quantum mechanics or the armchair physicists following Susskind’s YouTube lectures.” (Abridged from Publisher Weekly)
How to build a hovercraft : air cannons, magnet motors, and 25 other amazing DIY science projects / Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe.
“From the Diet Coke and Mentos fountain makers who found initial fame via YouTube and the Maker Faire comes this collection of 25 awesome projects guaranteed to inspire a love of scientific experimentation. Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, also known as EepyBird, share some amazing DIY projects: a Diet Coke and Mentos fountain of Bellagio proportions, a leaf blower hovercraft, a paper airplane that will fly forever, and many more. Each experiment features instructions that will take users from amateur to showman level–there’s something here for all skill levels–alongside illustrations, photographs, and carefully explained science. EepyBird’s 25 Amazing Science Projects includes everything needed to create an exciting and impressive scientific production!” (Library Catalogue)
The accidental universe : the world you thought you knew / Alan Lightman.
“In his brief but engrossing latest essay collection, theoretical physicist and novelist Lightman (Einstein’s Dreams) offers insight into the ways that recent scientific discoveries shape our understanding of ourselves and our world. Each of the seven essays here explores the philosophical fallout from a particular corner of research. The titular lead essay examines the concept of the multiverse, and the potential implications of its existence, in light of the dark energy that keeps our universe from collapsing. “The Spiritual Universe” examines the often uneasy relationship between science and religion, while other pieces explore entropy, the vast scale of space, and unpredictable humanity’s role in a universe built on physical laws and composed of forces, light, and particles we can’t see. Lightman is one of the few physicists who can name-check the Dalai Lama, astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, Dostoevsky, and dark energy in the same work, while deftly guiding readers through discussions of modern physics and philosophy. Here he has composed a thoughtful, straightforward collection of essays that invite readers to think deeply about the world around them.” (Abridged from Publisher Weekly)
In the eye of the storm : the autobiography of Sir John Houghton / Sir John Houghton with Gill Tavner.
“For John Houghton, the Chief Executive of the Met Office at the time of the Great Storm in 1987, and founding member of the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), childhood curiosity about the natural world led to a quest for answers through science. Inspired by new, exciting developments in space and computing technologies he pushed to use both to expand the horizons of meteorology and climate science. Through the IPCC he worked with scientists across the globe to develop our understanding of changing patterns of weather and climate, and to show that the impact of this change on human communities and natural ecosystems is real – and menacing. Sir John’s autobiography tells the story of a man who inspired a generation of scientists through his leadership, but also of the conflict this has brought him into with those who shared his Christian faith as well as with climate change deniers, in both America and Europe.” (Publisher’s description)
Five billion years of solitude : the search for life among the stars / Lee Billings.
“Billings (contributor, Nature; Popular Mechanics, etc.) interviewed astronomers and geologists to compile this occasionally meandering overview of the still-evolving field of “exoplanetary” research (discovery and characterization of planets orbiting other stars). Early dreams that we would locate and visit intelligent, technologically sophisticated beings elsewhere in space have been tempered as declining governmental funding has restricted our planet hunting. Today’s astronomers are still intrigued by the possibility of discovering ever more exoplanets and by primitive nonterrestrial life forms but are far less optimistic about finding intelligent life or sending manned -spacecraft outside the solar system. While this book may dampen the dreams of young planet hunters and exobiologists, the scientists featured still offer the hope that a combination of commercially viable unmanned spaceflight, public outreach by astronomers, and effective lobbying for improved research funding could expand our capacities to find new, somehow inhabited worlds beyond our own. VERDICT Complementary to Michael D. Lemonick’s more optimistic Mirror Earth: The Search for Our Planet’s Twin and less technical than Ray Jayawardhana’s Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System, this work will appeal to amateur astronomers and geologists as well as to general science buffs.” (Abridged from Library Journal)
Cows save the planet and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth / Judith D. Schwartz ; foreword by Gretel Ehrlich.
“Most of us acknowledge that the earth beneath our feet is important for raising crops and nourishing lawns, yet few realize just how vital it is to our planet’s overall health. Inviting readers to roll up their pant legs and wade with her into the dirt, veteran journalist Schwartz reveals a wealth of detail about soil’s beneficial properties and presents a compelling case that proper soil management can end escalating worldwide desertification and slow, or even arrest, global warming. While these assertions may sound surprising, Schwartz collects abundant testimony from leading-edge soil scientists and activists, such as noted Zimbabwe biologist and rancher Allan Savory, whose sophisticated sheep- and cow-herding methods in several countries have completely restored arid grasslands in less than a decade. She also highlights evidence from little-known studies demonstrating that soil-restoration techniques can sequester about a billion tons of atmospheric carbon per year, potentially neutralizing damaging greenhouse gases. A well-written and persuasive manifesto for healing earth’s environmental woes with one of its most underappreciated resources.” (Abridged from Booklist)
The essential Audrey Eagle : botanical art of New Zealand.
“Presents more than 150 paintings of our most loved native plants, from every major genus. The beautiful full-colour plates are accompanied by detailed notes, and a fresh introduction tells the story of Audrey Eagle and sets her place in the history of botanical illustration of New Zealand’s unique native flora.” (Back cover)
Plants for a changing climate / Trevor Nottle.
“The global warming trend is expected to result in a warmer, drier climate. In this updated edition of Plants for Mediterranean Climate Gardens (2004), an Australian horticulturalist discusses the impact of climate change on gardening practices. Rather than lament what may be lost, Nottle touts expanding opportunities for growing everything from shade-making plants to more exotic drought tolerant ornamental and edible species and cultivars. The book includes color photographs of his favorites and recommended reading.” (Syndetics summary)