Ten Women Who Changed Science and other intriguing works

This month we bring amazing books in popular science. From Ten Women Who Changed Science to quantum physics, the importance of the Sun in our lives and even a book about how ancient foods feed our microbiome. Come with us in this amazing read!


Ten women who changed science, and the world / Whitlock, Catherine
Ten Women Who Changed Science tells the moving stories of the physicists, biologists, chemists, astronomers and doctors who helped to shape our world with their extraordinary breakthroughs and inventions, and outlines their remarkable achievements. (adapted from Amazon.co.uk)

Beyond weird : why everything you thought you knew about quantum physics is… different / Ball, Philip
“An exhilarating tour of the contemporary quantum landscape, Beyond Weird is a book about what quantum physics really means-and what it doesn’t.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Chasing the sun : how the science of sunlight shapes our bodies and minds / Geddes, Linda
“Our ancestors constructed vast monuments like Stonehenge and Pyramids of Egypt and Central America to keep track of the sun and celebrate the annual cycle of death and rebirth. The returning sun heralds new beginnings. This book asks us to rethink the significance of the sun in our lives and to exploit our relationship to improve our health, sleep and productivity.” (adapted from Catalogue)

The cosmic mystery tour : a high-speed journey through space & time / Mee, Nicholas
“How did the universe begin? What are gravitational waves all about? Will we find life on other planets? The Cosmic Mystery Tour is a brilliant, entertaining introduction to the discoveries of physics and astronomy. Stories, explanations, and illustrations open up the exciting frontiers of science to any beginner.” (adapted from Catalogue)

The cradle of humanity : how the changing landscape of Africa made us so smart / Maslin, Mark A.
“What drove the evolution of humans, with our uniquely big brains? The Cradle of Humanity presents fascinating and controversial new research which suggests that the geological and climatic history of East Africa’s Rift Valley are at the heart of the answer. Astronomy, geology, climate, and landscape all had a part to play in making East Africa the cradle of humanity and allowing us to dominate the planet.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Cultured : how ancient foods feed our microbiome / Courage, Katherine Harmon
“A revealing look at the 300 trillion microorganisms that keep us healthy–and the foods they need to thrive. These days, probiotic yogurt and other “gut-friendly” foods line supermarket shelves. But what’s the best way to feed our all-important microbiome–and what is a microbiome, anyway? In this engaging and eye-opening book, science journalist Katherine Harmon Courage investigates these questions, presenting a deep dive into the ancient food traditions and the latest research for maintaining a healthy gut.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Exact thinking in demented times : the Vienna Circle and the epic quest for the foundations of science / Sigmund, Karl
Exact Thinking in Demented Times is the first book to tell the often outrageous, sometimes tragic but always riveting stories of the men who shaped present-day scientific thought. A dazzling group biography, this landmark book will make clear the debt we owe to those who dared to reinvent knowledge from the ground up. — from dust jacket.” (adapted from Catalogue)

The space oracle : a guide to your stars / Hollings, Ken
“A radical retelling of our relationship with the cosmos, reinventing the history of astronomy as a new form of astrological calendar. A carefully constructed text in sixty numbered sections, The Space Oracle reinvents the history of astronomy as a new form of astrological calendar.” (adapted from Catalogue)

Ideas and Society Newsletter for March

You can now borrow brand new tablets from Wellington City Libraries for three weeks! This month’s Ideas and Society recent picks feature Katherine Mansfield’s poetry collection, a New Zealand home buyer’s guide, festivals in the southern hemisphere, and planet Vulcan.

Library News

Literature

Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s best known writer, but it’s for her short stories we remember her. It now emerges that she was a significant poet too. Claire Davison has arranged the poems chronologically in a beautiful little book so that we can chart her development, her experimentation with different forms and see the themes which preoccupied her throughout her writing life.
At the other end of the spectrum are two amusing little books, one of limericks written by Michael Palin and the other an imaginary look at what celebrities might carry in their handbags.

Syndetics book cover The collected poems of Katherine Mansfield / edited by Gerri Kimber & Claire Davison.
“This edition is made up of 217 poems, ordered chronologically, so that the reader can follow Mansfield’s development as a poet and her experiments with different forms, as well as tracing the themes – love and death, the natural world and the seasons, childhood and friendship, music and song – that preoccupied her throughout her writing life.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The man who invented fiction : how Cervantes ushered in the modern world / William Egginton.
“In the early seventeenth century, a crippled, graying, almost toothless veteran of Spain’s wars against the Ottoman Empire published a book. It was the story of a poor nobleman, his brain addled from reading too many books of chivalry, who deludes himself that he is a knight errant and sets off on hilarious adventures. That book, Don Quixote , went on to sell more copies than any other book beside the Bible, making its author, Miguel de Cervantes, the single most-read author in human history.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Carry this book / Abbi Jacobson.
“With bright, quirky, and colourful line drawings, Jacobson brings to life actual and imagined items found in the pockets and purses, bags and glove compartments of real and fantastical people-whether it’s the contents of Oprah’s favorite purse, Amelia Earhart’s pencil case, or Bernie Madoff’s suitcase. Carry This Book provides a humorous and insightful look into how the things we carry around every day can make up who we are.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Little grey cells : the quotable Poirot / Agatha Christie ; edited by David Brawn.
“A charming, beautifully designed collection of bite-sized wisdom from Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot–delightful, witty, and perceptive quotations and bon mots to stimulate every fan’s little grey cells.” (Syndetics summary)

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Popular Non-Fiction

The highlight of this months’ books is The Machine Stops, in which 12 artists write to E.M. Forster’s imaginary Machine. The story “The Machine Stops” is included, and the book makes for fascinating reading. Also important at the moment is What is a Refugee?, a very timely book, a touch of comedy in The Revenge of Anguished English, and a new edition of the well praised Prosperity without Growth rounds up our selection.

Syndetics book cover The machine stops / E.M. Forster; with contributions by Julieta Aranda, Fia Backström and R. Lyon … [et. al.] ; edited by Erik Wysocan.
“In 1909 E.M. Forster (1879-1970) wrote his one work of dystopian science fiction, The Machine Stops, which imagines the world in the aftermath of an ecological crisis, where humans live in underground chambers without physical contact. Here, 12 artists–Julieta Aranda, Fia Backstrom and R. Lyon, Ed Atkins, Ian Cheng, Melanie Gilligan, Pedro Neves Marques, Tobias Madison, Jeff Nagy, Rachel Rose, Bea Schlingelhoff and Mariana Silva–contribute texts addressing culture in the networked age.” (Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover What is a refugee? / William Maley.
“Arguing that Western states are now reaping the consequences of policies aimed at blocking safe and ‘legal’ access to asylum, What is a Refugee? shows why many proposed solutions to the refugee ‘problem’ will exacerbate tension and risk fuelling the growth of extremism among people who have been denied all hope. This lucid book also tells of the families and individuals who have sought refuge, highlighting the suffering, separation and dislocation on their perilous journeys to safety.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Buyer beware : a New Zealand home buyer’s guide / Maria Slade.
“How to negotiate the minefield of buying a home in New Zealand today. Property prices going through the stratosphere, leaky buildings, P contamination, bullying body corporates – purchasing a house today can feel akin to entering a minefield. Written by a news journalist who has covered many of the horror stories, this book takes a no-holds-barred look at the challenges facing home buyers and offers savvy advice on how to navigate that minefield. It will appeal to all home buyers, from first-timers hoping for a small apartment to older people looking to downsize and everyone in between.” (Syndetics summary)

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Religion & Beliefs

If you’re looking for inspiration, challenge, or reflection, there’s some great holiday reading to begin the year. Two important recommended titles to note are The Little History Of Religion, and the latest biography of Samuel Marsden.

Syndetics book cover Talking God : philosophers on belief, edited by Gary Gutting.
Where does belief come from? This book features conversations with twelve skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and believers including challenges from evolution, cutting-edge physics and cosmology, and meditations on the value of secular humanism. Insights on Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity are offered.
Syndetics book cover A little history of religion, by Richard Holloway.
Richard Holloway begins at the dawn of religious belief and retells, quite succinctly, the history of religion to the twenty-first century. Suitable for those with faith and those without, he accentuates tolerance, mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith. The discussion covers all of the major religions, and is simple without being simplistic. Evil done in the name of religion is not overlooked. This is an important snapshot to aid understanding different beliefs.
Syndetics book cover Awakening from the daydream : reimagining the Buddha’s wheel of life, by David Nichtern.
“Although traditionally thought of as modes of reincarnation, Nichtern describes the realms as mental states that we move between, sometimes quite rapidly. He clearly and briefly describes how each blocks our path towards enlightenment but also contain unique possibilities. He also provides concise and easily implemented meditation practices for coping with the negative effects of each and includes a basic guide to karma and advice for finding a spiritual guide. …this is a clear, and current introduction to Buddhist thought and practice.” (drawn from Publisher Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics).
Syndetics book cover Festivals in the Southern Hemisphere : insights into cosmic and seasonal aspects of the whole earth, by Martin Samson.
Many festivals draw on northern hemisphere seasons. This has led some to suggest that some festivals in the southern hemisphere should be celebrated at opposite times of the year: for example, celebrating Christmas in June. Rudolf Steiner shared cosmic, spiritual imaginations for the northern hemisphere, and in this book Martin Samson develops a useful equivalent guide for the southern hemisphere.

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History

This month have a look at far-reaching histories on today’s nation-states both new and old in Tokyo: A Biography and A History of South Sudan. Leaf through the intimate notes of Lydia Ginzburg from St. Petersburg under siege, or the unpredictable encounters of Tom Lutz’ ramblings through every country in the world. Take a trip through past and future in Robert L. Kelly’s Fifth Beginning, or follow the indigenous footsteps that made it back to deal directly with empire, at the heart of London.

Syndetics book cover A history of South Sudan : from slavery to independence / Øystein H. Rolandsen, M. W. Daly.
“South Sudan is the world’s youngest independent country. Established in 2011 after two wars, South Sudan has since reverted to a state of devastating civil strife. This book provides a general history of the new country, from the arrival of Turco-Egyptian explorers in Upper Nile, […] to the Anglo-Egyptian colonial era. The book concludes with coverage of events since independence, with insights into what the future might hold.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover Tokyo : a biography : disasters, destruction and renewal : the story of an indomitable city / Stephen Mansfield.
“The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo’s past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city’s response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again. Readers see a city almost unrivalled in its uniqueness, a place that–despite its often tragic history–still shimmers as it prepares to face the future.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The Great War for New Zealand : Waikato 1800-2000 / Vincent O’Malley.
“A monumental new account of the defining conflict in New Zealand history. It was war in the Waikato in 1863-64 that shaped the nation in all kinds of ways: setting back Māori and Pākehā relations by several generations and allowing the government to begin to assert the kind of real control over the country that had eluded it since 1840. Vincent O’Malley focuses on the human impact of the war, its origins and aftermath.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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Science

This month’s selection features a myriad of stellar books discussing adventures to Mars, meteorites, the planet Vulcan, and telescopic advances, as well as popular authors such as Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Syndetics book cover Forces of nature, by Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen.
Popular presenter Professor Brian Cox uncovers some of the most extraordinary natural events on Earth and in the Universe and beyond. The forces of nature shape everything we see and the results are astonishing. In seeking to understand the everyday world, the colours, structure, behaviour and history of our home, we develop the knowledge and techniques necessary to step beyond the everyday to understand the Universe beyond.
Syndetics book cover Mars : making contact, by Rod Pyle.
This book offers a visually stunning insider’s look at how Mars has been explored and the challenges facing future missions. The first 22 grainy closeups were in 1965, but the probes didn’t land until 1976. Today the two rovers Curiosity and Opportunity have allowed us to make even more discoveries of ancient rivers, lakes, ocean beds, and valleys. Plans for a manned mission to Mars, are discussed including the spacecraft design and surviving on the planet’s inhospitable surface. Another new book on Mars is Mars One, humanity’s next great adventure.
Syndetics book cover Meteorite, by Maria Golia.
‘Meteorite’ tells the long history of our engagement with these sky-born rocks, which are among the rarest things on earth. … This richly illustrated, wide-ranging account surveys the place of meteoric phenomena in science, myth, art, literature and popular culture.”(Syndetics summary)
Syndetics book cover The hunt for Vulcan : how Albert Einstein destroyed a planet and deciphered the universe, by Thomas Levenson.
In 1859, scientist Urbain LeVerrier discovered that the planet Mercury’s orbit shifts over time. His explanation was that there had to be an unseen planet Vulcan circling even closer to the sun. Astronomers of their generation began to seek out Vulcan and at least a dozen reports of discovery were filed. But a young Albert Einstein came up with a theory of gravity that also happened to prove that Mercury’s orbit could indeed be explained – not by Newton’s theories but by Einstein’s own theory of general relativity.

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Story in Science : latest picks

Scientific writing can take many forms, and these latest arrivals to the collection are evidence of a happy marriage of science and story-telling. Muse on personal stories behind big inventions, the biographies of three very different scientists, or the challenge of explaining complex stuff using only the 1,000 most popular words in our language.

Syndetics book coverHouston, we have a narrative : why science needs story, by Randy Olson.
“Hollywood has a lot to teach scientists about how to tell a story – and, ultimately, how to do science better.” In this book Olson sketches out a blueprint to turn the dull into the dramatic. He first outlines the problem that when scientists tell us about their work, they pile one detail on top of another. But they need to understand the core of narrative – momentum (“And”), conflict (“But”), and resolution (“Therefore”) (or ABT). Taking this approach, audiences sit enthralled for hours (watching TED talks on youtube?).

Syndetics book coverThe invention of science : a new history of the scientific revolution, by David Wootton.
We live in a world made by science. How and when did this happen? This book tells the story of the extraordinary intellectual and cultural revolution that gave birth to modern science, and mounts a major challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of its history. … “[this] is a truly remarkable piece of scholarship. His work has an ingenious and innovative linguistic foundation, examining the invention and redefinition of words as tracers of a new understanding of nature and how to approach it. His erudition is awesome, and his argument is convincing.” Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University.

Syndetics book coverThe human side of science : Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and other personal stories behind science’s big ideas, by Arthur W. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr. ; with cartoon commentary by Sidney Harris.
“”This lively and humorous book focuses attention on the fact that science is a human enterprise. The reader learns about the foibles and quirks as well as the admirable ingenuity and impressive accomplishments of famous scientists who made some of the greatest discoveries of the past and present. Examples abound: Robert Hooke accused Isaac Newton of stealing his ideas about optics. Plato declared that the works of Democritus should be burned. …book takes the reader behind the scenes of scientific research to shine new light on the all-too-human people who “do” science.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPenguins, pineapples & pangolins : first encounters with the exotic, by Claire Cock-Starkey.
Can you remember the first time you saw an elephant? In these modern times every child has seen a video clip, or a photo at the very least, of far away animals or plants. But, if we travel back in time a few hundred years, to the age of exploration or before trades routes became more frequented, people were discovering new animals, food or other cultures for the first very first time – with absolutely no frame of reference. Based on stories gleaned from the British Library archives, this new book reflects the awe and wonder these fresh encounters.

Syndetics book coverThe man who knew infinity : a life of the genius Ramanujan, by Robert Kanigel.
“In 1913, a young unschooled Indian clerk wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging the preeminent English mathematician’s opinion on several ideas he had about numbers. Realizing the letter was the work of a genius, Hardy arranged for Srinivasa Ramanujan to come to England. Thus began one of the most improbable and productive collaborations ever chronicled. With a passion for rich and evocative detail, Robert Kanigel takes us from the temples and slums of Madras to the courts and chapels of Cambridge University, where the devout Hindu Ramanujan, “the Prince of Intuition,” tested his brilliant theories alongside the sophisticated and eccentric Hardy, “the Apostle of Proof.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverProf : Alan Turing decoded : a biography, by Dermot Turing.
If you enjoyed the Imitation Game, dip into this biography of Alan Turing by his nephew, Sir Dermot Turing. We meet him in the film as mathematician, codebreaker, computer scientist, and as a war hero underestimated and mistreated by his own country. This is a fresh look at the influences on Alan Turing’s life and creativity, and the later creation of a legend. This is a unique family perspective drawing on sources only recently released to the UK National Archives, including photos.

Syndetics book coverA numerate life : a mathematician explores the vagaries of life, his own and probably yours, by John Allen Paulos.
“In this fluid and varied memoir, Paulos, professor of mathematics at Temple University, calls into question the accuracy of the stories people craft about others’ lives and their own. From a mathematical standpoint, he tackles subjects such as the deceptiveness of the concept of normal, the nuances that exist within one’s sense of self, and the inevitability of encountering coincidences. Delving into psychology, philosophy, statistics, and logic, Paulos reveals the far-reaching applications of mathematical thought in people’s lives as well as how they record and remember past events. Rather than adopting the pointed structure of a persuasive essay, Paulos chases down tangents and relates his own experiences, with nostalgia.” (drawn from Publishers Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThing explainer : complicated stuff in simple words, by Randall Munroe.
Randall Munroe has set himself a tricky task – to explain things using only drawings and a vocabulary of only our 1,000 most common words. Yes, that’s right, only 1,000. So although it fits into the ‘How do things work?’ answers reading shelf, this approach is worth reading for his choices of words and language. If you’ve ever had to explain how a micro-wave really works to a young child, then you’ll recognise the book’s value.

Syndetics book coverServing the Reich : the struggle for the soul of physics under Hitler, by Philip Ball.
Many scientists had to make compromises and concessions as they continued to work under the Nazi regime, such as world-renowned physicists Max Planck, Peter Debye and Werner Heisenberg. This is a tale of moral choices – the dilemmas, the failures, the interference in their work, questions of responsibility and three very human stories of people struggling to navigate living in a very different world than they imagined.

Syndetics book coverA survival guide to the misinformation age : scientific habits of mind, by David J. Helfand.
“We live in the Information Age, with billions of bytes of data just two swipes away. Yet how much of this is mis- or even disinformation? A lot of it is, and your search engine can’t tell the difference. As a result, an avalanche of misinformation threatens to overwhelm the discourse we so desperately need to address complex social problems such as climate change, the food and water crises, biodiversity collapse, and emerging threats to public health. This book provides an inoculation against the misinformation epidemic by cultivating scientific habits of mind. Anyone can do it – indeed, everyone must do it if our species is to survive on this crowded and finite planet.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe secret life of space, by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest.
The authors share stories that Stonehenge was built to celebrate the winter solstice rather than the summer, the telescope was not invented by Galileo, Einstein did not predict the presence of black holes or the Big Bang. Read about the sanitary engineer who found evidence of life on Mars, and other little known scientific heroes.

April’s Science Picks

Birds rule the roost in the latest crop of arrivals to the science section. Read about extraordinary owls, an epic migration journey, and a heart-warming penguin. The list is rounded off with two recommended reads – a sneak look into the life of bats, and the wonderful contribution that microbes make to Earth.

Syndetics book coverThe penguin lessons : what I learned from a remarkable bird, by Tom Michell.
A real-life story of the extraordinary bond between a young English teacher who rescues a penguin from an oil slick in Uruguay. The penguin refuses to leave his rescuer’s side. “That was the moment at which he became my penguin, and whatever the future held, we’d face it together,” says Michell. He names the penguin Juan Salvador (“John Saved”), but Juan Salvador, as it turns out, is the one who saves Michell. This is a witty and yet inspirational book.

Syndetics book coverGods of the morning : a bird’s-eye view of a changing world, by John Lister-Kaye.
This follows the year through the seasons at Aigas, the Highlands estate which the author has transformed into a world-renowned wildlife centre. The early morning brings with it twenty-nine distinct calls. Yet in the Highland glens, bird numbers plummet as their food supplies – natural fruits and every kind of creeping, crawling, slithering or flying bug–begin to disappear. …By the first frosts the hills will have emptied down to a few hardy stalwarts such as the golden eagles, the raven and the irrepressible hooded crows. The few species that are left frequent a changed world. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverThe secret lives of bats : my adventures with the world’s most misunderstood mammals, by Merlin Tuttle.
Ever since discovering a colony in a cave as a boy, Tuttle has realized how sophisticated and intelligent bats are. As he began to study bats all over the world, he also served tirelessly as their advocate, convincing farmers, landowners, and city dwellers that bats are beneficial members of their local ecosystems. But it was when he discovered that no one had ever produced good photographs of bats exhibiting their natural behaviours that a conservation star was born …. Tuttle’s tales of stalking bats, and of the discoveries he and fellow researchers have made, will make bat lovers out of every reader. (drawn from Booklist review, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverParrots of the wild : a natural history of the world’s most captivating birds, by Catherine A. Toft and Timothy F. Wright ; foreword by James D. Gilardi.
Drawing on over 2,400 scientific studies, this outlines the social behaviour, foraging, mating, intelligence, and conservation status of around 350 species. A worthy celebration of this appealing bird.

Syndetics book coverThe house of owls, by Tony Angell ; foreword by Robert Michael Pyle.
For a quarter of a century, Tony Angell and his family kept journals of their observations of pairs of western screech owls that occupied a nesting box outside the window of their forest home. His illustrations show owls at work and play – hunting, courting, or raising families. He shares their unique characteristics that distinguish owls from other bird species and provides a fascinating overview of the impact owls have had on human culture and thought.

Syndetics book coverLife’s engines : how microbes made Earth habitable, by Paul G. Falkowski.
From his last chapter “Thanks be to microbes for making this speck of detritus in the stardust of the universe a great place to live for their overgrown relatives, the animals and plants that temporarily decorate and rent the small dot from their microbial ancestors, who maintain it for their future relatives.” Easily understood by anyone with a passing knowledge of science – highly recommended and readable.

Syndetics book coverWild foods : looking back 60,000 years for clues to our future survival, by Vic Cherikoff.
Explores the consequences of eating a modern diet sprayed with pesticides and lacking in essential dietary fibre, protein and micro-nutrients. You will find how wild foods can help correct the imbalance and strengthen our health. Illustrated with beautiful colour photographs, this is a must-have guide for anyone who wants to live healthier lives.

Syndetics book coverThe narrow edge : a tiny bird, an ancient crab, and an epic journey, by Deborah Cramer.
Each year, red knots (sandpipers) weighing no more than a coffee cup, fly a near-miraculous 19,000 miles from the tip of South America to their nesting grounds in the Arctic and back. Along the way, they double their weight by gorging on millions of tiny horseshoe crab eggs which have conveniently been laid by their parents – ancient animals that come ashore but once a year. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverUnseen city : the majesty of pigeons, the discreet charm of snails & other wonders of the urban wilderness, by Nathanael Johnson.
It all started with Nathanael Johnson’s decision to teach his daughter the name of every tree they passed on their walk to day care in San Francisco. This project turned into a quest to discover the secrets of the neighbourhood’s flora and fauna, and yielded more than names and trivia: Johnson developed a relationship with his nonhuman neighbours. Johnson argues that learning to see the world afresh, like a child, shifts the way we think about nature. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Visible spectrums and beyond – Recent science books

What can we see? Intriguing and insightful accounts of our visible and invisible worlds feature in this first edition for 2016. Topics include photos from outer space right down to the contribution that microbes make to our well-being.

Syndetics book coverInvisible : the dangerous allure of the unseen, by Philip Ball.
Ball examines attraction of invisibility and the intriguing ways that the concept connects with myth, magic, and science. This study begins with historical examples e.g. mediaeval magic books, through the more modern scientific ponderings on invisible forms of electromagnetic radiation, such as X-rays, telepathy or optical manipulation through camouflage, through to a discussion on H.G. Wells’s novel The Invisible Man. Very readable, and the extensive references will be useful for those wishing to follow up on the topics it covers.

Syndetics book coverIridescence : the play of colours, by Peter Sutton and Michael Snow.
This book introduces and explains the mysterious capacity of the human eye to perceive the beautiful effects of iridescence, or non-pigmented colour, on a wide range of phenomena – from paua to soap bubbles, rainbows to CDs. Iridescence is described both scientifically and through a series of images from the world of art as well as nature.

Syndetics book coverEarth + space : photographs from the archives of NASA, preface by Bill Nye ; texts by Nirmala Nataraj.
Marvel at the wonders of our universe with this collection of photographs from NASA of Earth from above, and our solar system. Each photo is accompanied by an explanation its place in the cosmic ballet of planets, stars, dust, and matter–from Earth’s limb to solar flares, the Jellyfish Nebula to Pandora’s Cluster.

Syndetics book coverLight : the visible spectrum and beyond, by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke.
“A visual exploration of the power and behaviour of light across the entire electromagnetic spectrum reveals how types ranging from radio waves to X-rays affect life on earth and throughout the universe.” (publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverAtoms under the floorboards : the surprising science hidden in your home, by Chris Woodford.
Is it better to build skyscrapers like wobbly jellies or stacks of biscuits? Can you burn your house down with an electric drill? We all use Post-it Notes, but how do they keep sticking after repeated use? The author explains complex matters simply in lively and educational ways.

Syndetics book coverThe invisible history of the human race : how DNA and history shape our identities and our futures, by Christine Kenneally.
This account of the historical human journey includes enlightening descriptions of genome research projects, the connection between genetics and evolution, and the benefits and drawbacks of genealogy. … Kenneally argues that all humans are interconnected – there is no biology of race. Race is culturally defined and has artificial perspectives… Controversies remain about privacy, health, data-gathering techniques, the use of genetic data, and future developments within varying societies/cultures along with related ethical issues. (drawn from Choice magazine)

Syndetics book coverThe hidden half of nature : the microbial roots of life and health, by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé.
Microbes living inside us outnumber our own cells by almost 10 to 1. But those in the soil and sea reaches into the thousands of trillions, taking up half of the weight of all life on Earth. These microbes are critical both to our own health and the health of the planet. The authors mix descriptions of the many varieties and behaviours of microscopic creatures such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, with their personal slants on how they helped their garden blossom and Biklé’s encounter with cancer.

Syndetics book coverUnnatural selection : how we are changing life, gene by gene, by Emily Monosson.
Evolution is now in the fast lane. Bugs, bacteria, weeds, and cancer cells are evolving resistances to cures or herbicides at rates far beyond other species. Vaccines unable to keep up with viruses, or bedbugs that have slipped past pest control, are just some of the examples of reactions to chemicals which are terrifying in their near-total takeover of modern life. There are unrecognized evolutionary changes under way all around us. Monosson’s thesis is to say “Stop” to the convenience spraying, and urges us to reduce our chemical footprint.

Syndetics book coverThe science of everyday life : why teapots dribble, toast burns and light bulbs shine, by Marty Jopson.
Have you ever wondered why chillies and mustard are both hot but in different ways? Or why microwaves don’t cook from the inside out? This scientific tour of household objects,has the answer to these and more baffling questions about the chemistry and physics of the everyday stuff we use. (drawn from Syndetics summary).

I see trees of green – Recent Science books

Read more about the wonderful world of plant intelligence, whale and dolphin culture, restoring extinct animals through cloning and how seeds have shaped our history.

Syndetics book coverCakes, custard + category theory : easy recipes for understanding complex mathematics, by Eugenia Cheng.
Packed with entertaining examples of mathematical culinary analogies, puzzles and recipes (including chocolate brownies, sandwiches, Yorkshire puddings bagels) the author sets about her mission in life which is to rid the world of maths phobia. Her enthusiasm for the world of maths is infectious and this will appeal both to the maths glutton and those with little appetite. “This is maths at its absolute tastiest.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverHeadstrong : 52 women who changed science – and the world, by Rachel Swaby.
This features women who have achieved as innovators and inventors across the scientific spectrum, in fields ranging from physics to biology, astronomy, and engineering. More than 350 years are covered. Some are already household names e.g. Ada Lovelace and Florence Nightingale, but others rightly deserve a higher profile outside their own scientific communities. Discover some courageous significant scientists whose influence extends to our lives today. Recommended.

Syndetics book coverBrilliant green : the surprising history and science of plant intelligence, by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola ; translated by Joan Benham ; foreword by Michael Pollan.
Can plants solve problems, and communicate? We can all think of exceptions (like the Venus fly-trap) but on the whole we regard them as passive, silent and immovable if it were not for Wellington’s wind. Yet recent discoveries are challenging these ideas, and Mancuso argues that, in fact, they process information, sleep, remember, and signal to one another. He demonstrates a more sophisticated view of plant intelligence through a survey of plant capabilities from sight and touch to communication. “Part botany lesson, part manifesto, Brilliant Green is an engaging and passionate examination of the inner workings of the plant kingdom.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to clone a mammoth : the science of de-extinction, by Beth Shapiro.
Could extinct species be brought back to life? “Ancient DNA” research says yes. This is not without controversy – from deciding which species should be restored, to considering how these revived populations might exist in the wild. Both scientific and ethical issues are explored. Shapiro’s focus is not so much the restoration of a handful of favoured species, but an overarching goal to revitalize contemporary ecosystems. Is this conservation’s future?

Syndetics book coverMt John, the first 50 years : a celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at the University of Canterbury, by John Hearnshaw, Alan Gilmore.
In 1965, Mt John University Observatory was founded at Lake Tekapo to take advantage of the favourable conditions for astronomy in the Mackenzie Basin. Since the telescopes were installed there has been a wealth of astronomical research before its role was expanded to astro-tourism. This book charts its varied history (including student protests) but is a testament to its widely regarded research work, especially in stellar astronomy.

Syndetics book coverExpanding universe : photographs from the Hubble space telescope, by Charles F. Bolden Jr., Owen Edwards, John Mace Grunsfeld, Zoltan Levay.
Hubble has changed both our understanding of astronomy, but our own place in the universe. This is a collection of wonderful ultra high-resolution deep space images celebrating science and photography – brilliant colours and textures revealed in several large foldouts, accompanied by an interview with Zoltan Levay, who explains how the pictures are composed, while Hubble astronauts Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and John Mace Grunsfeld discuss Hubble’s legacy.

Syndetics book coverA history of life in 100 fossils, by Paul D. Taylor & Aaron O’Dea.
“Iconic specimens have been selected from the renowned collections of the two premier natural history museums in the world, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the Natural History Museum, London. The fossils have been chosen not only for their importance in the history of life, but also because of the visual story they tell. This stunning book is perfect for all readers because its clear explanations and beautiful photographs illuminate the significance of these amazing pieces…” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe cultural lives of whales and dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell.
Whales and dolphins are some of the most captivating sea animals to us, and this is not simply because they are mammals. Their intelligence, behaviour and social habits invite us to try to understand and interact with them. Human cultures pass on languages and customs and the authors consider could whales and dolphins have developed a culture of their very own? Drawing on their own research and observations as well as other scientific literature they ponder behaviours which Youtube clips have brought to the non-scientific world such as humpback whales bubble feeding, Australian dolphins using sea sponges to protect their beaks while foraging for fish in coral.

Syndetics book coverEinstein : his space and times, by Steven Gimbel.
A common view of Albert Einstein is of an eccentric genius who was single-minded in his pursuit of science. But Steven Gimbel argues that he was a man of his times, always politically engaged and driven by strong moral principles. Einstein was a pacifist whose social and scientific views earned him death threats from Nazi sympathizers in the years preceding World War II. To him, science was a foundation for considering the deeper questions of life and a way for the worldwide Jewish community to gain confidence and pride in itself. This biography offers a fascinating portrait of a remarkable individual whose scientific theories emerged from the reality of his lived experiences and times.

Syndetics book coverThe triumph of seeds : how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips, conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history, by Thor Hanson.
Seeds are quite literally the stuff and staff of life, supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. The search for nutmeg and the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution, while a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat has underpinned economies and diets for much of the world for centuries. In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental–objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination – as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do.” This is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow. (drawn from Syndetics summary).

Recent Science Picks: June

Here a few of the  pulchritudinous new science books that have filtered their way over my desk in the last month.

Syndetics book coverLucky planet : why Earth is exceptional, and what that means for life in the Universe / David Waltham.
“Science tells us that life elsewhere in the Universe is increasingly likely to be discovered. But in fact the Earth may be a very unusual planet – perhaps the only one like it in the entire visible Universe. In this book, David Waltham asks why, and comes up with some surprising and unconventional answers.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverWhat is relativity? : an intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, and why they matter / Jeffrey Bennett.
“*Starred Review* Doubtful in 1919 that even three scientists fully understood Einstein’s theory of relativity, the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington would marvel at this book. For in its relatively few pages, Bennett explains relativity to ordinary readers. Applying two simple principles the uniformity of natural law and the invariance of the speed of light readers conduct thought experiments that fuse time and space into a single concept. Armed with this concept, readers see why time slows down for space-travelers streaking across the cosmos, their spaceship growing more massive but shorter. Similarly, as they plunge into a black hole, doomed but enlightened readers can at least congratulate themselves on comprehending how extreme gravitation creates inescapably lethal tidal forces. Still, a perplexing mystery remains. Why does the singularity at the center of a black hole look irreconcilably different when viewed through quantum physics than it does when viewed through relativity? Undaunted, Bennett views this conundrum as the stimulus for scientific progress that will resolve it. Indeed, in the very fact that one man could formulate a theory as powerful as relativity, Bennett sees reason to hope that the entire human species can ultimately conquer stubborn nonscientific problems social, political, even metaphysical. An impressively accessible distillation of epoch-making science.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverPhysics in minutes / Giles Sparrow ; consultant, David W. Hughes.
“‘Physics in Minutes’ covers everything you need to know about physics, condensed into 200 key topics. Each idea is explained in clear, accessible language, building from the basics, such as mechanics, waves and particles, to more complex topics, including neutrinos, string theory and dark matter. Based on scientific research proving that the brain best absorbs information visually, illustrations accompany the text to aid quick comprehension and easy recollection. This convenient and compact reference book is ideal for anyone interested in how our world works.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverA little course in… astronomy / written by Robert Dinwiddie.
“Ever wanted to learn more about astronomy but don’t know where to begin? This book takes you from beginner to being able to identify stars, planets and other objects in space. It helps you study the Moon, build on your skills to find constellations and observe the solar system to see the Milky Way, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverAre we being watched? : the search for life in the cosmos / Paul Murdin.
“Is there life out there? The short answer is probably not. The shorter and more intriguing answer. maybe. In this beguiling and accessible book, the man responsible for finding the first black hole in our galaxy roams the universe looking for life-from Earth to Mars and beyond. Though he writes that his head is telling him one thing, astronomer Murdin (Secrets of the Universe) admits that his heart is telling him another, and he’s hopeful that life out there exists. One encouraging sign comes from the moon missions-bacteria normally found in the human mouth survived for over two years in Surveyor 3 equipment, which was later collected by astronauts aboard Apollo 12. But in order for life to flourish, Murdin explains, you need water, energy, and atmosphere. He goes on to explore possible combinations of these critical elements on neighboring planets, while also interweaving accounts of relevant discoveries and the scientists that made them, from Aristotle to Darwin to contemporary researchers, as well as the debates that continue to confound them. Murdin’s enthusiasm and fascination with the subject matter is palpable throughout, and he deftly manages to inform without boring knowledgeable readers or dumbing it down for lay folk. Photos, illus., and tables.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverPlants 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)

Syndetics book coverScatter, adapt, and remember : how humans will survive a mass extinction / Annalee Newitz.
“”Earth has been many different planets with dramatically different climates and ecosystems,” says Newitz, journalist and founding editor of io9.com. Finding a common ground between climate change arguments Newitz found a thread of hope while researching mass extinctions: that life has survived at least six such events thus far. Without addressing the cause of the current shift, she cites data that indicates we may already be in the midst of another period of mass extinction. Guiding readers through the science of previous mass extinctions, Newitz summarizes the characteristics that enabled species to survive: variable diet and habitat, and ability to learn from the past. “The urge to survive, not just as individuals but as a society and an ecosystem, is built into us as deeply as greed and cynicism are.” She reviews theories of how Homo sapiens survived while Neanderthals did not, discusses how science may one day enable a disaster-proof city, and advocates geoengineering and research for eventual moves to other planets. “We’ll strike out into space…. And eventually we’ll evolve into beings suited to our new habitats among the stars.” Newitz voice is fervent and earnest, and despite her gloomy topic, she leaves readers with hope for a long future.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverLast ape standing : the seven-million-year story of how and why we survived / Chip Walter.
“‘Last Ape Standing’ is evocative science writing at its best – a witty, engaging and accessible story that explores the evolutionary events that molded us into the remarkably unique creatures we are; an investigation of why we do, feel, and think the things we do as a species, and as people – good and bad, ingenious and cunning, heroic and conflicted.” (Library Catalogue)

Recent Science Picks

Here are some of the latest science goodies that have come across my desk in the last month or so.

Syndetics book coverNumbers are forever / Liz Strachan.
“This title is only about numbers – that is, whole numbers and nothing but the whole numbers, which start from from 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 … and go on forever. Here you can meet perfect numbers, happy numbers, lucky, untouchable, weird, narcissistic, evil and deficient numbers, not to mention nice Friedmans and multi-legged repunits, as well as primes and their cousins, the sexy primes. It is also full of fascinating facts and curios, prime number conjectures, the sieve of Eratosthenes, the Fibonacci series, and much more besides.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe story of physics : from natural philosophy to the enigma of dark matter / Anne Rooney.
“The Story of Physics traces the development of physics from the natural philosophers of the ancient world to cutting-edge experiments in quantum mechanics Also features the giants of science history, from Archimedes through Newton and Galileo to Curie, Einstein and Hawking.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe perfect theory : a century of geniuses and the battle over general relativity / Pedro G. Ferreira.
“At the core of Einstein’s general theory of relativity are a set of equations that explain the relationship among gravity, space, and time–possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. For over a century, physicists have been exploring, debating, and at times neglecting Einstein’s theory in their quest to uncover the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of solar systems, stars, and galaxies. In this sweeping narrative of science and culture, Pedro Ferreira explains the theory through the human drama surrounding it: the personal feuds and intellectual battles of the biggest names in twentieth-century physics, from Einstein and Eddington to Hawking and Penrose. We are in the midst of a momentous transformation in modern physics. As scientists look farther and more clearly into space than ever before, The Perfect Theory engagingly reveals the greater relevance of general relativity, showing us where it started, where it has led, and where it can still take us.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverSpeed : how to make things go really fast / Guy Martin.
“How far can Guy Martin travel on a bicycle, in a human powered aircraft, on a hydroplaning motorbike or in a supersled? How will Guy Martin complete these four dangerous, adrenaline-fuelled speed challenges in record time?” (Cover)

Syndetics book coverNeanderthal man : in search of lost genomes / Svante Pääbo.
“As Paabo tells it, sequencing the genome of Neanderthal man seems to have been about equally fascinating and frustrating. Fortunately, fascination predominated, and ultimate success was reported in 2010 and closely followed by the sequencing of another progenitor of modern humans. The frustration that dogged the project arose from the difficulty of finding Neanderthal fossils with enough DNA left in them to reconstruct the genome, and the constant need to expel contamination by modern human DNA, which, since it highly resembles Neanderthal DNA, routinely corrupts sequencing the latter. The tale Paabo tells is largely one of technological improvement enabling the elimination of contamination and speeding up the sequencing process. Secondarily, it’s about creating scientific foundations and multinational scientific cooperation to pursue the promises of research into ancient DNA, including that of nonhuman species as well as hominins. Although he never mentions it, Paabo is the acknowledged founder of ancient DNA research. Instead, he sparingly recounts his personal odyssey from homosexuality to marriage and fatherhood, without relating it to his work, which may perplex some readers.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe monkey’s voyage : how improbable journeys shaped the history of life / Alan de Queiroz.
“Biogeography, the study of the geographical distribution of living things, has been of interest since at least the time of the Greeks. In his entertaining and enlightening book, evolutionary biologist de Queiroz demonstrates that despite this longstanding interest in the subject, the discipline has resisted an organizing paradigm. De Queiroz comprehensively describes the shift, beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, from Darwin’s belief that long-distance dispersal was the dominant explanation for biogeographic patterns to the rise of those promoting vicariance-the belief that environmental fragmentation is responsible for observed patterns-and back again to promoting long distance dispersal. He cogently describes the science underlying these ideas, the nature of continental drift, the complexity of molecular clocks, and the mathematics of cladistics, explaining why he believes the only reasonable interpretation for current data is an acceptance of rare, long-distance dispersal events that can only be called “mysterious” and “miraculous,” including the book’s eponymous monkeys accidentally crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Beyond the actual science, de Queiroz brings insight into the nature of scientific discourse itself.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverVolcanoes of the south wind : a volcanic guide to Tongariro National Park / Karen Williams.
“A comprehensive field guide to the remarkable landscape of this dual World Heritage site. With photographs and diagrams, it tells the turbulent story of a volcanic complex that continues to make headlines. It explains the incredible forces that shape and mould the landscape, and where on the park’s walks and tracks you can see them.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverA garden of marvels : how we discovered that flowers have sex, leaves eat air, and other secrets of plants / Ruth Kassinger.
“In the tradition of The Botany of Desire and Wicked Plants, the author of Paradise Under Glass gives us a witty and engaging history of the first botanists interwoven with stories of today’s extraordinary plants found in the garden and the lab.” (Provided by publisher)

Science Recent Picks – Maths & Physics… they are cool now, right?

Just a few of the new Maths and Physics books that have reared their heads in the last week or two:

Syndetics book coverFrom 0 to infinity in 26 centuries : the extraordinary story of maths / Chris Waring.
“We may remember their equations and discoveries from school, but do we remember who the men behind the math were? From the theories of Pythagoras (did you know he ran a secret brotherhood that studied maths, music, and gymnastics?) to coining the term “Googol,” this book is packed full of fascinating facts and surprising stories from ancient times to the modern day. Do you want to know why the Ancient Greeks knew so much math? Or, why there was so little math studied in the Dark Ages? Read this fascinating book to uncover the mysteries of math.” (Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverEinstein and the quantum : the quest of the valiant Swabian / A. Douglas Stone.
“Einstein and the Quantum reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light–the core of what we now know as quantum theory–than he did about relativity. A compelling blend of physics, biography, and the history of science, Einstein and the Quantum shares the untold story of how Einstein–not Max Planck or Niels Bohr–was the driving force behind early quantum theory. It paints a vivid portrait of the iconic physicist as he grappled with the apparently contradictory nature of the atomic world, in which its invisible constituents defy the categories of classical physics, behaving simultaneously as both particle and wave. And it demonstrates how Einstein’s later work on the emission and absorption of light, and on atomic gases, led directly to Erwin Schrödinger’s breakthrough to the modern form of quantum mechanics. The book sheds light on why Einstein ultimately renounced his own brilliant work on quantum theory, due to his deep belief in science as something objective and eternal.A book unlike any other, Einstein and the Quantum offers a completely new perspective on the scientific achievements of the greatest intellect of the twentieth century, showing how Einstein’s contributions to the development of quantum theory are more significant, perhaps, than even his legendary work on relativity” (Provided by publisher)

Syndetics book coverLove and math : the heart of hidden reality / Edward Frenkel.
“After Rick and Isla meet at a dinner party and fall in love, what’s next? For Frenkel, it is the mathematical charting of the Rick-Isla relationship as a trajectory on the x-y plane. The surprising notion of a formula of love fits into the remarkable understanding of math Frankel unfolds as he recounts his labors on conceptual frontiers where an audacious new master theory, the Langlands Program, is linking geometry, number theory, and algebra. To qualify for a role in those labors, Frenkel defied the anti-Semitism pervading the Soviet academic world in which he came of age and then won appointment to a Harvard professorship. Aware that few of his readers share his academic training, Frenkel pares the technical details to a minimum as he reflects on the platonic transcendence of mathematical concepts and marvels at their mysterious utility in explaining physical phenomena. Not merely dry formulas in textbooks, the math Frenkel celebrates fosters freedom and, yes, even distills the essence of love. A breathtaking personal and intellectual odyssey.” (Adapted from Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThinking in numbers : on life, love, meaning, and math / Daniel Tammet.
“*Starred Review* With these words from a fellow mathematician, There is nothing as dreamy and poetic, nothing as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics, Tammet describes the magical realms he explores in these 25 wonderful essays. Here numbers become portals to pure possibilities in the math of life. Smashing preconceptions of mathematics as a task for drudges, Tammet takes prime numbers as a key for unlocking haiku by Basho and shares the emotion-laden colors surging through his mind when, as a number artist, he sets a European record by reciting the value of pi to 22,514 decimal places. Tammet visits the pure possibilities in mathematics that inspire poetry, drama, and even theology. But the tether of impure reality tugs the author back into a world where impoverished grandparents suffer the indignity of eviction, their furniture scattered across the front lawn; a world where his mother manages Christmas for a large family only by scouring neighborhood garage sales. But then, perhaps, it is precisely in the tension between math’s sublime dreamscapes and the terrestrial numbers of working-class budgets that readers truly see the math of life. Admirers of Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day (2007) and Embracing the Wide Sky (2009) will find here fresh reasons to laud the author’s gifts.” (Adapted from Booklist)

Syndetics book coverChaotic fishponds and mirror universes / Richard Elwes ; [illustrations by Patrick Nugent].
“What can we learn from fish in a pond? How do social networks connect the world? How can artificial intelligences learn? Why would life be different in a mirror universe?
Mathematics is everywhere, whether we are aware of it or not. Exploring the subject through 35 of its often odd and unexpected applications, this book provides an insight into the ‘hidden wiring’ that governs our world.
From the astonishing theorems that control computers to the formulae behind stocks and shares, and from the foundations of the internet to the maths behind medical imaging, Chaotic Fishponds and Mirror Universes explains how mathematics determines every aspect of our lives – right down to the foundations of our bodies.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverWhat if Einstein was wrong? : asking the big questions about physics / editor, Brian Clegg ; foreword by Jim Al-Khalili.“Asking the big questions about physics. What if…? are the two words that sow the seeds for human speculation, experimentation, invention, evolution, revolution, and change. In an uncertain age, economists are asking, What if growth stopped growing?; scientists, What if light speed were overtaken?; and politicians, What if the third world became the first? What If Einstein Was Wrong? challenges a team of scholars to experiment with 50 topical science speculations, at a time when the hunt for the Higgs boson particle is threatening to undermine the foundations of our knowledge. Consider what time travel, warp speed, artificial gravity, or the loss of Schrodingers cat could mean to us, and en route accumulate the knowledge you need to debate the shape that our science might take in the future.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverHow big is big and how small is small : the sizes of everything and why / by Timothy Paul Smith.
“This book is about how big is the universe and how small are quarks, and what are the sizes of dozens of things between these two extremes. It describes the sizes of atoms and planets, quarks and galaxies, cells and sequoias. It is a romp through forty-five orders of magnitude from the smallest sub-nuclear particles we have measured, to the edge of the observed universe. It also looks at time, from the epic age of the cosmos to the fleeting lifetimes of ethereal particles. It is a narrative that trips its way from stellar magnitudes to the clocks on GPS satellites, from the nearly logarithmic scales of a piano keyboard through a system of numbers invented by Archimedes and on to the measurement of the size of an atom.” (Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverFarewell to reality : how modern physics has betrayed the search for scientific truth / Jim Baggott.
“From superstrings and black holes to dark matter and multiverses, modern theoretical physics revels in the bizarre. Now it’s wandered into the realm of “fairy-tale,” says science writer and former “practicing” physicist Baggott (A Beginners Guide to Reality). Quantum theory led scientists to create a Standard Model of physics in the mid-20th century, but that model is really an amalgam of distinct individual quantum theories necessary to describe a diverse array of forces and particles. Meanwhile, astronomical observations have revealed that 90% of our universe is made of something we can’t see (dark matter); some mysterious “dark energy” is pushing all of it apart at an accelerating rate, and physicists are gambling on a “supersymmetry” theory in hopes that it could be the holy grail, a Grand Unified Field Theory that might lend coherence to the Standard Model while explaining some of the phenomena the latter fails to account for-despite the fact, Baggott says, that for “every standard model problem it resolves, another problem arises that needs a fix.” In consistently accessible and intelligent prose, Baggott sympathetically captures the frustrations of physicists while laying out a provocative-and very convincing-plea for a reality check in a field that he feels is now too “meta” for its own good.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Recent Science Books – May 2013

A small selection of the glorious new books to pass over our desks this month.

Syndetics book coverWill we ever speak dolphin? : and 130 more science questions answered : more questions and answers from the popular ‘Last Word’ column / edited by Mick O’Hare.
“Why do birds sing at dawn? What’s the slowest a plane can fly without stalling and falling out of the sky? And how long can you keep a tiger cub as a pet? Will We Ever Speak Dolphin? The eagerly-awaited new “Last Word” collection, has the answers to these questions and many more. Seven years on from “Does Anything Eat Wasps?”, the “New Scientist” series still rides high in the bestseller lists, with well over two million copies sold. Popular science has never been more stimulating or more enjoyable. Like “Why Don’t Penguins Feet Freeze?” “Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?” and “Why Can’t Elephants Jump?” this collection of wry and well-informed answers to a remarkable range of baffling questions is guaranteed to delight.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverSpectrums : our mind-boggling universe, from infinitesimal to infinity / David Blatner.
“While the size of the universe can be gauged down to the level of electrons and out to unimaginable distances trillions of light-years away, most of us live within a very narrow, middle-range slice of day-to-day observation. With the aim of enhancing our appreciation for the dimensions we don’t normally perceive, prolific science writer Blatner takes a closer look at six scales of measurement, or spectrums, with which our lives are daily intertwined: numbers, size, light, sound, heat, and time. Leavened with wit and colorful anecdotes, each section reveals a wealth of astonishing and quirky details about the world around us. In Numbers, for instance, we learn that engineers could not calculate rocket trajectories without imaginary numbers. Light attempts to elucidate the mind-bending paradox that light is both a particle and a wave. Complete with illustrative charts, photos, and pithy quotes from celebrities as diverse as George Carlin and Max Planck, Blatner’s work is one of those rare nonfiction gems that make learning about science eye-opening and fun.–Hays, Carl Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe ten most beautiful experiments / George Johnson.The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments
“Science writer Johnson describes his choices for the ten most fascinating science experiments conducted by individuals, considering scientists such as Galileo, Harvey, and Newton in the 1600s, Lavoisier and Galvani in the 1700s, Faraday, Joule, Michelson, and Pavlov in the 1800s, and Millikan in the early 1900s. Readers learn from Galileo’s notebook, rediscovered in 1973, how he did his “dilution of gravity” experiment with a rolling ball. The book shows why Harvey had difficulties convincing others that blood circulates, and how Lavoisier convinced colleagues there is no phlogiston. As for Pavlov, his dogs could distinguish individual notes of the musical scale and ascending or descending scales, a feat more amazing than salivation at the sound of a particular note. As Johnson states, other classic science experiments might be chosen, such as Mendel’s garden experiments with sweet peas, Onnes’ discovery of superconductivity, or McClintock’s jumping genes. However, his ten are as diverse as science itself and represent the history of scientific investigation by individuals. Black-and-white photos and numerous drawings help explain the ideas. A useful index and a complete “Notes and Bibliography” section for further reference augment the text. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers/libraries. F. Potter formerly, University of California, IrvineCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverNaked statistics : stripping the dread from the data / Charles Wheelan.
“Wheelan (Naked Economics) offers a helping hand and a humorous perspective to everyone who’s ever felt confused, lied to, or just plain lost when it comes to statistics, those handy data sets used to determine everything from batting averages and trends on Wall Street to the quality of a school and which door you should pick if you’re playing Let’s Make a Deal. The author shows how statistics like the mean and the median are used to summarize and find patterns in large collections of data, and in later chapters he consider how statistics are used to assess large-scale economic risk and to find important connections between different sets of data, like those that allow Netflix to offer reasonable movie recommendations. Throughout, Wheelan stresses how statistics “rarely [offer] a single `right’ ” answer; indeed, when deployed carelessly or deliberately misused, they can sometimes obscure the truth. Furthermore, the author reminds readers that while data can be used to help make better decisions, “even the most precise measurements or calculations should be checked against common sense.” Wheelan’s relatively mathless real world examples (he sequesters equations in appendixes) and wry style-heavily seasoned with pop culture references-make for a fun and illuminating read. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Jan. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe life of a leaf / Steven Vogel.
“Duke University biomechanist Vogel (Cats’ Paws and Catapults) capably demonstrates how a scientist can unite micro and macro perspectives in looking at the natural world. Using the leaf of a plant as his model system of life, he explores aspects of structure, function, and physiology while embedding specific questions in a broader evolutionary context. Thus, as we learn how a leaf (and the plant to which it is attached) uses various strategies to maintain appropriate water balance, we also learn why these strategies are important. Those larger points allow Vogel and his readers to reach beyond botany to the entire natural world. He mixes the principles of biology with those of physics to great effect, demonstrating the constraints the physical world places on living organisms and the limited options available to evolution. Vogel does present a heavy dose of complex equations to support his reasoning, but they are relegated to footnotes and not essential to his message. The larger theme deals with the nature of scientific investigation: how scientists formulate and test hypotheses and the role that chance can play in those inquiries. His firsthand account of many of his own experiments, and the joy with which he recounts them, brings the scientific process to life. 47 color and 18 b&w illus. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe bonobo and the atheist : in search of humanism among the primates / Frans de Waal ; with drawings by the author.
“De Waal (psychology, Emory Univ.; director, Living Links Ctr., Yerkes Primate Ctr.; The Age of Empathy) is known for his work on moral behavior in chimpanzees and bonobos. Here he explains that unlike their aggressive cousins, chimpanzees, bonobos avoid aggression when possible, employing mutual grooming and sex play instead to ease social tension. Both chimps and bonobos help others, even without hope of gain. This is evidence, de Waal argues, that morality isn’t rooted in top-down reasoning or rules but in bottom-up “gut” behavior. From these observations, de Waal segues to an intriguing but less convincing argument against dogmatic atheism (e.g., as defined by Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchins). That atheism, de Waal argues, leaves us nothing to hold on to, but we need something. VERDICT This intriguing book is a hybrid: half science, half personal speculation. Given the persistent view that all animals, even human ones, are motivated solely by self-interest (what de Waal calls “veneer theory,” i.e., moral outside, amoral inside), this is a book worth reading. It’s also exceptionally well written. It should appeal to the lay reader who enjoys keeping up with today’s scientific discussions.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2013. 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)(Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe year without summer : 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history / William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman.
“In the tradition of Krakatoa, The World Without Us, and Guns, Germs and Steel comes a sweeping history of the year that became known as 18-hundred-and-froze-to-death. 1816 was a remarkable year, mostly for the fact that there was no summer. As a result of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, weather patterns were disrupted worldwide for months, allowing for excessive rain, frost, and snowfall through much of the Northeastern U.S. and Europe in the summer of 1816. The Year Without Summer examines not only the climate change engendered by this event, but also its effects on politics, the economy, the arts, and social structures.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverLiving in a dangerous climate : climate change and human evolution / Renée Hetherington.
“In this ambitious and wide-ranging book touching on paleoclimatology, economics, biology, sociology, and anthropology, Hetherington (Canada-based natural resources consultant; coauthor with R. Reid, The Climate Connection, CH, Nov’10, 48-1452) provides a highly readable overview of how environmental change has affected humans from the time Homo species appeared in the geologic record through evolutionary changes, to the advent of civilizations, development of agriculture, and modern societies. The book begins with a summary of the climatic history of Earth along with an overview of evolutionary theory and a description of human evolution, migrations out of Africa, and ultimately the development of agriculture. The remainder of the book ties these two themes together using examples from the scientific literature to illustrate the way that environmental changes (resulting from natural phenomena or human factors) have caused humans to adapt. From these past examples, Hetherington then tackles future climate change and addresses topics such as why societies have been slow to respond to predicted threats from these climatic changes, how the economic system interferes with scientifically driven decision making, and what this means for future generations and how humanity might survive challenging climatic conditions in years to come. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, general readers, and professionals. D. Goldblum Northern Illinois UniversityCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE)(Courtesy of Syndetics)