A few of latest and greatest science books that have come across my desk
Randomness in evolution / John Tyler Bonner.
“Bonner indicates in the acknowledgments section that some readers may consider his book “controversial.” However, he provides a well-written, well-documented collection of evidence suggesting randomness as a primary engine behind natural selection. This has been self-evident since Darwin’s time, and should no longer produce controversy. More interesting is Bonner’s suggestion that an organism’s size is a factor in randomness. While not really new, his well-done approach is certainly convincing. The author’s own research on slime molds bears out his thesis nicely. Clearly, the greater an organism’s size, the greater the opportunity for errors to occur from random events. If this happens early in development, it is probably fatal; if it happens much later, it might provide desirable/advantageous change. Equally an issue is that larger organisms take longer to reach independence. Bonner could have addressed the role of chance in the evolution of populations consisting of small groups such as hominids, where the loss of one individual could change the future of the species. This is an excellent essay, valuable to a wide audience. Evolution is an important, timely topic, making Bonner’s work a worthy contribution. Summing up: Highly recommended.” (Adapted from CHOICE)
Darwin’s doubt : the explosive origin of animal life and the case for intelligent design / Stephen C. Meyer.
“Charles Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. In what is known today as the “Cambrian explosion,” 530 million years ago many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock. In Darwin’s Doubt Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life — a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but also because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal. Expanding on the compelling case he presented in his last book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that the theory of intelligent design — which holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection — is ultimately the best explanation for the origin of the Cambrian animals.” (From back cover)
Rocket girl : the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist / George D. Morgan.
“Rocket Girl is an intriguing biography of a woman who kept many secrets, the least of which was her part in crafting the rocket-fuel recipe for the satellite Explorer 1. She had a bitter and brutal childhood, put a child up for adoption, and was unpaid for many years for the dangerous work she did in a male-dominated field. Most of all, as her son, author Morgan, recalls, there was something not quite right about her. Call it depression or OCD or just years of suppressed emotion, but Mary Sherman Morgan was not a happy woman. Determined to explore her complicated past, Morgan first wrote a play and then, delving into more detail, this portrait. The narrative is a bit unwieldy in its jumping back and forth in time and in Morgan’s attempts to enter the minds of Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, and many questions remain unanswered. Still, the personal story and family detective work are truly gripping, and Mary, in all her contradictions, emerges as a fascinating subject.” (Adapted from Booklist)
The Norm chronicles : stories and numbers about danger / Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter.
“A far from average book: the real story behind the statistics on risk, chance and choice. Meet Norm. He’s 31, 5’9″, just over 13 stone, and works a 39 hour week. He likes a drink, doesn’t do enough exercise and occasionally treats himself to a bar of chocolate (milk). He’s a pretty average kind of guy. In fact, he is the average guy in this clever and unusual take on statistical risk, chance, and how these two factors affect our everyday choices. Watch as Norm (who, like all average specimens, feels himself to be uniquely special), and his friends careful Prudence and reckless Kelvin, turns to statistics to help him in life’s endless series of choices – should I fly or take the train? Have a baby? Another drink? Or another sausage? Do a charity skydive or get a lift on a motorbike? Because chance and risk aren’t just about numbers – it’s about what we believe, who we trust and how we feel about the world around us. What we do, or don’t do, has as much do with gut instinct as hard facts, with enjoyment as understanding. If you’ve ever wondered what the statistics in tabloid scare stories really mean, how dangerous horse-riding is compared to class-A drugs, or what governs coincidence, you will find it all here.” (Library catalogue)
Brilliant blunders : from Darwin to Einstein–colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe / Mario Livio.
“Drawing on the lives of five great scientists — Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle and Albert Einstein — scientist/author Mario Livio shows how even the greatest scientists made major mistakes and how science built on these errors to achieve breakthroughs, especially into the evolution of life and the universe.” (Provided by publisher)
From quantum to cosmos : the universe within / Neil Turok.
“In this visionary book, Neil Turok explores the great discoveries of the past three centuries – from the classical mechanics of Newton; to the nature of light; to the bizarre world of the quantum; to the evolution of the cosmos; and even the recent findings of Higgs bosons at the Large Hadron Collider. Each new discovery has, over time, yielded new technologies that have transformed society. Now, he argues, we are on the cusp of another major change: the coming quantum revolution that will supplant our digital age. Facing this new world, Turok calls for creatively re-inventing the way advanced knowledge is developed and shared, and opening access to the vast, untapped pools of intellectual talent in the developing world. Scientific research, training, and outreach are vital to our future economy, as well as powerful forces for peaceful global progress. Elegantly written and highly inspirational, From Quantum to Cosmos is, above all, about the future – of science, of society, and of ourselves.” (Book cover)
Earth / editors-in-chief, James F. Luhr and Jeffrey E. Post.
“Offers an exploration of planet Earth. From the fiery mass of the Earth’s core to the tip of the highest ice-capped mountain, this title helps you discover every aspect of our planet in photographic detail with Earth.” (Library catalogue)
The Neanderthals rediscovered : how modern science is rewriting their history / Dimitra Papagianni, Michael A. Morse.
“For too long the Neanderthals have been seen as dim-witted evolutionary dead-enders who looked and behaved completely differently from us, but in recent years their story has been transformed thanks to new discoveries and advances in scientific techniques. In a compelling narrative one that has not previously been told in a way that encompasses the entire dramatic arc from evolution to expansion to extinction this book takes a fresh and engaging look at the whole story of the Neanderthals, setting out all the evidence, redressing the balance and arriving at a fairer assessment of a species that was closely related to us and in so doing addresses what it is to be human.” (From book jacket)
Telling our way to the sea : a voyage of discovery in the Sea of Cortez / Aaron Hirsh.
“Hirsh, with biologist Veronica Volny and science historian Graham Burnett, traveled with 12 college students to a remote Mexican fishing village on the Sea of Cortez for a field course on evolutionary biology and the ecology of the area. Hirsh weaves the history of the conquistadors, knowledge of the present-day villagers, and the day-to-day activities of the group, with its varied, sometimes difficult personalities, into his story of the Sea of Cortez and its ecology, along with that of the adjoining desert. He uses the group’s observations as a springboard to a discussion of endangered species and the wonder of the sea’s inhabitants, from sea cucumbers to rays to whales. Beautifully descriptive prose and accessible science combine to create a fascinating look at a seemingly abundant ecosystem that turns out to be a pale imitation of what it once was. Verdict? This work is a rich exploration of the Sea of Cortez and its surroundings for readers interested in the ecology, history, and current inhabitants of the area, as well as fans of lyrically written natural history books and/or of evolutionary biology.” (Adapted from Library Journal)