Books: Suggestions for general science reading

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   Author index:    Introduction to author index and last name A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I-J    K    L    M    N    O    P-Q    R    S    T    U-V    W-X    Y-Z
   The books, listed by publication year:    2017    2016    2015    2014    2013    2012    2011    2010    2009    2008    2007    2006    2005    2004    2003    2002    2001    2000    1990s    1980s    1970s through 1930s    1929 and earlier

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Most recent postings (items posted in last 3-6 months, in order by posting date):
David Owen, Where the Water Goes -- Life and death along the Colorado River. 2017. New July 16, 2017.
Brian Clegg, Are numbers real? The uncanny relationship of mathematics and the physical world. 2016. New July 7, 2017.
Helen Czerski, Storm in a Teacup -- The physics of everyday life. 2017. New June 11, 2017.
Randall Fuller, The Book That Changed America -- How Darwin's theory of evolution ignited a nation. 2017. New April 27, 2017.
Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes -- The microbes within us and a grander view of life. 2016. New February 28, 2017.
      Books posted during the last year are highlighted in red in the listings below.

The main purpose of this page is to list some variety of books that may be suitable for general reading. Some are books I know and like, some have been recommended to me by others. Some are listed "by reputation". Some have been listed for one or another of my courses.

The general scope of the page is "science". That will be interpreted loosely so as to include a wide range of books, especially when other people contribute to the list.

The target audience is broad. A key target audience is "young science students". Books suitable for general reading by other scientists and by non-scientist friends and relatives are all welcomed.

Contributions welcomed. Please provide a brief description, along the lines of what is given here. Contributions should be signed: at least a name.

"Second opinions" about books already listed will be considered, on a case-by-case basis. If you think you have something interesting or important to add about a book that is already listed, drop me a note. If you mainly want to reiterate what is shown, to emphasize that a book is worth considering, please keep it brief.

This page is primarily for books for "general" reading, not for textbooks per se. Basic textbooks are listed on course pages, and some online textbooks are listed as Internet resources, e.g., for Chemistry (including biochemistry), Biology, or Microbiology.

      Bottom of page; return links and contact information


Of course, other people have book lists, and I am happy to refer to them. Here are a few:
* One that is well known in chemistry circles, but is certainly not restricted to chem books, is maintained by Hal Harris (Univ Missouri, St Louis). Hal's picks is now part of a larger section of "picks" at the ChemEd Xchange: https://www.chemedx.org/picks/all.
* American Scientist book reviews are at http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/.
* The Royal Society Science Books Prize. https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/book-prizes/science-books-prize/. For more, see my Musings post Royal Society suggests science books (July 27, 2009).

The books are listed below in order by publication year, most recent first. Within a year, they are alphabetical by first author. ISBN numbers are usually included. Use of ISBN is sometimes the easiest way to search for a book in an online bookstore. However, be aware that there may be alternatives (e.g., paper vs hardback), or a newer book. I have included some references to book reviews.

   2017    2016    2015    2014    2013    2012    2011    2010    2009    2008    2007    2006    2005    2004    2003    2002    2001    2000    1990s    1980s    1970s through 1930s    1929 and earlier

Author index. Here is a listing of all books, listed by each author, alphabetically (by the author whose name is in bold). Each item here links to the year where details for the book are found. (If there is more than one book by an author, they are listed in date order, most recent first.)

Skip to last name    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I-J    K    L    M    N    O    P-Q    R    S    T    U-V    W-X    Y-Z

Pamela G Ronald & Raoul W Adamchak, Tomorrow's Table - Organic farming, genetics, and the future of food. 2008.
David E Alexander, On the Wing -- Insects, pterosaurs, birds, bats and the evolution of animal flight. 2015.
Johnjoe McFadden & Jim Al-Khalili, Life on the Edge -- The coming of age of quantum biology. 2014.
Susan Allport, The Queen of Fats - Why Omega-3s were removed from the western diet and what we can do to replace them. 2006.
Warwick Anderson & Ian R Mackay, Intolerant Bodies -- A short history of autoimmunity. 2014.
Warwick Anderson, The Collectors of Lost Souls -- Turning kuru scientists into whitemen. 2008.
John Marzluff & Tony Angell, Gifts of the Crow -- How perception, emotion, and thought allow smart birds to behave like humans. 2012.
Kat Arney, Herding Hemingway's Cats -- Understanding how our genes work. 2016. New September 8, 2016.
John Muir's Book of Animals. Illustrations by Lisel Jane Ashlock. 2015.
Peter Atkins, What is chemistry? 2013.
John Booss & Marilyn J August, To Catch a Virus. 2013.
John C Avise, The Hope, Hype, and Reality of Genetic Engineering: Remarkable stories from agriculture, industry, medicine, and the environment. 2004.

David Baker & Todd Ratcliff, The 50 Most Extreme Places in our Solar System. 2010.
E C Minkoff & P J Baker, Biology Today - An Issues Approach. 2001 -- 2nd edition. 2004 -- 3rd edition.
John D Barrow, Cosmic Imagery -- Key images in the history of science. 2008.
Michael Bellomo, The Stem Cell Divide: The facts, the fiction, and the fear driving the greatest scientific, political, and religious debate of our time. 2006.
Gregory Benford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics, The Wonderful Future That Never Was. 2010.
Paul Berg & Maxine Singer, George Beadle - An uncommon farmer; subtitled "The emergence of genetics in the 20th century". 2003.
Bob Berman, The Sun's Heartbeat -- And other stories from the life of the star that powers our planet. 2011.
Jeremy Bernstein, Plutonium: A history of the world's most dangerous element. 2007.
J D Watson (with A Berry), DNA - The Secret of Life. 2003.
J Michael Bishop, How to win the Nobel prize - An unexpected life in science. 2003.
Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee, The body has a mind of its own -- How body maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better. 2007.
Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee, The body has a mind of its own -- How body maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better. 2007.
Jeff Hawkins (with Sandra Blakeslee), On Intelligence. 2004.
Martin J Blaser, Missing Microbes -- How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. 2014.
Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot, The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers. 2008.
John Tyler Bonner, The Social Amoebae -- The biology of cellular slime molds. 2009.
John Booss & Marilyn J August, To Catch a Virus. 2013.
Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I. G. Farben. 1978.
Dennis Bray, Wetware -- A computer in every living cell. 2009.
Thomas D Brock, Robert Koch - A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology. 1988.
Mike Brown, How I Killed Pluto -- and why it had it coming. 2010.
Nina V Fedoroff & Nancy Marie Brown, Mendel in the Kitchen - A scientist's view of genetically modified foods. 2004.
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything. 2003.
J Buckingham, Chasing the Molecule. 2004.
Nina Burleigh, The Stranger and the Statesman - James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum: The Smithsonian. 2003.
Penny Le Couteur & Jay Burreson, Napoleon's Buttons - How 17 molecules changed history. 2003.

Donald Eugene Canfield, Oxygen -- A four billion year history. 2014.
Karel Capek, R.U.R. -- Rossum's Universal Robots. 1920.
Fritjof Capra, The Science of Leonardo. 2007.
Elof Axel Carlson, Mendel's Legacy - The Origin of Classical Genetics. 2004.
Sean M Carroll, From Eternity to Here -- The quest for the ultimate theory of time. 2010.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. 1962.
Daniel Chamovitz, What a Plant Knows -- A field guide to the senses. 2012.
Daniel Charles, Lords of the harvest - Biotech, big money, and the future of food. 2001.
Lisa Seachrist Chiu, When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish ... and Other Tales about the Genes in Your Body. 2006.
D P Clark & L D Russell, Molecular Biology made simple and fun. 2000 -- 2nd edition. 2005 -- 3rd edition. 2010 -- 4th edition.
Brian Clegg, Are numbers real? The uncanny relationship of mathematics and the physical world. 2016. New July 7, 2017.
Cathy Cobb & Monty L Fetterolf, The Joy of Chemistry - The Amazing Science of Familiar Things. 2005.
Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw, Why does E=mc2? -- (And why should we care?). 2009.
Dorothy H Crawford, Deadly Companions - How microbes shaped our history. 2007.
Robert Crease, The Great Equations -- Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg. 2008.
Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A personal view of scientific discovery. 1988.
Francis Crick, Life Itself - Its origin and nature. 1981.
Larry Gonick & Craig Criddle, The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry. 2005.
Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The heretical nature of science. 1993.
Michael Faraday (ed. William Crookes), The chemical history of a candle: a course of lectures delivered before a juvenile audience at the Royal Institution; Lecture on platinum. 1861, 1894, etc.
Helen Czerski, Storm in a Teacup -- The physics of everyday life. 2017. New June 11, 2017.

David Deamer, First Life -- Discovering the connections between stars, cells, and how life began. 2011.
A J Deutsch, A Subway named Moebius. 1950. Short story. See Fadiman (ed), Fantasia Mathematica -- Being a set of stories, together with a group of oddments and diversions, all drawn from the universe of mathematics, 1958.
Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers -- Fibonacci's arithmetic revolution. 2011.
Frans de Waal, Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? 2016. New August 24, 2016.
Oren Harman & Michael R Dietrich (editors), Outsider Scientists -- Routes to innovation in biology. 2013.
Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot, The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers. 2008.
Alice Dreger, Galileo's Middle Finger -- Heretics, activists and the search for justice in science. 2015.
David Dusenberry, Living at micro scale -- The unexpected physics of being small. 2009.
Freeman J Dyson, The Sun, the genome, and the internet -- Tools of scientific revolutions. 1999.

Thomas Eisner, Maria Eisner & Melody Siegler, Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. 2005.
Thomas Eisner, Maria Eisner & Melody Siegler, Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. 2005.
Thomas Eisner, For Love of Insects. 2003.
Hans-Georg Elias, Mega Molecules -- Tales of adhesives, bread, diamonds, eggs, fibers, foams, gelatin, leather, meat, plastics, resists, rubber, ... and cabbages and kings. 1987.
J Emsley, Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z of the Elements. 2001.

Clifton Fadiman (ed), Fantasia Mathematica -- Being a set of stories, together with a group of oddments and diversions, all drawn from the universe of mathematics. 1958.
Dean Falk, The Fossil Chronicles -- How two controversial discoveries changed our view of human evolution. 2011.
Patricia Fara, Science -- A Four Thousand Year History. 2009.
Michael Faraday (ed. William Crookes), The chemical history of a candle: a course of lectures delivered before a juvenile audience at the Royal Institution; Lecture on platinum. 1861, 1894, etc.
Michael D Fayer, Absolutely Small -- How quantum theory explains our everyday world. 2010.
Nina V Fedoroff & Nancy Marie Brown, Mendel in the Kitchen - A scientist's view of genetically modified foods. 2004.
Cathy Cobb & Monty L Fetterolf, The Joy of Chemistry - The Amazing Science of Familiar Things. 2005.
Peter Forbes, The Gecko's Foot - Bio-inspiration: Engineering new materials from nature. 2005.
Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw, Why does E=mc2? -- (And why should we care?). 2009.
Randall Fuller, The Book That Changed America -- How Darwin's theory of evolution ignited a nation. 2017. New April 27, 2017.

Galileo, Sidereus nuncius (The Celestial Message). 1610.
Martin Gardner, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus -- The Autobiography of Martin Gardner. 2013.
Michael S Gazzaniga, HUMAN - The science behind what makes us unique. 2008.
Marc W Kirschner & John C Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma. 2005.
Howard Gest, Microbes - An invisible universe. 2003.
Avery Gilbert, What the Nose Knows -- The science of scent in everyday life. 2008.
Janes Gleick, Isaac Newton. 2003.
Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge -- The limits of science and the search for meaning. 2014.
Ian Glynn, Elegance in Science -- The beauty of simplicity. 2010.
Larry Gonick & Craig Criddle, The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry. 2005.
Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics. 1991.
David Goodstein, Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil. 2004.
Gerhard Gottschalk, Discover the World of Microbes -- Bacteria, Archaea, and Viruses. 2012.
Peter R Grant & Rosemary Grant, How and Why Species Multiply - The Radiation of Darwin's Finches. 2008.
Peter R Grant & Rosemary Grant, How and Why Species Multiply - The Radiation of Darwin's Finches. 2008.
Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think. 2007.
Lenny Guarente, Ageless Quest - One scientist's search for genes that prolong youth. 2003.

Stephen S Hall, Merchants of Immortality - Chasing the dream of human life extension. 2003.
J Hamilton, Faraday: The Life. 2003.
Oren Harman & Michael R Dietrich (editors), Outsider Scientists -- Routes to innovation in biology. 2013.
F M Harold, The Way of the Cell - Molecules, Organisms and the Order of Life. 2001.
Jeff Hawkins (with Sandra Blakeslee), On Intelligence. 2004.
Robert M Hazen, The Story of Earth -- The first 4.5 billion years, from stardust to living planet. 2012.
Robert M Hazen, Genesis: The scientific quest for life's origin. 2005.
Ian Wilmut & Roger Highfield, After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning. 2006.
Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder -- How the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science. 2008.
Bruce M Hood, SuperSense -- Why we believe in the unbelievable. 2009.
David A Hopwood, Streptomyces in Nature and Medicine -- The antibiotic makers. 2007.

B Lynn Ingram & Frances Malamud-Roam, The West without Water -- What past floods, droughts, and other climatic clues tell us about tomorrow. 2013.

George Johnson, The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments. 2008.
Steven Johnson, The Invention of Air -- A story of science, faith, revolution, and the birth of America. 2008.
Steve Jones, The Darwin Archipelago -- The Naturalist's Career Beyond Origin of Species. 2011.
Robert Jungk, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A personal history of the atomic scientists. 1956.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. 2011.
James Kakalios, The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics -- A math-free exploration of the science that made our world. 2010.
Pagan Kennedy, INVENTology -- How we dream up things that change the world. 2016.
Johannes Kepler, Astronomia Nova (New Astronomy). 1609.
Susan W Kieffer, The Dynamics of Disaster. 2013.
Marc W Kirschner & John C Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma. 2005.
Andrew H Knoll, Life on a Young Planet -- The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. 2003.
Mark Kurlansky, Salt - A World History. 2002.

Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life. 2005.
Edward J Larson, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. 2004.
Penny Le Couteur & Jay Burreson, Napoleon's Buttons - How 17 molecules changed history. 2003.
Michael D Lemonick, The Georgian Star -- How William and Caroline Herschel revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. 2009.
Tim Lenton & Andrew Watson, Revolutions that made the Earth. 2011.
Armand Marie Leroi, The Lagoon -- How Aristotle Invented Science. 2014.
Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants - On Genetic Variety and the Human Body. 2003.
Thomas Levenson, The Hunt for Vulcan -- And how Albert Einstein destroyed a planet, discovered relativity, and deciphered the universe. 2015.
Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith. 1925.
A Linklater, Measuring America -- How an untamed wilderness shaped the United States and fulfilled the promise of democracy. 2002.
Mario Livio, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe. 2013.
Linda Stone & Paul F Lurquin, A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey - The Life and Work of L Luca Cavalli-Sforza. 2005.

David J C MacKay, Sustainable Energy - without the hot air. 2008.
Warwick Anderson & Ian R Mackay, Intolerant Bodies -- A short history of autoimmunity. 2014.
Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin - The dark lady of DNA. 2002.
B Lynn Ingram & Frances Malamud-Roam, The West without Water -- What past floods, droughts, and other climatic clues tell us about tomorrow. 2013.
Jo Marchant, Decoding the Heavens: A 2000-year-old computer -- and the century-long search to discover its secrets. 2009.
Yann Martel, Life of Pi. 2001. 2001.
John Marzluff & Tony Angell, Gifts of the Crow -- How perception, emotion, and thought allow smart birds to behave like humans. 2012.
Johnjoe McFadden & Jim Al-Khalili, Life on the Edge -- The coming of age of quantum biology. 2014.
Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2004.
Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab -- Chemistry and the making of the modern world. 2001.
Keith Heyer Meldahl, Surf, Sand, and Stone -- How waves, earthquakes, and other forces shape the Southern California coast. 2015.
David J Meltzer, First Peoples in a New World -- Colonizing Ice Age America. 2009.
David J Meltzer, Search for the New Americans. 1993. See Meltzer's 2009 book, previous item.
A J Menezes, P C van Oorschot & S A Vanstone, Handbook of Applied Cryptography. 1996.
Camille Minichino, The oxygen murder. 2006. (One of the "Periodic Table Mysteries".)
E C Minkoff & P J Baker, Biology Today - An Issues Approach. 2001 -- 2nd edition. 2004 -- 3rd edition.
L Mlodinow, Feynman's Rainbow - A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life. 2003.
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus -- A surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness. 2015.
Harold J Morowitz, The Thermodynamics of Pizza. 1991.
Peter J T Morris, The Matter Factory -- A history of the chemistry laboratory. 2015.
John Muir's Book of Animals. Illustrations by Lisel Jane Ashlock. 2015.
Randall Munroe, Thing Explainer -- Complicated stuff in simple words. 2015.

Biman B Nath, The Story of Helium and the Birth of Astrophysics. 2013.
Marion Nestle, Safe Food - Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism. 2003.
Reviel Netz & William Noel, The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist. 2007.
Reviel Netz & William Noel, The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist. 2007.
Claire Nouvian, The Deep - The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss. 2007.

P A Offit, Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. 2008.
P A Offit, The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis. 2005.
David Owen, Where the Water Goes -- Life and death along the Colorado River. 2017. New July 16, 2017.

Svante Pääbo, Neanderthal Man -- In search of lost genomes. 2014.
Richard Panek, The 4% Universe -- Dark matter, dark energy, and the race to discover the rest of reality. 2011.
H Petroski, The Pencil. 1990.
Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes. 2011.
Gregory Benford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics, The Wonderful Future That Never Was. 2010.
J Prebble & B Weber, Wandering in the Gardens of the Mind - Peter Mitchell and the making of Glynn. 2003.
Richard Preston, The Wild Trees - A Story of Passion and Daring. 2007.
Richard B Primack, Walden Warming -- Climate change comes to Thoreau's woods. 2014.
Lawrence Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy. 2013.

David Baker & Todd Ratcliff, The 50 Most Extreme Places in our Solar System. 2010.
Mark Ratner & Daniel Ratner, Nanotechnology - A gentle introduction to the next big idea. 2003.
Mark Ratner & Daniel Ratner, Nanotechnology - A gentle introduction to the next big idea. 2003.
Richard Reeves, A Force of Nature - The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford. 2008.
Paul Roberts, The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World. 2004.
Pamela G Ronald & Raoul W Adamchak, Tomorrow's Table - Organic farming, genetics, and the future of food. 2008.
D P Clark & L D Russell, Molecular Biology made simple and fun. 2000 -- 2nd edition. 2005 -- 3rd edition. 2010 -- 4th edition.

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. 2007.
Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten - Memories of a chemical boyhood. 2001.
Christian Sardet, Plankton -- Wonders of the drifting world. 2015.
Eric R Scerri, The Periodic Table. 2007.
James Schwartz, In Pursuit of the Gene -- From Darwin to DNA. 2008.
Christopher Thomas Scott, Stem Cell Now - From the Experiment That Shook the World to the New Politics of Life. 2006.
John R Searle, Mind - A Brief Introduction. 2004.
Thomas D Seeley, Honeybee Democracy. 2010.
Gino Segre, Ordinary Geniuses -- Max Delbruck, George Gamow, and the origins of genomics and big bang cosmology. 2011.
Ben Selinger, Chemistry in the Marketplace. 5/e, 2000.
Tom Shachtman, Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries -- The founding fathers in the age of enlightenment. 2014.
Beth Shapiro, How to clone a mammoth -- The science of de-extinction. 2015.
James A Shapiro, Evolution - A view from the 21st century. 2011.
Ron Shepard, Amateur Physics for the Amateur Pool Player. 1997.
Neil Shubin, The Universe Within -- Discovering the common history of rocks, planets, and people. 2013.
Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish - A journey into the 3.5-billion-year history of the human body. 2008.
Thomas Eisner, Maria Eisner & Melody Siegler, Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. 2005.
Paul Berg & Maxine Singer, George Beadle - An uncommon farmer; subtitled "The emergence of genetics in the 20th century". 2003.
Ian Stewart, The Mathematics of Life. 2011.
Linda Stone & Paul F Lurquin, A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey - The Life and Work of L Luca Cavalli-Sforza. 2005.
Rebecca Stott, Darwin's Ghosts - The secret history of evolution. 2012.
Rachel Sussman, The Oldest Living Things in the World. 2014.
Doron Swade, The Cogwheel Brain - Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer. 2000. [Also published, in the US, under the title The difference engine - Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer, 2001.]

Charles Tanford, Ben Franklin Stilled the Waves: An informal history of pouring oil on water with reflections on the ups and downs of scientific life in general. 1989.
Keith Thomson, Jefferson's Shadow -- The Story of His Science. 2012.
John Timbrell, The Poison Paradox - Chemicals as friends and foes. 2005.
Mark Twain, 3,000 Years Among the Microbes. 1905.

UNESCO, 700 Science Experiments for Everyone. 1964.

A J Menezes, P C van Oorschot & S A Vanstone, Handbook of Applied Cryptography. 1996.
A J Menezes, P C van Oorschot & S A Vanstone, Handbook of Applied Cryptography. 1996.
Steven Vogel, The Life of a Leaf. 2012.

Jonathan Waldman, Rust -- The longest war. 2015.
Jessica Wapner, The Philadelphia Chromosome -- A mutant gene and the quest to cure cancer at the genetic level. 2013.
Tim Lenton & Andrew Watson, Revolutions that made the Earth. 2011.
J D Watson (with A Berry), DNA - The Secret of Life. 2003.
J Prebble & B Weber, Wandering in the Gardens of the Mind - Peter Mitchell and the making of Glynn. 2003.
Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch: A story of evolution in our time. 1994.
Spencer Wells, Pandora's Seed -- The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. 2010.
Charles Wheelan, Naked Statistics -- Stripping the dread from the data. 2013.
Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics. 1991.
Christie Wilcox, Venomous -- How Earth's deadliest creatures mastered biochemistry. 2016. New January 25, 2017.
Frank Wilczek, The Lightness of Being - Mass, ether, and the unification of forces. 2008.
Ian Wilmut & Roger Highfield, After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning. 2006.
Laurie Winkless, Science and the City -- The mechanics behind the metropolis. 2016. New January 20, 2017.

P Yam, The Pathological Protein: Mad cow, chronic wasting, and other deadly prion diseases. 2003.
Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. 1990.
Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes -- The microbes within us and a grander view of life. 2016. New February 28, 2017.

Ahmed Zewail, Voyage through Time - Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize. 2002.
Carl Zimmer, Microcosm - E coli and the new science of life. 2008.

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2017

New June 11, 2017. Helen Czerski, Storm in a Teacup -- The physics of everyday life. Norton, 2017. ISBN 978-0-393-24896-8. In the brief introduction, Czerski connects the behavior of raw eggs to the operation of the Hubbell Space Telescope, and the appearance of her tea as she pours in some milk to weather storms. It all makes sense, and sets the tone for the entire book. In her own words, "This book is about linking the little things we see every day with the big world we live in. It's a romp through the physical world..." (pages 10-11.) Author Czerski is a physicist, and also a BBC science reporter. The book is a delight to read, as she seamlessly connects the familiar with the big picture, teaching good physics along the way. Perhaps oddly, this is all done without pictures or diagrams; it works -- a testament to the clarity of her writing. Each chapter has a theme, such as gravity or time. The chapters are substantially independent, so you can skip around if you wish, though I'm not sure why you would want to. The book is suitable for a wide range of readers. High school students will enjoy the stories of the familiar -- and learn some physics along the way. More advanced readers will enjoy how she ties things together and, more broadly, will appreciate her skills as an explainer.

New April 27, 2017. Randall Fuller, The Book That Changed America -- How Darwin's theory of evolution ignited a nation. Viking, 2017. ISBN 978-0-525-42833-6. This is a book about the reception of Darwin's "Origin of Species" in America; the 1859 book appeared just before the election of Lincoln (1860) and the subsequent start of the Civil War. The title might suggest that there was a connection, or at least that Darwin had an important influence on the America of the time. Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, what the book actually does do is interesting. It focuses on a group of American intellectuals in the Boston area, especially Concord. These include notables such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. Two Harvard biologists are also included: Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz. Fuller discusses how these people reacted to Darwin's new ideas. A short answer is that they reacted in various ways; even the two biologists here reacted very differently. There is little about the scientific development of Darwin's ideas; it is too early for that. For most of the subjects, it is more about the philosophical reaction, not the science. As usual, science does not provide neat answers to philosophical questions. What does Darwin have to say about slavery? Nothing. He does indeed imply that all humans are related, but how one gets from that to slavery depends on the philosophical development. The discussion is all interesting, especially since so many of the subjects are familiar. But there really isn't much of a case that the discussion here is about America in any bigger sense. Think of this book as an exploration of an important group of American intellectuals, including how they received Darwin's book. That is, it is an insight into some interesting American history. With that expectation, this is an enjoyable book.

New July 16, 2017. David Owen, Where the Water Goes -- Life and death along the Colorado River. Riverhead, 2017. ISBN 978-1-59463-377-5. The Colorado River dominates the water scene in the southwestern United States (and parts of northern Mexico). If you've been in Colorado or southern California or such, you have undoubtedly consumed Colorado River water. If you have been to the Grand Canyon, you've seen what the River can do over the long term. If you've been to Hoover Dam or Lake Mead, you've seen what Man has tried to do with -- or to -- the River. And if you are in northern California, you worry how southern California wants your water, because of shortages from the Colorado. Fact is, there isn't enough water in the Colorado River system to fulfill all of its legal obligations under the Law of the River. Further, that water supply varies from year to year -- and will undoubtedly change as the climate changes. This book is the story of the Colorado River. It's actually as much travelogue as anything, but author Owen integrates the water issues along the way. He discusses water law, which is rather unusual in the west. He discusses many specific River projects -- and conflicts. Some of the water issues are paradoxical. Reducing water use in some areas may seem good, but it may end up reducing groundwater replenishment, leading to other problems long term. Arizona reduced growth of water-hungry cotton -- which we now import from other countries whose water shortages may even be worse than ours. Well, at least it's not our problem. Sometimes, environmentalists with different views of what is good argue among themselves. The final chapter is an attempt to resolve this unresolvable problem. This is a well-written book, which gives a good sense of the west's water problems. I would have preferred more about water issues and less of the travelogue, but that's a minor complaint about an enjoyable and useful book. It's certainly of most interest to those who care about the Colorado River water. Some of the water problems are general, but much is local, including the unusual water law of the region. Those who know the area, even if it was just a trip to the Grand Canyon, may also appreciate the travelogue.

Posts in my Musings newsletter related to the Colorado River include:
* Water loss from irrigated lawns (June 21, 2017).
* Groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin (October 3, 2014).

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2016

New September 8, 2016. Kat Arney, Herding Hemingway's Cats -- Understanding how our genes work. Bloomsbury, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4729-1004-2. Genes in DNA code for proteins; messenger RNA (mRNA) is an intermediate along the way. It may seem like ancient knowledge, but it was largely developed barely a half century ago, in the 1950s and 1960s. Now we are in era of low-cost genome sequencing, which tells us everything we want to know. Not so fast. It's actually telling us more than we can understand. Genes turn out to be more complicated than we had expected. In the 1980s, we learned about splicing (and even alternative splicing), which complicates the story. And we are now learning about the many roles of small RNAs, epigenetic marks, and more. There is good evidence that these things affect how genes work, but we are at the stage where we really don't have a good understanding of how. Author Kat Arney started her career as a PhD scientist in the field, then turned to writing. She knows whereof she writes; she was there. And her writing is quite good, even if a little informal (and a little too British) at times. Much of the book focuses on the stories of individual scientists who are probing one or another aspect of the complexity of gene function. Some of her interviewees had been Arney's colleagues. So we learn some of the ideas and how they are being tackled from these first-hand accounts. Arney then ties it together, partly as she goes along, and more at the end. The bottom line? We don't understand well how genes work; perhaps we understand less than we thought we did a couple decades ago. But we are in an exciting era of investigating genes. Science in progress; Arney conveys the flavor. A delightful book, which will help you appreciate the modern era of gene work. It's suitable for those with a casual knowledge of genes; she does a good job of starting with the basics. Those who know more of the early work will appreciate the book as an update. (The book title? Arney explains it at the very beginning -- and amends the explanation at the end.)

New July 7, 2017. Brian Clegg, Are numbers real? The uncanny relationship of mathematics and the physical world. St Martin's, 2016. ISBN 978-1-250-08014-9. A fascinating book about the relationship between math and science. The author starts with the idea that the first math involved counting -- to keep track of one's goats, including how many are on loan to the neighbor. There is a simple, direct relationship between the numbers and the goats. That relationship remains clear as we use fingers or tally marks or other symbols to represent the numbers. At some point, our thinking will lead us to invent negative numbers, even though we cannot make a direct connection to a negative goat as a real thing. By the end of the book, Clegg is into string theory, which tries to tell us that matter is made up of 10-dimensional pieces. Those strings are mathematical entities, far beyond anything we can imagine -- or test. At that point, it might seem that the math has become completely detached from the real world. Is it possible that string theory will eventually re-connect to the real world in a way we can use it and test the nature of the real world? For now, who knows. But that has happened to other areas of math, which started as abstract "pure" math, and later became useful in science. For example, we eventually connected negative numbers to the real world to deal with the two kinds of electric charge. That's the scope of the book: exploring the varied ways math and science are related. The book is suitable for a wide range of readers. If you know what a goat is, you should be able to get started. If you understand string theory, you'll understand the last part. But don't feel bad if you don't; the number of people who understand the significance of string theory is probably zero -- and that's really the point: here, the math is ahead of our understanding of any connection to reality. (By the way, zero is an important topic here, too. And so is infinity, or rather, the infinities.) Even if you slack on the string theory and some of the other later topics, be sure to read the last chapter. There, Clegg ties it all together; he summarizes the nature of math and science, and the relationship between them. The insights in that chapter are good. Clegg's writing is clear, often playful; it's a book that is fun, as well as instructive and provocative. And again, young readers who are intrigued by math may well enjoy the book, even if occasional topics in it prove difficult. Highly recommended.

This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

New August 24, 2016. Frans de Waal, Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? Norton, 2016. ISBN 978-0-393-24618-6. The issue of animal intelligence fascinates us, but also makes us uneasy. Somehow, we always want to compare "them" to us. Frans de Waal, a researcher in primate behavior at Emory University and the Yerkes Center, has a better idea. Let's study animals, and see what they can do. And that is best done by studying them on their own terms. For example, de Waal notes two kinds of wasps. One lives in complex social groups, the other more as solitary individuals. Wasps of the first type can recognize the faces of individual wasps. Those of the second type cannot recognize faces. That is, there is a correlation between the ability of the animal and the need. What's cause and what's effect isn't clear, but what an animal can do depends on who it is and what it needs. So, let's stop judging animals, and just try to learn what they can do. Consistent with this, de Waal prefers the term animal cognition to animal intelligence. The term focuses on what the animal knows, and that leads to what it can do with the knowledge. The author provides considerable historical context for the work, tracing attitudes toward animal cognition and intelligence and noting historical developments. He presents observations both from the field and from controlled studies, and discusses the merits of both kinds of work. This is a wonderful book. It's from an expert -- one who is full of wisdom but also calm and modest. The animals and their behavior take central stage. The author tries to provide perspective, but it's measured. The book should be accessible to the general reader, though those with some experience with animal behavior will find much to stimulate them. Highest recommendation!

There are numerous posts in my Musings newsletter on animal cognition or behavior; some of the work discussed in Musings posts is discussed in the book. More specifically, author de Waal has been cited twice in Musings posts, where he is listed as F B M de Waal...
* Pink corn or blue? How do the monkeys decide? (June 9, 2013). Book author de Waal is the author of the Nature news story here; the article author, also named de Waal, is unrelated. de Waal discusses the work of this post in the book.
* The animal mind (July 23, 2009).

Added March 20, 2017. An example of a Musings post about animal cognition... Bumblebees play ball (March 20, 2017).

Pagan Kennedy, INVENTology -- How we dream up things that change the world. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. ISBN 978-0-544-32400-8. How does one invent things? This book explores the issue. It presents many examples, and looks for common themes. Kennedy presents examples where a person was faced with a problem, and that led to thinking about possible solutions. She also presents examples where a person has a clever idea -- a solution in search of a problem, or application. She emphasizes the importance of thinking "outside the box", which leads to the idea that non-experts may often play key roles in invention. Those stories are the heart of the book, and the best part. There have been attempts to make invention a directed activity, but that risks losing a key feature: the need for open thinking. Developing a recipe for inventing is a tricky matter. To her credit, Kennedy presents attempts to develop recipes for invention, but she doesn't force them. INVENTology is a delightful book, well-organized and well-written; it should lead to some insight about the nature of invention -- but no simple answers.

The following post in my Musings newsletter is about inventing: National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2014 inductees (March 11, 2014). Links to several other posts about inventions.

New January 25, 2017. Christie Wilcox, Venomous -- How Earth's deadliest creatures mastered biochemistry. Scientific American, 2016. ISBN 978-0-374-28337-7. Spiders, snakes, jellyfish -- and even an occasional vertebrate. They make venoms. Some venoms are for defense, some are for offense (catching food). And that matters: a defensive toxin must act fast enough to save you. On the other hand, some offensive toxins may take a while to achieve full effect; that's ok, so long as the prey hasn't run away before it is suitable to eat. Some kinds of toxins are, therefore, more suitable for one kind of action or another. The organization of much of the book around venom type, rather than just animal type, provides a useful perspective. It's an unusual topic, and Wilcox provides a useful and interesting survey. The book is for the general audience, and includes a lot of folklore about venomous animals. The folklore is itself often interesting, but it is important to keep it separate. For the most part, the author does a good job of distinguishing science and folklore.

New January 20, 2017. Laurie Winkless, Science and the City -- The mechanics behind the metropolis. Bloomsbury, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4729-1321-0. The science behind what makes a city work. That's science in the broad sense, including engineering and technology. The author is a physicist by background -- and it shows. She does a fine job of explaining things at a level suitable for a general audience, while maintaining generally high science standards. This is especially important when she tries to describe what the future holds. Many things are considered and even tried, but few will survive. Winkless is (usually) cautious at that stage, showing her knowledge and understanding of what is being worked on and her judgment of what is reasonable. The topics include elevators, trains, roads, cars, water and sewage systems -- and how they are related, and communication. For each, she describes some of the science behind how they work. She often provides interesting history, then goes on to preview the future. The author's style is quite informal and breezy. Perhaps overly so by my taste, As an example, the chapter titles are one short word, somewhat cryptically describing the subject matter. That style continues throughout the section headings. I found them annoying. However, overall, the high quality of the content outweighs any quibbling about style. It's an interesting book, certainly instructive, perhaps even fun.

New February 28, 2017. Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes -- The microbes within us and a grander view of life. Harper Collins, 2016. ISBN 978-0-06-236859-1. The title of the book refers to what is inside the author's gut. Fortunately, the book's scope is much more than that: the associations of bacteria and animals. That has become one of the hot topics in modern biology, and this book is a wonderful overview of the subject. Much of the book is indeed about the human microbiome, and that part goes well beyond simple description to the questions of why it is what it is, and how and why we might manipulate it. Importantly, the book goes well beyond the human microbiome to discuss the range of bacterial symbioses found in diverse animals. That helps him with a big theme: bacteria play functional roles in animals, in various ways. And a special feature is that it may be easier for an animal to acquire a function by acquiring microbes that carry it out than to establish its own pathway. Overall, this is a well-written book with a broad perspective on an important topic. Highest recommendation.

For many years, author Yong wrote a science blog called It's Not Rocket Science. I list this on my page Science on the Internet: an introduction; see item 6 in Section 2. That listing also links to some of his specific blog pages that are referred to in my Musings newsletter.

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2015

David E Alexander, On the Wing -- Insects, pterosaurs, birds, bats and the evolution of animal flight. Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-999677-3. Organisms have various ways of getting around. Flying is one of the less common. There are only three types of flying organisms around today, and there is one extinct group of fliers. In this book, biomechanicist David Alexander discusses animal flight. How does it work? What is similar and what is different about flight in the four groups? (In three of the groups -- but not insects -- the wings are modified from legs.) His particular interest is trying to understand the origin of flight. That's hard; in no case, do we have a good record of animals that are likely to be primitive forms of fliers. So the work builds on whatever is at hand, the fossil collection plus our increasing understanding of powered flight and its unpowered relative, gliding. Alexander develops the idea that it is likely that flight developed from gliding in each case, though that isn't at all certain. But he presents not just his answer, but the development of the ideas and a generous dose of what others think and why. I picked up this book almost accidentally, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's a nice combination of biology, at multiple levels, along with some of the basic physics of flying. Alexander does an excellent job of presenting and tying together a lot of diverse information, without making it overwhelming. It's for the general reader.

Posts in my Musings newsletter about flying include:
* How to fly a beetle (April 27, 2015).
* The relationship between birds and dinosaurs? (July 25, 2014).
* Progress toward an artificial fly (December 6, 2013).
* Why don't penguins fly? (August 24, 2013).

Other posts in my Musings newsletter about wings include:
* Introducing Supersonus -- it stridulates at 150,000 Hz (June 16, 2014). Links to more.
* Wings for better walking (November 5, 2011).

John Muir's Book of Animals. Illustrations by Lisel Jane Ashlock. Heydey, 2015. ISBN 978-1-59714-318-9. John Muir (1838-1914) was a Scottish-born American naturalist. He was responsible for Yosemite becoming a national park. The book consists of excerpts from Muir's writings, each about 1-6 pages. Each is accompanied by at least one illustration. The writings offer observations, sometimes commentary and some humor. Many are based on his time in California. Nothing big or important here, just pleasure reading what Muir has to say, and looking at some nice drawings. [This book is listed for both Muir and the illustrator, who is featured. It is listed under its publication date and also noted under 1929 and earlier, reflecting the time period of Muir's writings.]

Alice Dreger, Galileo's Middle Finger -- Heretics, activists and the search for justice in science. Penguin, 2015. ISBN 978-1-59420-608-5. Alice Dreger received her PhD in Science History. Her graduate work was about hermaphroditism in humans, a condition now called intersex; she studied the sociology of hermaphroditism. This work brought her into contact with the modern movement toward intersex rights. She quickly discovered that the movement was complex, with some building on scientific knowledge but some more pursuing a "politically correct" agenda. That experience led Dreger to many studies of conflict about scientific ideas, and to her own involvement in some social justice movements. In this book, she tells the stories of these various movements, with considerable focus on the ethical issues as she sees them. Her intent is quite explicitly to call attention to the tendency to fight science with pre-formed views, for whatever reason. Social justice movements may be well-intentioned, but they are not always based on the best evidence available. The book is lively, fast-paced, and provocative. At times it is even confusing. It both benefits and suffers from the author being right in the middle of some of the stories. It benefits from her detailed knowledge, but sometimes one wonders about her objectivity. At times, she wondered, too. Dreger is telling her experiences, what actually happened. It may or may not be all good. What's important is the standard she proposes: transparency and evidence. That standard does not ensure that we get it all correct. What's important is that it helps us judge how we are doing. Dreger sets high standards, and she tries to judge her own work by those standards. Both scientists and activists would benefit from reading this book, and trying to meet the standards Dreger proposes. (Galileo? The book is about modern controversies. Galileo is a symbol here; the book only peripherally deals with him.) This book is listed on my page Biotechnology in the News (BITN) -- Other topics under Ethical and social issues; the nature of science.

Thomas Levenson, The Hunt for Vulcan -- And how Albert Einstein destroyed a planet, discovered relativity, and deciphered the universe. Random House, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8129-9898-6. Vulcan is the Solar System planet inside the orbit of Mercury. Nineteenth century scientists predicted its existence -- and its orbit -- in order to account for irregularities in the orbit of Mercury. Observations of Vulcan quickly followed. Both the predictions and the observations were exciting developments. There is one problem with that story: Vulcan does not exist. This book is the story of Vulcan, and it makes for delightful reading. The book starts with the establishment of Newton's law of gravity, which explained how all bodies interact -- from apples with the ground to all interactions between heavenly bodies. Newton's laws led to the prediction of Vulcan; that effort was led by Le Verrier, who had correctly predicted the existence of Neptune. Later, Einstein showed that Newton was not entirely correct. Einstein's general relativity explained the orbit of Mercury, with no need for an additional planet. The book focuses on Vulcan, and on three key players: Newton, Le Verrier, and Einstein. But the big story here is the development of scientific ideas, and how new ones can supersede old ones. Levenson tells the science well, but with little technical detail. (Well, any book that deals with relativity is likely to go beyond what one can understand, but it's not a big problem here.) The book should be accessible to young students and to those with only casual knowledge of the field. It's an engaging story and well-written. It's a good book if you just learn about Vulcan, but it also offers a fine insight into the nature of science.

The following posts in my Musings newsletter relate to planet predictions:
* A ninth planet for the Solar System? (February 2, 2016).
* Discovery of Neptune: The one-year anniversary (July 12, 2011). It's not part of the post, but Neptune was discovered based on an earlier prediction by Le Verrier.

Keith Heyer Meldahl, Surf, Sand, and Stone -- How waves, earthquakes, and other forces shape the Southern California coast. University of California Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-520-28004-5. Author Meldahl lives on the Southern California coast, and teaches geology at a local college. To Meldahl, that coast is home, play and work. In this book, he describes the area with the love of a local, the expertise of a professional, and the skill of a fine teacher. We all know the area is a major center for earthquakes, but that is just part of the story. Read this book and you'll learn what plate the area is on -- and used to be on. You'll learn where to surf -- and why the waves are good there. You'll learn about the tsunami hazard; the quakes are not the major risk factor. You'll get a good discussion of the nature of beaches, and how we might protect them. (Are sea walls a good idea?) This is a must read for those interested in the Southern California coast. It may also be of interest to others, for the general principles -- and for the beautiful pictures and fine story-telling.

Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus -- A surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness. Atria, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4516-9771-1. A book about octopuses. Author Montgomery is an animal lover, perhaps a naturalist. In this book she recounts her experiences with octopuses, largely at an aquarium in Boston, but also some in nature. Her goal is to impress on the reader that the octopuses are intelligent and conscious. These points beg for definition and evidence, but she certainly raises the issues from her observations. However, the book is not very scientific, as it contains little beyond the personal and often emotional anecdotal observations. It refers to some scientific work, but with little depth. In fact, the octopuses are often considered the most intelligent of the invertebrates, but you won't get much of the serious work here. This is an enjoyable book for light reading. It is well-written, and usefully presents the subject matter. Use this book to pique your interest in these fascinating creatures, but be careful about drawing conclusions.

Posts in my Musings newsletter about octopuses include:
* Why don't your arms get entangled or stuck together? (June 10, 2014).
* How an octopus adapts to the cold -- by RNA editing (March 5, 2012).
* Octopus will only pay attention to television if it is "high definition" (August 20, 2010).
* The octopus and the coconut (December 28, 2009).

Peter J T Morris, The Matter Factory -- A history of the chemistry laboratory. Reaktion Books, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78023-442-7. Chemistry is the study of matter. It thus follows that a place where one uses chemistry to make new forms of matter is a matter factory. That is apparently the premise of the title of this book, which is by a scientist at the Science Museum in London. The scope of the book includes a wide range of chem labs, for both teaching and research. As a result, the book also includes a substantial amount of history of chemical education. The book contains 139 illustrations. Many are 19th century photographs; some are drawings of earlier labs, dating back to the 16th century. The book concludes with chapters about late 20th century labs at Stanford and 21st century labs at Oxford; these chapters contain names -- and instruments -- that we recognize from our own time. We learn from history. It is hard to imagine learning much that is "important" from this book, but it held my attention throughout. It is a labor of love by author Morris, who conveys his enthusiasm for the subject at every turn. Imagine a book where the origin of the cork borer or the lab coat is worth noting, even worth a section heading in one case. The book may be rather "useless", but it is a delightful read. Highest recommendation, so long as you know what you are getting into: a book about the history of chem labs.

This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Randall Munroe, Thing Explainer -- Complicated stuff in simple words. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-66825-6. Want to know how a rocket works? Turn to the page for an up-goer, and Randall Munroe will explain it to you, using simple words (such as up-goer for rocket). You may find his explanation informative. Or you may just find it so funny that you don't care whether you understood it. Or maybe not. Humor can be tricky, and some of Munroe's explanations work better than others. Munroe is formerly of NASA, so there are a lot of space topics, but the range is broad, including the human body and baseball. After leaving NASA, Munroe became the creator of the xkcd comics. NASA + xkcd; an interesting combination, and it gives a sense of what the book is about. It's worth at least a browse.

Review, by H Reich, American Scientist 103:422, November 2015: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/names-simplified.

Christian Sardet, Plankton -- Wonders of the drifting world. University of Chicago Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-226-18871-3. (Originally published in French: Plancton, aux origines du vivant, 2013. Also in Japanese.) A picture book of plankton. Plankton are the organisms floating in the ocean. Some are microscopic, but some are larger and familiar. Some are juvenile or larval stages of organisms that will be "big" as adults. Collectively, the plankton comprise most of the biomass of the oceans; they are responsible for half of the Earth's photosynthesis. The current book is based on recent expeditions, and is largely a collection of pictures of diverse plankton, organized by their biological groupings. There is a brief introduction to each type of organism, and some labeling. But mainly this is a book of pictures -- of incredible organisms. A caution as you browse... Some of the pictures are ordinary photographs, but some are fluorescence images, with or without staining. One needs to look carefully to sort this out. Overall, this is an enjoyable coffee-table book. Accompanying web site (also in French). Actually, the Plankton Chronicles web site preceded the book; it is quite a collection of movies and photos. The book even links directly to the site, with scanable QR codes for each section.

Posts in my Musings newsletter about plankton include:
* Is the warnowiid ocelloid really an eye? (October 12, 2015).
* Melatonin and circadian rhythms -- in ocean plankton (November 24, 2014).

Beth Shapiro, How to clone a mammoth -- The science of de-extinction. Princeton University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-691-15705-4. Biologists have -- or will have -- the means to bring back animals that are extinct. So it would seem. The story starts with obtaining cells from old samples, or perhaps just genome sequences. Is that really true? And if so, how do we do it? In this short book, ancient DNA expert and revivalist Beth Shapiro provides a manual. It focuses on a popular story, how to make a mammoth. But the story is general, and many extinct animals are being considered for revival, or "de-extinction". When you finish this book, you will be an expert on de-extinction. But you won't go home (or to the lab) and do it. You'll understand why it's not likely to happen, at least for a very long time. You'll understand the reasons. Importantly, you will understand that there may be very useful things we can do short of bringing back an extinct species; they may be practical as well as useful. There are scientific issues, and that is the main focus. There are also various ethical and even political issues (including how de-extincted animals might be regulated). The main focus is the science, but Shapiro wants people to recognize the other issues, and to understand that scientists in the field are aware of them. A delightful book, both informative and fun. Highest recommendation.

Related posts in my Musings newsletter include...
* Comparing woolly mammoth genomes over time (June 1, 2015).
* The oldest DNA: the genome sequence from a 700,000-year-old horse (August 4, 2013). Book author Shapiro is an author of the work discussed in this post.

I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Cloning and stem cells.

Jonathan Waldman, Rust -- The longest war. Simon & Schuster, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4516-9159-7. Rust. Steel (iron) rusts. It turns brown. It can cause a structure to fail, cause a bridge to fail. Waldman takes a broader view of rust: any oxidation or corrosion of metals. Topics include the development of stainless steel, the fate of the Statue of Liberty, and the Rust Store near Madison, Wisconsin. A chapter on cans discusses how they must be customized to resist the corrosive power of each individual food (or other contents); Waldman learned a lot about this by attending Can School. There is a chapter on an official in the US Department of Defense whose job it is to deal with rust. He argues that insufficient attention is given to preventing it in the first place. It's about money. The longest chapter is about pigs; it focuses on a major pig run through the Trans-Alaska pipeline. A variety of topics, each a good story. It's a book for the general reader. There is little scientific detail, and no references or even an index. It's an enjoyable light read, one that will increase your awareness of a topic that is important but often hidden.

This book is noted on my page of Internet resources: Introductory Chemistry in the section on Redox reactions; fuel cells.

Review, by D Timblin, American Scientist 104:182, May 2016: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/no-rust-for-the-weary.

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2014

Warwick Anderson & Ian R Mackay, Intolerant Bodies -- A short history of autoimmunity. Johns Hopkins, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4214-1533-8. This book presents a history -- a "biography" -- of autoimmunity. That history is intimately tied in with the story of understanding self vs nonself as recognized by the immune system; autoimmunity can be thought of as an error in the self-nonself distinction. As the authors emphasize repeatedly, it's not really that simple, but that can serve as a framework to get started. Along with developing the general perspective, the authors emphasize four diseases that used to be mysterious and are now recognized as autoimmune: multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type I diabetes. The book provides some compact insight into the development of our understanding of the immune system, but don't expect to go away knowing how it works. Immunology is a difficult subject. The authors make little concession to the reader, expecting us to follow the historical story. It's not easy reading, and issues do not get resolved -- that's the status of our understanding. The main text of the book is just over 150 pages; there are 80 pages of Notes and Bibliography for those who want more. It is a interesting story for those motivated to work through it. Another book by Anderson: The Collectors of Lost Souls -- Turning kuru scientists into whitemen.

Martin J Blaser, Missing Microbes -- How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. Henry Holt, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8050-9810-5. A hot field now is understanding the role of the human microbiota, the microbes associated with the human body. Modern developments in microbiology, including genome sequencing, are giving us an increased appreciation of how integral the microbes are -- even if we are not sure of the specific roles. At the same time as we are learning more about the importance of our microbes, we are becoming increasingly aware that antibiotic treatments are changing our microbes. Is it possible that antibiotic treatment is responsible for various modern ills, such as asthma and obesity? Enter Martin Blaser, a physician and microbiology researcher. Blaser has long explored how our microbiota is related to health and disease. From that work, he is concerned. The nature of our microbiota is changing, and there are many signs that it is causing problems. Why is it changing? Antibiotic usage is one cause. The benefits of antibiotics have long been clear. However, we are only beginning to appreciate their long term side effects, in terms of changing our normal microbiota. Broad-spectrum antibiotics -- those effective against a wide range of bacteria -- are most likely to cure an unknown infection, but also most likely to cause major changes to our microbiota. Another possible cause is Cesarean section ("C-section") births, which fundamentally change how a newborn baby acquires its first microbiota. Why do we think such changes are causing problems? Here is one case that is now fairly well understood. The bacterium Clostridium difficile, or "C-dif", is potentially harmful, but is found in the gut microbiota of many people at low levels. In some cases, an antibiotic treatment leads to C-dif becoming more abundant -- and that is bad, as C-dif makes toxins that make people very sick. There is now strong evidence that treatment with "good" microbes is beneficial to many C-dif patients. This treatment is now done by the unusual procedure of fecal transplantation -- and it works. In other cases, we have a statistical correlation between antibiotic use or C-section birth and disease. Diseases of possible concern include obesity and asthma -- examples of the "modern plagues" that Blaser refers to in his subtitle. These stories are incomplete, but Blaser suggests that the evidence is strong, especially when multiple diseases are considered together. The book is quite good at various levels. Those with some knowledge of the microbiology or medical issues will appreciate how well he lays them out and discusses the evidence. But Blaser is also good at making his main points in a way that can be followed by the general reader -- his prime audience. Blaser has a mission: to get us all to take seriously the issue of our changing microbiota. But he also understands that this is a science story, and evidence matters. Blaser makes clear what the evidence says, and where more evidence is needed. Despite his clear mission, there is no loss of scientific integrity. As with many books, the last chapter is an attempt to offer some solutions. In some ways, the solutions are easy: reduce doing things that change our microbiota. But Blaser realizes that it will be an uphill battle, because of entrenched attitudes. Overall, this is a very readable and enjoyable book -- and one that is important. [Thanks to Aaron for recommending it to me.]

Many posts in my Musings newsletter deal with issues that Blaser raises. Among them...
* Your gut bacteria: where do you get them? (July 30, 2010). This post deals with acquisition of bacteria by babies, depending on how they are born. The lead author of the article featured here is Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello; she is the wife of the author of this book.
* Is Helicobacter pylori good for you or bad? (April 10, 2012). This is a topic of special interest to Blaser, who has done much work on Helicobacter. The paper discussed in this post is not from his lab, but the ideas here are prominent in the book.
* Antibiotics and obesity: Is there a causal connection? (October 15, 2012). Blaser is the senior author of the article discussed here.
* Could we treat obesity with probiotic bacteria? (August 5, 2014). This discusses an intervention to treat obesity with added gut bacteria. How closely this fits with what Blaser discusses is an open question.
* Our microbiome: a caution (August 26, 2014). The hype of microbiome research.

More on antibiotics is on my page Biotechnology in the News (BITN) -- Other topics under Antibiotics. That includes an extensive list of posts in my Musings newsletter on the subject.

Donald Eugene Canfield, Oxygen -- A four billion year history. Princeton University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-691-14502-0. The Earth is oxidized. Oxygen gas is plentiful; there is little hydrogen gas around, and the ionic iron that used to be abundant in the oceans in the soluble 2+ state is now in the 3+ state and quite insoluble. How did it all get that way? It's a story of biology and geology, as well as the underlying chemistry. It's a biology story because the primary source of that oxygen is the modern photosynthesis, where O2 is a waste product. This oxygen-evolving photosynthesis originated in the cyanobacteria about three billion years ago; it is now also carried out by their descendants, the chloroplasts of modern algae and land plants. In this short book, Don Canfield lays out the evidence from the geological record of what we know -- and don't know -- about how the Earth came to be oxidized. The book concludes with a graph showing the level of oxygen in the Earth atmosphere over the last four billion years. There are huge uncertainties in the numbers; what is remarkable is that we have learned so much about it. Overall, Canfield will leave you with a good sense of why the oxygen level has changed and how we know; he will also leave you with a good sense of caution because the knowledge is still so limited. The book is part of the Science Essentials series, but the level of technical background needed varies through the book. Overall, this is a useful short overview of the story of oxygen, but be forewarned that some of the book may be challenging; just skip over such things and go on.

A post in my Musings newsletter is related: A whiff of oxygen three billion years ago? (April 6, 2015).

Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge -- The limits of science and the search for meaning. Basic Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0-465-03171-9. Human knowledge is like an island. The more we know, the bigger the island. But the bigger the island, the larger is its shoreline -- which represents the boundary between what we know and what we do not know. The more we learn, the more we can see is beyond our knowledge. That is the metaphor behind this book (and its title). Gleiser starts with the understanding of the world by the ancients, and proceeds to the modern. He is a theoretical physicist; he deals with the mysteries of quantum mechanics (QM), and that is where the book ultimately goes. QM gives us Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which tells us that some things are unknowable, not because we don't yet have the technology to discover them but because they are in principle unknowable. QM provides unprecedented insight into how nature works at its smallest scales, yet it also raises questions that mystify us. Is QM telling us that the fundamental nature of our universe is unknowable? Gleiser explores various views of that, and leaves us with no clear answer. The book is about the limits of knowledge, but it is an optimistic book. That's the tone throughout, and the author is explicit about it at times. We must continue to seek knowledge. Our island of knowledge will continue to grow. But we must not expect final answers; the shoreline of our island of knowledge will also continue to grow. The book is wonderful on many counts. It's good history, good science, good philosophy about the nature and limits of knowledge. And it is well written. Highest recommendation.

Gleiser's book is noted in the Musings posts:
* Claiming knowledge one does not have: it's particularly common with those who think they are experts (November 29, 2015).
* On the testability of scientific models (March 14, 2015).

Armand Marie Leroi, The Lagoon -- How Aristotle Invented Science. Viking, 2014. ISBN 978-0-670-02674-6. This book is an interesting exploration of the role of Aristotle as a scientist -- in the modern sense. Aristotle wrote extensively on scientific topics. Many of his books on animals, what we would now call zoology, survive. In these books, Aristotle collected information, from his own observations and from what he could learn from others. He tried to sort out what was real and what was not. Importantly, he tried to explain how animals worked. Much of his writing is wrong. Many of his facts are wrong, and certainly his explanations are more often wrong than right, as we understand biology today. But what impresses author Leroi is his approach, even if he didn't get it all right. His approach was more scientific than typical in this day. Leroi thus credits Aristotle with being a scientist, even with being the first scientist. At the very least, Aristotle was a transitional figure between the old philosophy and the new science; of course, that transition continued to develop over the millennia. It's an interesting exploration. It might have been even better at half the length; much time is spent on things that are wrong and seem unnecessary to the author's case. It may be good to browse through some parts. Nevertheless, overall, I enjoyed the perspective. The lagoon of the title? It's on the Greek island of Lesbos, where Aristotle got his start.

For another book by the same author, see Leroi, Mutants - On Genetic Variety and the Human Body, 2003.

This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Johnjoe McFadden & Jim Al-Khalili, Life on the Edge -- The coming of age of quantum biology. Crown, 2014. ISBN 978-0-307-98681-8. Quantum mechanics (QM) describes the physics of the very small. What is the relevance of QM to biology? Historically, biologists have not had much room for QM. QM is hard to understand, and didn't seem necessary; somehow this even led to hostility. However, biology does involve small things such as electrons. And it is now known that tunneling of electrons -- a distinctively quantum mechanical phenomenon -- is relevant to how some enzymes act. In this book a biologist and a physicist try to present QM for biologists. The title of the book alludes to the fact that biology is macroscopic but has some small features. Biology -- life -- is perhaps at "the edge" between quantum and classical mechanics; the challenge is to figure out where QM might apply. The authors try to explain QM slowly and gently so that even those who have been intimidated by it are likely to gain some understanding of the mysterious world of QM. They describe what is known about QM in biology, including the role in enzymes I noted above. They go on to speculate about other places where QM may be relevant. Some of the speculation borders on the outlandish, perhaps, but the authors' goal is to be provocative. And they are always quite clear about what is known and what they only wonder about. That is, they ask bold questions; it is only by asking them that we have the possibility of discovering what the role of QM might be. They are engaging writers, making the book generally a very enjoyable read, as well as opening up new territory. My main complaint is that the pace is too slow at times. The slow pace is welcome as they present QM, but some of their elaborate background scenarios seem unnecessary. If that's the worst I can say about the book, it's not a big problem. People with an interest in biology should read this book, and explore what QM may have to offer biology.

Svante Pääbo, Neanderthal Man -- In search of lost genomes. Basic Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0-465-02083-6. Author Pääbo was the head of the research team that reported the genome sequence of a Neanderthal in 2010; the book tells his story. As a student, Pääbo had become interested in studying human origins. The Neanderthal project is where that interest led; it culminated in a result that even a few years earlier would have seemed impossible, the genome of a Neanderthal human. The book briefly traces Pääbo's early career, but most of the book focuses on the Neanderthal project. Pääbo established himself early as a key player in analyzing ancient DNA, and dealing with the problems of understanding small amounts of contaminated and degraded DNA. Over the 30 years of such science discussed in the book, Pääbo developed tools that made the work possible. Of course, he wasn't alone in the development; in particular, the Neanderthal project benefited from -- even required -- the latest in sequencing technologies that emerged as the work got started. The book also briefly discusses the sequencing of Denisovan human DNA, which followed immediately as the initial Neanderthal genome was being finished. The goal is not just to get the DNA sequence, but to understand its significance. Pääbo discusses some of the differences between the genomes of the various humans, and what they might mean. A big caution: it is still very early; any such discussions are very tentative. However, the work has already provided insight into early human migrations. The book is the story of one scientist's dream, but also of one major science project. It offers insight into how science is done, with technical and emotional highs and lows along the way. The book is well-written. I'm not a big fan of books where scientists tell their story, but I enjoyed reading this one. Most of the book should be accessible to any interested reader; however, some readers may want to skip over occasional detailed discussion of the analysis.

Related posts in my Musings newsletter include:
* Archaic human genomes: update (September 2, 2011).
* DNA from a 400,000-year-old "human" (December 9, 2013).
* A person who might, just possibly, have met his Neandertal ancestor (June 30, 2015).

There is more about genomes on my page Biotechnology in the News (BITN) - DNA and the genome. It includes an extensive list of Musings posts, many of which are on ancient DNA.

Richard B Primack, Walden Warming -- Climate change comes to Thoreau's woods. University of Chicago Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-226-68268-6. A few years ago, a Boston University professor decided he wanted to look for possible effects of climate change on plants and animals in his area. The climate change in this case was largely due to the growth and industrialization around Boston, creating an urban heat island. Professor Primack could take modern measurements, but what is the historical record for comparison? It turns out that the wide-ranging and detailed records of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, near Boston, were perfect. Thoreau's writings served as the basis for comparison for much of Primack's work, as he recounts in this delightful little book. The book tells a simple story: look at records of when flowers first appear in the spring, comparing what Thoreau found in the 19th century and what the author finds in the 21st century. Interpret this is terms of climate change. Oh, and take great care to do good science. Keep questioning the quality of the measurements, and keep looking for alternative explanations. Then extend the work to animals, including butterflies, birds and frogs. And to humans. A chapter near the end of the book is about how the performance of human athletes changes with temperature; the focus is on the extensive record of the Boston Marathon. The last chapter is more personal, more political, and less scientific. In his wrap-up, Primack makes his case for what we should do about climate change. You don't need to buy that; he has good ideas, but there is much more to think about here. No matter. Overall, this is a book that is both enjoyable and useful. The subject matter is of general interest, and the book develops a sound scientific approach towards exploring the topic. The Thoreau connection may be a bonus for some readers. Primack admires Thoreau both as a person and as a scientist. Regardless, the book should appeal to anyone interested in looking at the effects of climate change.

Tom Shachtman, Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries -- The founding fathers in the age of enlightenment. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. ISBN 978-1-137-27825-8. Many Americans know that two of the country's "founding fathers", Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were active scientists. The current book builds on that. Author Shachtman argues that the founding fathers in general had quite enlightened scientific attitudes, and that those scientific attitudes affected how they behaved in developing a new country. The book explores the early life of the various founding fathers, with an emphasis on how they became exposed to science. It then goes through some of the early American history, both before and after independence, and looks at how the scientific attitude affected what the founders did. Jefferson's championing of the Lewis and Clark expedition is a simple example. As a more complex example, Shachtman suggests that the founding fathers considered the new country an experiment, subject to confirmation and modification. The book goes up through the Jefferson presidency. This is not a critical analysis, but rather an exploration. Don't try to judge whether Shachtman's view is right or not, but rather join him for the tour. It's an intriguing story and an enjoyable book. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History. The listing of books there includes books on Franklin and on Jefferson.

Rachel Sussman, The Oldest Living Things in the World. University of Chicago Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-226-05750-7. Rachel Sussman is a photographer. Somehow she became fascinated with the idea of old organisms, such as the Sequoia trees of California. She ended up choosing 30 of them, distributed over all seven continents, all at least two thousand years old. She visited and photographed almost all of them herself. Each chapter consists of one or more of her photographs, along with a couple pages of text. (Chapter 1 is about those Sequoia trees.) The photos themselves make the book worthwhile; the accompanying text provides perspective. The text varies, but typically discusses the particular specimen, with history and prognosis for its survival. (Some of the organisms she describes have since died. Old organisms are not immortal.) Sussman makes no claim to be a scientist, but she has developed a good sense of the relevant science. She discusses interesting issues about how the organism copes with its environment, and she discusses uncertainties in dating. The old organisms fall into two broad classes. One consists of individual organisms that are themselves old. The other includes organisms with clonal growth; it is the clone that is old, not necessarily a particular sample we see. Most of the old organisms are plants; one animal (a coral) and some microbes are included. The book is made for the coffee table. Large pages of heavyweight paper. Landscape orientation. Frankly, it is hard to handle, except laid out on the table. That detracts from ease of reading. But no matter. Whether you just look at the pictures or read the stories, this is a book for pleasure, plus a little scientific knowledge. Review, by K L Burke, American Scientist 103:69, January 2015: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/the-worlds-survivors.

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2013

Peter Atkins, What is chemistry? Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-968398-7. A tiny book -- just over 100 small pages. It includes the history of chemistry, some of its key ideas and methods, its achievements, and its future. Who might find this superficial book worthwhile? Anyone who wants to tie it all together, very briefly. A student who has just had a semester of chemistry and is wondering why may find the breadth and brevity of this book appealing. The book is well-written, as one would expect from this well-established chemist-author. Regrettably, the book has no pictures; some diagrams and photos could have enhanced many parts of the book. If you're looking for a brief big-picture overview of chemistry, try this book.

John Booss & Marilyn J August, To Catch a Virus. ASM Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-55581-507-3. A book about the history of diagnostic virology. This may be a bit specialized; the book is undoubtedly of interest primarily to those who are interested in viruses, or in some of the methods used to study viruses. Topics include the history of viruses, cell culture, immunological methods, electron microscopy, nucleic acids (e.g., PCR), and more. Several individual viruses are discussed, from yellow fever to smallpox to the hepatitis virus and HIV. The book tells the story of the methods, and includes some basic information about the people involved. The book is generally readable, but requires some basic background (or at least serious interest) in the material. Each chapter is accompanied by an extensive reference list, for those who want more. There is a also a timeline, summarizing the events related to each chapter. Overall, I enjoyed the book.

Martin Gardner, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus -- The Autobiography of Martin Gardner. Princeton University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-691-15991-1. Three years after his death, at age 95, Martin Gardner published his autobiography. It's a short book, quite informal and conversational, even rambling at times. Gardner talks of the forces that shaped him, to form the Gardner we know as Scientific American columnist and critic of pseudoscience. He spends much time on philosophical matters; turns out, Gardner was a philosophy major in college. Gardner is thoughtful and skeptical, yet also a man with a heart. He admits to holding substantive religious beliefs, well aware that they are emotional, not rational. Many people, on both sides of that debate, would benefit from his discussion. Broadly, this is a glimpse into a man who entertained -- and educated -- many of us for years. Martin Gardner fans don't want to miss this book. A short "Afterword" by James Randi is a bonus.

Post in Musings newsletter upon Gardner's death: Hexaflexagon -- make one for yourself, to honor Martin Gardner (July 26, 2010).

This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

Oren Harman & Michael R Dietrich (editors), Outsider Scientists -- Routes to innovation in biology. University of Chicago Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-226-07837-3. To what extent can a person trained in one field, such as physics, influence another field, such as biology? That's the theme of this collection of 18 essays. The people discussed in these essays vary widely in their background, in how they made their transition, and in the effect they had. That diversity is both a strength and weakness of the book. It is a strength in that it shows how broad the subject of outsider scientists can be. It is a weakness if the goal is finding generalities; perhaps it is best to not reach conclusions, but simply to admire the diversity. Here are the subjects of the 18 articles, grouped as they are in the book: Outsiders before the inside (Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Felix d'Herelle, Samuel Butler); Outsiders from the physical sciences (Erwin Schroedinger, Linus Pauling, Walter Goad); Outsiders from mathematics ( R A Fisher, Nicolas Rashevsky, Robert MacArthur); Outsiders from the human sciences (Noam Chomsky, Elaine Morgan, David Hull); Insider-outsiders (Ilya Metchnikoff, Francois Jacob); Outsiders from informatics (John von Neumann & Norbert Wiener, George Price, Drew Endy). Some familiar names, and probably some that are less familiar. Each is discussed in about 15 pages -- enough to outline their career and their contribution to biology. I enjoyed reading most of the essays, whether on familiar or unfamiliar subjects. 18 interesting stories, though perhaps with no overall lesson about the role of outsiders; that's fine.

I learned about this book from an article in The Scientist about co-editor Michael Dietrich: Drawn to Controversy. (The Scientist, January 2014.) Scroll down to the paragraph with the bold header Into outsiders; there is also a minireview of the book, which is linked there.

B Lynn Ingram & Frances Malamud-Roam, The West without Water -- What past floods, droughts, and other climatic clues tell us about tomorrow. University of California Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-520-26855-5. This is a book about California, and more broadly, about the American West. It's underlying issue, the water supply, is of wide importance. California has a water problem. We're aware of it as almost every year seems to have too much or too little rainfall. (As I write this, it is just a few days after the Governor of California officially declared that we are in a drought.) We're aware of it as one proposal after another to build -- or unbuild -- waterways enters the political arena. In this short book, the authors, both from the University of California, tell us that we underestimate the water problem. Yes, underestimate the problem. The reason is that we base our expectations on our experience, and our recorded experience with climate in the West covers less than two centuries. In recent years, a new generation of earth scientists, including the authors, have begun to study the climate dating back for a few thousand years, using the techniques of paleoclimatology. This involves looking for clues about the climate history in artefacts such as tree rings and lake sediments. Accumulated evidence tells them that the climate of the West is far more variable than we might have imagined from our brief written record. The massive flood of 1861, commonly considered to be a rare worst-case flood, may represent a more common type of event -- and may have been milder than many past floods. The message is that California, and the West, must prepare for far more extreme water variations than we imagined -- and we must do that in the face of increasing population. The authors note that their presentation is not about "global warming". They are telling us the story of the past; if recent events make things worse, that is on top of their new view of a highly variable past. I'd also note that this is not primarily a political book. It presents the story of scientific findings -- both how the work was done and what was found. The findings have political implications, since water is a political issue. The authors note that the new findings must be taken into account, but they spend little time on current politics per se. Californians will relate to the book; they will understand the maps, and relate to many of the historical events. And they will squirm -- which is what the authors intend. Should others read the book? Although the specifics of the water problem as discussed here are for California, much of the big story is general. The story of paleoclimatology, an emerging branch of science, is well told here. And since California supplies half of the nation's fruits and vegetables, the whole country will be affected if the fabled farm lands of the Central Valley are lost. This book is a must read for Westerners; it would be a good read for anyone.

Posts in my Musings newsletter related to these water issues include:
* Groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin (October 3, 2014).
* Groundwater depletion in the nearby valley may be why California's mountains are rising (June 20, 2014).

Susan W Kieffer, The Dynamics of Disaster. Norton, 2013. ISBN 978-0-393-08095-7. A book about earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods, and more. Natural disasters -- ones that cause huge damage to life and property. Geologist Kieffer discusses all these, and ties them together. The common theme is that they all involve flows -- and releases -- of large amounts of energy. Whether the event involves water, air or the ground, it is the energy release that is of interest. The book surveys the various types of natural disasters. For each, Kieffer discusses the principles involved in how they work, and then discusses some specific examples, many from recent history (and some from her personal experience). Kieffer is concerned about the increasing impact of natural disasters on human society -- increasing if for no other reason than our increasing population and dependence on resources. We have little control over the disasters, and limited ability to predict them. However, we can learn as a society how to adapt and to mitigate damages. This is a theme she addresses throughout the book; she returns to it at the end, proposing that we need something, at the international level, equivalent to the Centers for Disease Control for dealing with issues of natural disasters. That may well be a good idea, but it's really beyond the scope of the book. The book is marred by the use of low quality black and white pictures for subject matter that calls for high quality photos. Nevertheless, the book is a fine read for its survey of the disasters and its insights that tie them together.

For a "preview", see: The Deadly Dynamics of Landslides. (Susan W Kieffer, American Scientist 102:298, July 2014.) This article, which is freely available, is based on a chapter of the book, with some recent events included.

Mario Livio, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe. Simon & Schuster, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4391-9236-8. The course of science is uneven. From time to time, someone makes a "great discovery", such as evolution or relativity. Along the way, scientists make many mistakes; it's the process of science to sort out what is right from what is not. The theme of this fascinating book is mistakes made by five great scientists: Darwin, Kelvin, Pauling, Hoyle, and Einstein. Not just mistakes, but "brilliant blunders". What makes this book work is that Livio builds each story into a serious analysis of some major scientific issues. For example, the discussion of Einstein's cosmological constant broadly deals with evolving views on the expansion of the universe. It covers the topic from the earliest discoveries of the expanding universe to the recent discovery that the expansion is accelerating; it's a fine presentation. Even if you take the "brilliant blunders" framework as a gimmick, the book stands on the quality of its content. The writing is lively, even frenetic at times. Usually, that is good; Livio goes into depth about a historic issue, and conveys his enthusiasm for all the detail he uncovers. Occasionally, it is excessive. (Was Einstein's blunder that he included the cosmological constant or that he took it out? Is it worth several pages to examine -- inconclusively -- whether Einstein himself referred to it as his biggest blunder?) The excesses of this book are easily overlooked; it's a delightful and perceptive book offering insight into how science works. You can read individual stories as you wish, although Livio does make connections between them.

Biman B Nath, The Story of Helium and the Birth of Astrophysics. Springer, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4614-5362-8. It may be common knowledge that helium was first discovered on the Sun. However, like many stories of scientific discovery, the full story is much more complex than the common textbook version -- and it's quite fascinating. In this delightful book, astrophysicist Biman Nath tells that full story. It's more than the story of a new element. It's the story of the beginnings of spectroscopy, and then the application of that new tool to studying the Sun (and other heavenly bodies). In fact, the big story here may well be the work on the nature of the Sun, using the new tool. That's a new kind of astronomy, and is reflected in the second part of the book's title. The discovery of helium is a bit of fallout along the way. In fact, several new elements were apparently discovered by studying the solar spectra. Only helium turned out to be real. As the story of helium develops, it is quite understandable why that new element was not accepted until it was found on Earth, nearly three decades later. All in all, this is an enjoyable book -- about the discovery of an element, but also about a tool and our Sun. It conveys the science of the time and introduces the participants, often quoting their publications. The book should be accessible to anyone interested in those topics, regardless of background.

Lawrence Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy. University of Chicago Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-226-68295-2. Alchemy has something of a bad reputation as being along the lines of black magic. In this short book, Principe offers a different perspective. He argues that alchemy was broad and complex, and that parts of mainstream alchemy were the science of the day. Science complete with theory and experiment. A major driving force behind Principe's view is the increasing amount of alchemy literature that has become available. His view is based on much more information than the view we grew up with. Further, he goes to considerable effort to put the work in the context of its time, rather than interpreting it mainly by modern standards. An interesting part of the book is based on the author's own attempts to carry out alchemical procedures. He argues that much of what was written was allegorical, and that it is difficult to interpret. He succeeds in some cases at reproducing the observations -- if not the interpretations -- of ancient alchemists. I suspect that some of what is in this book is controversial, so don't take it as the last word. But Principe has written an enjoyable book that offers a fresh perspective on an interesting part of our scientific history.

Neil Shubin, The Universe Within -- Discovering the common history of rocks, planets, and people. Pantheon, 2013. ISBN 978-0-307-37843-9. The subtitle tells the story. This is a "big-picture" book, with a broad overview of the history of the universe, the Earth, and of life -- including humans. It emphasizes how these stories interact with each other. It's short and rather superficial, but useful. It's generally appropriate for the lay reader. For another book by Shubin, see Shubin, Your Inner Fish, 2008. That book is more based on Shubin's own work, and is more focused. If the topic of that book appeals to you, I'd suggest you try it first, then this book, for a broader view.

Jessica Wapner, The Philadelphia Chromosome -- A mutant gene and the quest to cure cancer at the genetic level. The Experiment, 2013. ISBN 978-1-61519-067-6. CML (chronic myeloid leukemia), the Philadelphia chromosome, tyrosine kinase, Gleevec. We have here a book that ties together those terms. It's important, because it's the story of a new era in cancer treatment. CML is a distinctive but relatively uncommon type of cancer. It caught the attention of scientists when it was realized that most people with CML had a particular chromosome defect, known as the Philadelphia chromosome. Further work showed that they had a specific defective enzyme -- and that this led to the cancer. This was the first case of a well-defined molecular defect being recognized as causing a cancer. The work led to the development of a drug. The drug is called Gleevec, and it inhibits the overactive enzyme, a tyrosine kinase, that is behind CML. Making a long story short, the drug was a remarkable success. Not only was it a successful cancer treatment, but it marked a new era of cancer treatment, by directly attacking an enzyme that was central to the cancer process. This is modern history: the Philadelphia chromosome was first recognized in 1959; Gleevec was first approved by the US FDA in 2001. Wapner's book tells this story. It's a journalist's story: it tries to paint the whole picture, and emphasizes the people involved. It gives a sense of the science, but is not very deep (and at times not quite right). Gleevec, of course, is a drug, and it was developed by a drug company -- big pharm. The story of how a big drug company struggled with how to proceed with this innovative but risky drug is an interesting part of the book. It's a useful insight into the drug development process. The story of CML and the Philadelphia chromosome -- the story of Gleevec -- is compelling, and the book is a reasonable presentation of it. Recommended, as a useful overview of a new era of cancer. I have listed this book for BITN: Cancer.

Charles Wheelan, Naked Statistics -- Stripping the dread from the data. Norton, 2013. ISBN 978-0-393-07195-5. A book about statistics. For the general reader. A successful book. The author's goal here is to give the reader an idea of what statistical analyses mean -- and do not mean. It's a book about "why", not "how". Wheelan discusses simple statistics such as batting averages, and complex but common ones such as political polling. In each case, he tries to develop what is measured and what can be concluded from it. He develops the ideas of probability and inference, leaning heavily on simple examples and the reader's intuition. He spends much time on the pitfalls of the analyses, which may be hidden. For example, a poll showing that 60% favor candidate A may have different meanings depending on how the polling sample was obtained. The author uses many imaginary examples; I'm quite sure there are more bus crashes in this book than in most. It may be hard to imagine a statistics book that is easy and even fun to read. But that is what Wheelan tries to achieve -- and he does it rather well. The general reader will go away with a better sense of what statistical analysis does and what its limitations are. The reader with some experience with statistics may find the book light reading, but still useful for reminding us of the pitfalls. Wheelan will even aim you to tools for doing the calculations, but that's not the main goal here. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

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2012

Daniel Chamovitz, What a Plant Knows -- A field guide to the senses. Scientific American, 2012. ISBN 978-0-374-28873-0. The first chapter of this delightful slim volume is "What a plant sees." Of course, that calls for some discussion of what we mean by "see". Plants don't have "eyes", but they do sense light and have responses to it. This sets the tone for the book, which deals with various senses as well as memory. The point is not to declare that a plant does or does not do something, but to compare how various organisms -- plants and animals -- behave. It's refreshing and instructive. (Hint... Plants are deaf. But that is about the only sense they lack, and even that one is an interesting story.) Little background knowledge is assumed; the book is quite accessible to the general reader. Recommended for some light -- but useful -- reading.

Gerhard Gottschalk, Discover the World of Microbes -- Bacteria, Archaea, and Viruses. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. ISBN 978-3-527-32845-1. An introduction to the microbes. The book is a series of 32 "essays" (chapters) sampling and surveying the world of microbiology. The topics are diverse: the nature of microbial cells, what microbes do -- good and bad, with humans and in nature generally -- and how we have learned them to manipulate them in modern biotechnology. It's not really a textbook, but rather a forum for promoting how fascinating -- and important -- these microbes are. The book is informal, even conversational. In fact, the book is organized as a conversation with a reader, who asks questions. The questions essentially serve as section headings. The question format is more of a gimmick than anything, but illustrates the author's intent to interact informally with the readers. A special feature of the book is a large number of contributions from other microbiologists, integrated into the text. Many of these were written for this book; some were borrowed from other writings. The quality of these add-ins is good, and they contribute to the informality of the book as well as to the substantive content. Overall, the author does a fine job of conveying his enthusiasm for the wonderful world of microbes. The book is both enjoyable and informative. [The book also includes a short Study Guide (SG). The SG seems an afterthought to open up the possible use of the book for a survey course.]

Robert M Hazen, The Story of Earth -- The first 4.5 billion years, from stardust to living planet. Viking, 2012. ISBN 978-0-670-02355-4. A delightful book. The title tells exactly what it is about: Earth -- from its formation through modern times, with even some discussion of what the future might hold. The book explores the broad range of advances in planetary science, geology and biology from recent decades, and integrates them into one story. The Earth has always been an active body. Geologist Hazen tells us how the Earth has changed -- the stories of continents, oceans, the atmosphere, and even the Moon. At some point, life evolved. Ever since, biology and geology have been intertwined, with life and the planet evolving together. This is a book for the general reader. There are no references or explanatory notes. It's not very technical -- though generally scientifically sound. Hazen often takes the time to discuss scientific controversies and uncertainties, and is willing to leave things that are not yet well understood as mysteries to be solved. The chapter on our future is nicely broken down into time frames. He starts with the long term future, dictated by the evolution of the Sun, and gradually moves to shorter time scales, ultimately addressing our current concerns about climate change. It is an interesting approach, typical of the book. All in all, a fine book. A good overview of a big topic. Those who want more on the integrated view of the Earth might try the book Lenton & Watson, Revolutions that made the Earth, 2011. For another book by the same author: Hazen, Genesis: The scientific quest for life's origin, 2005.

John Marzluff & Tony Angell, Gifts of the Crow -- How perception, emotion, and thought allow smart birds to behave like humans. Free Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4391-9873-5. This book is about corvids -- the group of birds that includes the crows of the title, plus their relatives such as the ravens, jays and magpies. The corvids have the largest brains, relative to body size, among the birds, and they are increasingly recognized as showing considerable intelligence. The idea that these birds are intelligent starts with casual observations -- anecdotes. Then, systematic, controlled studies are done, sometimes in the lab. The purpose of this book is to tell the story of these intelligent birds -- to tell it for a general audience. The authors are corvid-lovers; lead author Marzluff is a university biologist who studies them. The first thing to be said is that the book is delightful reading. The weakness of the book is figuring out, at times, what is really established fact and what is merely anecdote. The authors understand the concern, and address it right at the start of book, cautioning us that much of the book is anecdote. As they tell anecdotes, sometimes they follow-up with scientific tests -- and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they speculate what might be going on, and sometimes they test some of their speculations; sometimes they don't. Overall, it is hard to be sure what is really known. This is not a big criticism, but rather a caution. The book is delightful, a wonderful introduction to these fascinating birds. The reader just needs to be careful not to conclude too much. As with science in general, what we know is incomplete; there is much more to be done, to follow up on the clues we have. This book should stimulate interest in the corvids. The book contains many drawings by author Angell; unfortunately, it contains few (if any?) actual photos. The drawings depict the behaviors discussed; an Appendix shows drawings of the crow brain.

Musings posts on the corvids include:
* Bird brains -- better than mammalian brains? (June 24, 2016).
* Complex tool use by birds (May 28, 2010). This is about New Caledonian crows, which are discussed in the book.
* Self (October 8, 2008). This is on the ability of magpies to recognize themselves.

Rebecca Stott, Darwin's Ghosts - The secret history of evolution. Spiegel & Grau, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6937-8. New science builds on old. Newton famously said that if he had seen further than others, it was because he had stood on the shoulders of giants. What about Charles Darwin? Interestingly, Darwin did not acknowledge any prior work in the field in the original version of Origin of Species. He rectified this in later editions, but the story of the earlier relevant science is complex. In this book, author Stott looks at some of those who might be considered as Darwin's predecessors in the development of the ideas of evolution with natural selection. It may be useful to divide Stott's subjects into two groups. The early chapters deal with rather "ancient" science, from Aristotle through Leonardo da Vinci. It is interesting to see what people of those times did, but the underlying biology knowledge is so sparse that it is not surprising there is little connection to anything resembling a modern view of evolution. The later chapters deal with scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus. These offer more insight into the scientific views that Darwin built on. Throughout the book, Stott tries to present what the scientists did and how they thought, as well as some of the cultural background of the era. This is an enjoyable and useful book. It contributes to developing a perspective of evolutionary science prior to Darwin. Its contribution should not be exaggerated, however. It is part of the story; it is a story that is hard to make complete. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Keith Thomson, Jefferson's Shadow -- The Story of His Science. Yale University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-300-18403-7. Americans generally first learn about Thomas Jefferson in his role as a founding father of the United States: author of the Declaration of Independence, and third President. Jefferson was also a "natural philosopher" -- a scientist of sorts, in more modern terms. This book is about Jefferson the scientist. It gives some insight into the early days of American science, but scientific content is not its main goal. The book is best thought of as a book about Jefferson, a book revealing more of a man who helped found a new country. It details his contributions to natural history, and in so doing shows approaches that we would consider modern science. An interesting aspect of the book is the consideration of the contradictions in Jefferson's thinking, especially on matters such as race and slavery and the ideal of human equality. Thomson tries to describe what Jefferson thought and why, and does not gloss over the contradictions. Jefferson was quite human! He was a product of his culture, and sometimes that dominated what the evidence seemed to show. Nevertheless, I think one goes away with considerable admiration for Jefferson's science, and with the suspicion that, with better data, he would have eventually recognized and accepted that he was wrong on some matters. Overall, this is an interesting book about an interesting American historical figure. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Steven Vogel, The Life of a Leaf. University of Chicago Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-226-85939-2. What a fascinating book! Leaves. How do leaves respond to wind? How do they achieve good uptake of carbon dioxide, while minimizing water loss? Does the CO2 diffuse into the cell, or flow in? How do leaves dissipate heat? Those examples of the questions addressed in this book should make clear that this is not an ordinary biology book. Read the book and you might suspect that Vogel is a physicist, or perhaps an engineer. Apparently not, but he emphasizes the physical side of what leaves do and how they interact with their environment. In so doing he faces the common challenge of trying to develop ideas without getting bogged down in math, while still showing that there is rigor to the work. Vogel deals with this by separating the math into the footnotes; you can read the main text flow without math, but the next level is right at the bottom of the page when you want more. It's a good approach. That's a good summary of the book. It's all good: interesting stuff, some of you which you hadn't thought to ask; good explanations; good writing. Some of his jokes aren't very funny, but if that's the worst I can think of to say about this book, that's not bad. Overall, this book is a well written presentation of a fresh view of familiar subject matter.

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2011

Bob Berman, The Sun's Heartbeat -- And other stories from the life of the star that powers our planet. Little, Brown & Co, 2011. ISBN 978-0-316-09101-5. This book presents a collection of stories with the general theme of "Sun". The chapters are organized into an integrated whole, yet many can be read on their own. The title derives from the study of sunspot cycles, and the realization over time that they are based on magnetic activity in the Sun. The broad set of topics also includes the history of our understanding of the Sun, eclipses, auroras, biological effects -- good and bad, and even astrology. The author is a professional astronomy writer, who knows his Sun. The book is intended for the general audience. The science is simplified, but overall the book presents a wealth of good science about the Sun. I would quibble that his discussion of the importance of Vitamin D, which we make with the help of sunlight, overstates the case for its importance; this is an area of current controversy in biology, and is clearly outside the author's main expertise. There are perhaps too many bad jokes (are some of the chapters based on lectures?), but overall this is an enjoyable and worthwhile book.

David Deamer, First Life -- Discovering the connections between stars, cells, and how life began. University of California Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-520-25832-7. David Deamer, from the University of California at Santa Cruz, has long been a leading scientist in the quest to figure out what chemistry might have been involved in forming the first living systems. It's important to emphasize that the goal is not to determine how life began. Rather, it is to explore the chemical issues that may have been involved in the origin of life. That is, the goal is to help understand what might have happened; it is unlikely that the historical record will allow us to specify what did happen. In this book, Deamer summarizes the state of the field. Strengths of the book include how Deamer breaks the big problem down into smaller pieces -- and then discusses what is known about each piece, each small piece of chemistry. Deamer discusses models of what might work, but he emphasizes the importance of experimental tests. Scientists do speculate and guess, but it is the experimental testing that is the basis of our knowledge. It's a fair summary that most of the steps needed to get life started have been demonstrated -- but not all at once. Deamer emphasizes the usefulness of tiny self-assembling lipid vesicles; large numbers of them would have allowed for a vast experiment along the lines of what we now call combinatorial chemistry, with each vesicle having a different sampling of what was available in the primordial environment. As a capstone, Deamer proposes a grand experiment, to see what would happen in a complex system. He argues that, as so often in science, we are likely to learn from how it fails. The book suffers from poor proofreading and editing at times (and from a hyped sub-title). These do distract, but the main theme comes through. This is a good update on the status of origin-of-life chemistry; it's a sound scientific view of a fascinating and mysterious topic. Origin-of-life chemistry has a mixed reputation, perhaps even among scientists. But this is origin-of-life chemistry at its best. The book is aimed at the general audience, though some familiarity with basic chemistry will help.

Posts in my Musings newsletter relevant to the origin of life include:
* The origin of reactive phosphorus on Earth? (July 5, 2013).
* A novel type of polymer -- and its possible relevance to the origin of life (March 15, 2013).

Keith Devlin, The Man of Numbers -- Fibonacci's arithmetic revolution. Walker, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8027-7812-3. Around the 12th century Europe began to make the transition from Roman numerals to the Hindu-Arabic number system, which we now use. This system uses symbols for the numbers 1 through 9, plus an additional symbol for the newer numerical concept of zero. "Place" becomes central to how we write numbers: the "1" in 1, 10, and 100 means different things because of the zeroes holding place. This new system of numbers originated in India, traveled to Arab lands, and thence to Europe. A key player in this transition was Leonardo Pisano (Leonardo of Pisa) -- a man now more commonly called Fibonacci. In this book, Stanford University mathematician Keith Devlin tells the story of Leonardo and of Europe's adoption of the Hindu-Arabic number system. It's a thin book: about 160 fairly small pages. And the content is thin because, frankly, there is little hard information. At times, I wished Devlin would spend more time telling us what he knows than apologizing for the sparse information. Nevertheless, the book is useful and enjoyable. It provides an overview of the "western" transition from Roman to Hindu-Arabic numbers and some of the resulting developments in arithmetic and algebra. It provides a glimpse into a deep past that we usually hear little about. At the end, Devlin notes the thrill he felt when holding one of the oldest known surviving copies, probably from the late 13th century, of one of Leonardo's historic books; he tries to share that thrill with this little volume. It is worthwhile. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

Dean Falk, The Fossil Chronicles -- How two controversial discoveries changed our view of human evolution. University of California Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-520-26670-4. The reason I read this book is that half of it is on the study of Homo floresiensis -- the small hominin, often referred to as hobbit, discovered in 2003 on Flores Island in Indonesia. The nature of the hobbit has been debated since the discovery. Author Falk is one of the people who has been involved in characterizing the specimens. Her own specialty is studying the brain shape, based on careful analysis of the endocast -- the surface features of the brain as observed by their impression on the inside of the skull. Falk gives a good overview of the discovery and analysis of the hobbit specimens. She discusses a range of views on where the hobbit fits into the hominin family tree. There is no clear conclusion at this point, but it seems most likely that it is a quite ancient branch, and not a diseased specimen of modern humans. Although Falk discusses a range of views, at times she has a condescending attitude towards the views of others. That is, her role as an insider is a strength in that she really knows the material, but a weakness in that sometimes she is unable to step back and give an unbiased view. On balance, this turns out ok; just realize that she may not have it all right or all fair. As noted, hobbit is the second half of the book. The first half is on the Taung child fossil, discovered in 1924 by Raymond Dart. The Taung child is now classified as Australopithecus africanus, and recognized as one of our oldest hominin ancestors. Falk reviews the story of its discovery and analysis with the same general approach. She has worked on this project, too, and has read some of Dart's unpublished work on the topic. Overall, the book is an enjoyable and useful overview of the status of the hobbits, as well as of the broader issues of how we study hominin fossils. It is not the last word, because the story is incomplete.

Musings posts on the hobbits include: The little people of Indonesia (May 14, 2009).

Steve Jones, The Darwin Archipelago -- The Naturalist's Career Beyond Origin of Species. Yale University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-300-15540-2. (Also published as Darwin's Island -- The Galapagos in the Garden of England, Little Brown, 2009.) Darwin is best known for Origin of Species, but his career as a naturalist went far beyond that. Here, biologist Steve Jones explores some of the breadth of Darwin's career. Each of the nine chapters focuses on one of Darwin's books (or small group of related books). The first chapter is on Origin, but the others are on Darwin's lesser known works, on topics such as earthworms, barnacles, carnivorous plants, plant movements, or animal emotions. The content is not what I expected: a discussion of Darwin's work. Instead, each chapter is more an essay about the topic, integrating some of what Darwin did with modern work. The essays are well written and instructive. They consistently portray Darwin as a meticulous scientist, exploring the natural world, largely in his home country (hence the title Darwin Archipelago). They are not a detailed or critical analysis of Darwin or of any particular work. Taken in that spirit, this is an enjoyable book, suitable for general reading to get a sense of the breadth of Darwin's career.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011. ISBN 978-0-374-27563-1. Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist. He is also a Nobel prize winner -- in economics (2002). The connection? He studies decision making, and economics is one important application. This book is his attempt to explain to a general audience his work on how people make decisions. His views are grounded in experimental work, where panels are asked questions that require them to make decisions. One can collect data from many people, perhaps collect their explanations, and can test ideas. The common view prior to his work was that humans made rational decisions. The experimental work showed otherwise -- that we were, after all, human. One of his major teaching tools in the book is to present one of these experimental questions, and ask readers what they think. The discussion of the question allows him to make his point. Kahneman develops the idea that we have two levels of decision making: a fast process, based on something we might call instinct or intuition, and a slower, more rational process. The balance and interplay between the two processes is an interesting and complex story. It's a quite delightful and readable book. Nobel site: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2002/. Review, by S Sloman, American Scientist 100:73, 1/12: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/the-battle-between-intuition-and-deliberation.

Kahneman's work on thinking styles is referred to in the Musings posts:
* Claiming knowledge one does not have: it's particularly common with those who think they are experts (November 29, 2015).
* Using a smartphone as your extended brain (November 17, 2015).

Tim Lenton & Andrew Watson, Revolutions that made the Earth. Oxford, 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-958704-9. The Earth is shaped by both biological and geological processes, which interact with each other. That's the theme of this integrated view of the Earth's development; they call it the "Earth system". Life develops, life affects the earth, and the earth affects life. Full understanding requires that one look at it all -- together. Feedback loops abound -- and that is a central theme for them. One author was a student of Jim Lovelock, of Gaia fame. But this book is not the simple popular-culture view of Gaia, a naive plea to leave things alone, and the Earth will take care of itself. They talk of stabilizing (negative) feedbacks, destabilizing (positive) feedbacks, and unpredictable feedbacks. (Example... As the temperature T rises, ice melts. Since ice reflects sunlight, ice melting leads to less sunlight being reflected. Since less sunlight is reflected, T increases. This is a positive feedback loop, where a T increase leads to more T increase. A positive feedback tends to destabilize the system.) They talk of feedbacks in the context of the Earth of billions of years ago, and in the context of today's issues of climate change. The "revolutions" of the title? One of their approaches is to look for major transitions in the Earth system, such as the development of oxygen-evolving photosynthesis, which greatly increased the amount of energy available to biological systems. This book is not light reading. It's full of graphs and flow charts, with few photos. It's full of technical arguments. The authors say it is for a reader with a science education, though not necessarily with specialist knowledge. With that, it's a serious look at important issues. It's well organized, with many short sections, and the writing itself is generally good. No simple stories, no simple answers; they often pause to evaluate alternative views. It's the story of our Earth system, as best we understand it -- and there is much uncertainty. If you're seriously interested in our Earth system, this book is worth the effort.

For a gentler introduction to the story, see the book: Hazen, The Story of Earth -- The first 4.5 billion years, from stardust to living planet, 2012.

For an example of Lenton's work, see the Musings post: Plants may be bad for Earth climate (April 17, 2012).

For more about Jim Lovelock and Gaia, see the Musings page: Musings: Gaia and James Lovelock.

Richard Panek, The 4% Universe -- Dark matter, dark energy, and the race to discover the rest of reality. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. ISBN 978-0-618-98244-8. The current view of the universe is that only 4% of it consists of "ordinary matter" -- the stuff we can see. The rest? It's dark matter and dark energy. So what are dark matter and dark energy? No one knows. They reveal themselves as discrepancies in astronomical observations between what we see and what we know. For example, dark matter was invoked to explain why galaxies hold together, even though the amount of matter we see is not enough to hold them together. Dark matter was first invoked in the 1930s; what it is remains an open question. Dark energy is a newcomer, dating from the 1990s. The questions originate from astronomical observations -- over the vastness of the universe; the answers lie with particle physics -- at the very smallest scale. In this book, science journalist Panek tells about the discovery of dark matter and dark energy, about the searches for their nature -- and about the scientists involved in these ventures. In fact, telling the personal stories, including cooperation and intense rivalry, is perhaps the heart of the book. There is enough science to make the book worthwhile in that regard, too. Review, by J L Feng, American Scientist 100:72, 1/12: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/exploring-the-dark-universe.

Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes . Viking, 2011. ISBN 978-0-670-02295-3. This book was the subject of a post in my Musings newsletter: Human violence (November 28, 2011).

Gino Segre, Ordinary Geniuses -- Max Delbruck, George Gamow, and the origins of genomics and big bang cosmology. Viking, 2011. ISBN 978-0-670-02276-2. Delbruck and Gamow -- two colorful figures of 20th century physics and biology. They both came up as physicists, in that remarkable early 20th century physics of Einstein and Bohr and the like. They were both free thinkers, known for their intellectual guidance in emerging fields. Author Segre, himself a physicist. knew both. The book is a breezy and admiring portrait of his two friends: their personalities, scientific and otherwise, and their influence. Both Delbruck and Gamow were pioneers, who felt the best place for them in science was in uncharted fields. For Delbruck, this was the biology of bacterial viruses (bacteriophages) and hence the origins of molecular biology, leading to modern genomics. For Gamow, it was nothing less than cosmology, the study of the universe, including its origin. (Gamow also dabbled in biology at times.) As pioneers, they were not always right, but they sometimes led the field by addressing questions others had not even asked. The combined double-bio is unusual, but it serves Segre's purpose and works well. Delbruck and Gamow had much in common (and knew and admired each other). The interwoven stories reinforce each other, while providing insights into two great men, and two lines of pioneering science. The book does not require much background in the fields; there is some science presented, but it is secondary to telling the stories of the men and their cultures. It's more about the nature of science than about specific knowledge. Overall, good casual yet stimulating reading; suitable for high school students -- and "all ages".

James A Shapiro, Evolution - A view from the 21st century. FT Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-13-278093-3. Darwin gave us the idea of "descent with modification", with "natural selection" determining which modifications, or variations, survive. Of course, that simple statement, while capturing the essence of Darwinism, hides the complexity. Darwin knew little about the origin of the variation. Our understanding of that variation developed over time, especially as we learned of DNA and mutation. In this book, geneticist Jim Shapiro explores the sources of genetic variation; he emphasizes that the sources of variation are even more complex than the traditional "20th century" view. It is not all about simple small changes of DNA base sequence, with the changes being passed on from parent to child. Major issues include horizontal gene transfer (with DNA being acquired in some way other than from a parent) and the role of genome rearrangements, such as those involved in our adaptive immune system or yeast mating types. He describes a wide range of genome rearrangements that have been found in various organisms. He then organizes this all into the idea of "natural genetic engineering". As an analogy, Shapiro suggests that DNA should be thought of as a read-write device, rather than read-only. In terms of facts, there is little in these parts that is fundamentally new and there is little to argue about. His perspective is perhaps extreme, but arguably his emphasis is provocative and useful; certainly, these parts provide a thorough update even for those in the field. Finally, in the short final part, he goes more out on a limb and suggests what the future may hold for our understanding of evolution. In particular, he wonders whether natural genetic engineering allows non-random changes to be made -- in the evolutionary sense. He carefully does not claim that he knows of such events, but his claim is jarring, nonetheless. I suspect that is his intent, and only time will tell. I found the last part the least satisfying, but the presentations of the earlier parts more than made up for it. Overall, the book is a good overview of our understanding of how evolution works -- with some provocative ideas. It's generally well written, though requires some biology background to follow. One does not have to accept Shapiro's interpretations to appreciate all the information he provides, and to appreciate that it calls for expanding our view of evolution.

Ian Stewart, The Mathematics of Life. Basic Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0-465-02238-0. Math and life? Interesting combination -- and one too often neglected, particularly in traditional biology. Author Stewart is a mathematician, whose interests include the applications of math to biology. He is also a superb writer -- good at explaining things, and witty, too. What's the book about? Well, it's something of a personal tour. The first third or so of the book is an overview of biology. Biologists may want to skip (or browse) much of this, though there is some value to simply seeing how this mathematician sees biology. Then, Stewart discusses a wide range of biology topics, and shows how math is relevant. As examples... He discusses how the mathematical idea of trees is used in developing phylogenetic trees. He discusses pattern formation -- such as spots vs stripes. He discusses the possibility of alien life, emphasizing the importance of distinguishing "necessary" and "sufficient". He discusses modeling, showing how models can be useful even when they simplify the real situation; in fact, they are typically useful because they simplify the real situation. There's more to it than that, and Stewart spends considerable time discussing the nuances of modeling; it's something that seems to come more naturally to a mathematician than to a biologist. There is nothing very complex about most of it, but there is refreshing clarity of perspective. It's not entirely clear whom the book is for, but let's take that as a positive... people who find biology and/or math intriguing should explore what this book has to offer. I found the book enjoyable and instructive -- and was inclined to follow the author though occasional slow spots because it is well-written, and clearly shows the author's love of the subject matter. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

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2010

David Baker & Todd Ratcliff, The 50 Most Extreme Places in our Solar System. Belknap Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-674-04998-7. Tallest mountains? Most bizarre seasons? Strangest life form? Those are just three of the 50 topics in this book, which explores some of the extremes of our solar system. In part, this is a coffee table book, full of wonderful pictures -- but it is more than that. Along with the pictures are diagrams and explanations. That is, the book may seem light at first, with an emphasis on pictures and a somewhat whimsical organization, but it is full of real information. The authors are planetary scientists -- expert in their subject matter. A good glossary and index speak to the serious content of the book. Much of the information is from modern space observations, as are the pictures, so the book provides recent history, and is likely to educate most readers. The 50 short chapters are substantially independent, so one can wander through the book as you wish; of course, you can also read the book at various levels, from simply enjoying the pictures to studying the stories. A fun book -- but more than that, a useful book.

Gregory Benford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics, The Wonderful Future That Never Was. Hearst, 2010. ISBN 978-1-58816-822-1. A simple, coffee-table book that is fun to explore. The book presents a set of predictions that appeared in Popular Mechanics magazine, 1903-1970. The predictions are presented largely with the original text and figures. There is some commentary, but for the most part you just get to read what "experts" predicted. It will bring many smiles. It will remind you that predictions may be fun to discuss, but should not be taken too literally. Among the predictions -- good and otherwise:
* "With the use of this machine [computer], it is easy to spot a budding hurricane off the coast of Africa." [1950, p 175] Not bad.
* "Sometime within the next 10 to 20 years, the first full-scale, power-producing fusion reactor will go into operation." [1958, p 186] (This prediction was noted in the Musings post Nobel Peace Prize (October 25, 2009).)
* "The idea of haste will be removed." [1939, p 199]

Mike Brown, How I Killed Pluto -- and why it had it coming. Spiegel & Grau, 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-53108-5. It was a big news story: the IAU (International Astronomical Union) demoted Pluto from "planet" to a new class called "dwarf planet". Caltech planetary scientist Mike Brown was a key player in the story: he discovered what would have been the tenth planet -- under the old system. In this short and delightful book, Brown tells the story -- the stories: the history of the concept of planets, the discovery of Pluto, the recent field of Kuiper Belt objects, his discovery of various objects out there, including the presumptive tenth planet (Xena, later formally named Eris), an emerging new view of the solar system, how he began to realize that the old concept of planet had been outgrown, and the strange process by which the IAU made it official. An interesting aspect of this is the difficulty of providing a simple clear definition of planet, even though the concept seems quite clear. Brown intertwines all this with stories of his personal life -- perhaps more than we want to know at times. The chapter "Mean Very Evil Men" presents a new mnemonic to remember the order of the planets -- the eight planets. The most profound chapter title is for the epilogue; it is based on observation and discovery by his three year old daughter: "Jupiter Moves". Overall, the book comes off as charming and human, as well as scientific. A light and enjoyable read, with some significant science along the way.

Work by Mike Brown is discussed in posts in my Musings newsletter:
* Added February 2, 2016. A ninth planet for the Solar System? (February 2, 2016).
* Weather forecast: Clouds will form near North Pole within two years (April 9, 2012).

Musings posts about Pluto:
* How many moons hath Pluto? (July 20, 2012).
* How many moons hath Pluto? Follow-up (March 26, 2013).

Sean M Carroll, From Eternity to Here -- The quest for the ultimate theory of time. Dutton, 2010. ISBN 978-0-525-95133-9. Time. What time is it? Easy enough. What is time? Oh, that is a hard one. Here, cosmologist Sean Carroll writes of the nature of time -- and along the way teaches us about entropy, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and the origin of the universe. All connected. A distinctive feature of time -- as both the layman and the physicist know -- is that it has distinct directions. The future and the past are fundamentally distinctive ideas -- though that is not true for the spatial dimensions of the universe. We may take this "arrow of time" for granted, but it quite intrigues the physicist. In seeking an underlying explanation for the arrow of time, Carroll is led to the other topics noted -- and more. The answer? No one knows. Yet. It's still an unsettled issue in physics, perhaps lying somewhere in the poorly understood story of quantum gravity -- and the origin of the universe. Carroll is a superb story teller, and he has a wonderful story to tell. Carroll understands that parts of modern physics can be difficult -- even mind-bending -- for the general reader; well, it is often not well understood by the physicists. So, Carroll takes care to try to explain things at various levels. Yet he also tries to make the book good, sound science. He is careful to distinguish what is well known from what is largely speculation, and he discusses the role of exploring a range of speculative ideas in the scientific work. Overall, this is a marvelous book, both enjoyable and instructive.

D P Clark & L D Russell, Molecular Biology made simple and fun. Cache River Press, 4/e, 2010. ISBN 978-1889899091. See entry for second edition, below.

Michael D Fayer, Absolutely Small -- How quantum theory explains our everyday world. Amacom, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8144-1488-0. The primary goal of this book is to try to make quantum mechanics "make sense" -- and without using much math. Surprisingly, Fayer succeeds rather well. He does this by staying focused on a fairly small set of issues, and developing them well, with numerous examples and drawings. The main emphasis is reflected in the title: quantum mechanics forces itself on us for things that are very small, so small that there is no way to observe them without affecting them. As to the lack of math... There are many calculations, but they generally involve basic arithmetic or algebra; the math is not complex. However, it is often presented in narrative in the main flow; I think the math would be less disruptive if it was in math format in side-bars. A minor quibble, though; in general, Fayer's writing is engaging. Now, the comments here so far apply to the book's primary goal -- roughly the first half. After that, Fayer sets out to show the role of quantum mechanics in "everyday life" -- things such as the nature of greenhouse gases or trans fats. I found much of this part to be superficial. Although he notes the role of quantum mechanics, he rarely does much more than that. Much of the content is no different than one would get in a basic chemistry course, where quantum issues may be mentioned but not really explained. (Oddly, some of the second half also seemed poorly proofread.) Overall, Fayer's book is worth a try, for people with a range of backgrounds. Those with a scientific background may find his presentation of quantum mechanics stimulating, but may lose interest later in the book. If you start wondering about whether the second half will be worthwhile, skip ahead and read the last chapter; it is a good summary, and reasonably reflects the level of the presentation.

Ian Glynn, Elegance in Science -- The beauty of simplicity. Oxford, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-957862-7. It seems to be a popular theme for a book: revisit scientific discoveries, emphasizing their original historical context. In this case, Glynn adds a special consideration: emphasizing developments that he considers "elegant". The idea that some science is "beautiful" or "elegant" is intriguing, though of course quite subjective. Glynn, a biologist, covers a range of examples from both physics and biology. As usual with such books, the topics are largely independent. To my taste, some of the other recent books with similar themes were more successful. Nevertheless, give this one a look. As with the matter of elegance itself, choosing among the books is a matter of taste; further, reading multiple presentations about the same topic can be good. See the listing for Crease, The Great Equations -- Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg, 2008 for comments about a couple of alternative books. Also see G Johnson, The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, 2008

James Kakalios, The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics -- A math-free exploration of the science that made our world. Gotham, 2010. ISBN 978-1-592-40479-7. Quantum mechanics (QM) has a reputation of being difficult, even for experts. Yet it is important. In this book, Kakalios makes a special effort to help the general reader to get some appreciation of QM. He does not try to explain it, but rather to describe it: he tries to show why it is important -- and useful. The book is described as being without math. That's a slight exaggeration, as he notes near the start, but the math is simple and well explained. The lack of math precludes rigorous development of the ideas of QM, but that's not his goal. He knows his own limitations, and succeeds rather well at meeting his modest goals. He discusses such topics as how lasers and semiconductors work, showing that they depend on the quantum mechanical properties of electrons. He uses analogies, such as a partially filled auditorium with seats at various (energy) levels. If the reader begins to appreciate what the properties are that make such common devices work, then the book has succeeded. Another "gimmick" is hinted at in the title: the "Amazing" story. Apparently, Kakalios, now a physicist, grew up as an avid reader of mass market science fiction, so-called pulp fiction -- some of which had titles starting with Amazing. He relates to those pulp stories (and to comic strips such as Dick Tracy) -- with pride and for good effect. After all, many of the pulp fiction authors knew the subject matter well, and good sci fi is often based on good science. Those readers who were pulp fans will find kinship with the author. Those who were not should appreciate his story-telling. Those who find quantum mechanics intimidating but would like something gentle may well find that this book fills the bill. Those with some understanding may appreciate how Kakalios chooses to develop his stories. Overall, this is a book that should appeal to a broad audience.

Thomas D Seeley, Honeybee Democracy. Princeton University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-691-14721-5. In the spring a few thousand bees leave a hive, with a queen, and end up founding a new hive. They spend a few days, as a swarm, choosing the location for their new home. How does a swarm of ten thousand little bees choose a homesite? Cornell University biologist Tom Seeley has been one of the leaders in figuring this out, building on the studies of Karl von Frisch and Martin Lindauer whose pioneering work Seeley generously acknowledges. Seeley tells the story in this delightful little book. Most of the book discusses his work on specific points, including both field and experimental work. He balances discussing the ideas, real data, and the human story of how scientists work. As a result, the book should broadly appeal to scientists and non-scientists alike. After working out many aspects of how bees choose a home, he compares their collective decision making process with how neurons integrate in a brain -- such as ours. He emphasizes the logical similarity of how both systems operate, one at the level of an individual and the other at the level of a super-organism of a social insect. In a final chapter, Seeley provocatively talks of how we might benefit by following what the bees do. He uses the example of "town meetings", a tradition in some small towns in New England. He says he used the swarm as a model for running meetings when he was department chair. He recognizes the differences, too, but perhaps the similarities are worth serious thought. Overall, whether it's the author or his subject matter, this is a wonderful book.

Some work from Seeley's lab is discussed in the Musings post Novelty-seeking behavior (May 26, 2012).

Spencer Wells, Pandora's Seed -- The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. Random House, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4000-6215-7. Wells's thesis is that humans made something of a wrong turn -- about 10,000 years ago, by developing agriculture and moving away from their more natural state of being hunter-gatherers. That brought higher population densities, and stratification of society. Humans began to control nature, rather than live in harmony with it. And then they thought they could control nature, and even thought that they were supposed to -- that the earth was here for humans to exploit. Thus -- simplified -- agriculture is the ultimate source of all of mankind's problems. Wells develops this view of human history. Wells, a scientist, brings in evidence from paleontology and anthropology, as well as modern information; he does a reasonable job of making clear where evidence stops and his interpretation takes over. The writing is casual and breezy. Overall, the book raises some intriguing issues.

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2009

John Tyler Bonner, The Social Amoebae -- The biology of cellular slime molds. Princeton, 2009. ISBN 978-0-691-13939-5. Cellular slime molds? Fascinating little critters, at the border line between unicellular and multicellular life. They live as individual amoebae, so long as food is available. Upon starvation, they aggregate and differentiate into a reproductive structure -- a structure with only two cells types. J T Bonner has been studying these slime molds, such as the major model organism Dictyostelium discoideum, for over 60 years. His early work, before the era of molecular biology, focused on simple observation of the organisms. Now, a genome sequence is available. The secrets of slime molds, perhaps the simplest of multicellular organisms, have not been resolved. Bonner takes up individual topics, from their ecology and evolution to their differentiation, and summarizes decades of work at levels ranging from organismal to molecular. The book is short (127 pages, for the main text), simple, modest -- and full of insights from one of the grand masters of biology. A must read for biologists, especially those caught up in the excitement of molecular biology. Non-biologists, too, are likely to find that much of the book is quite accessible, and quite inspiring.

This book is also noted in a Musings post about Dictyostelium: Farming by amoebae (February 15, 2011).

Dennis Bray, Wetware -- A computer in every living cell. Yale University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-300-14173-3. A simple bacterial cell senses its environment, and swims toward a food source or away from a toxin. How this is done is now understood in rather great detail. In this book, Cambridge University scientist Dennis Bray looks at a wide range of such responses of cells and organisms. He looks for commonalties, in both the result and the mechanism. He finds, to simplify a long story, that much can be explained in terms of networks of proteins -- often acting like memory elements or computational elements. How close is any of this to what higher animals do in their brain? We don't know, but Bray suggests that there may be similarities. If you are skeptical of such a claim, don't worry. Bray doesn't force it on you; he just presents a fine discussion of some fascinating biology. This is a wonderful book -- superbly written, with a provocative attempt to integrate ideas over a wide range of biology. It is inherently a book about biology and chemistry, about computers and electronics. It should appeal to readers with diverse backgrounds, yet it largely avoids technical detail, so should be accessible to anyone who is just intrigued about how organisms -- we and the bacteria -- know about the outside world. Highest recommendation!

Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw, Why does E=mc2? -- (And why should we care?). Da Capo Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-306-81758-8. Einstein's equation is famous, but do you know where it came from and what it means? In this short book, two physicists tell the story of this simple equation. They use the equation as a vehicle to discuss much of modern physics, from the pioneering 19th century work on energy and electromagnetism through to nuclear energy and the leading edge work now going on at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The book is unabashedly simple -- for the layman with minimal physics. Sometimes it is almost condescending; I really could do without some of their excessive apologizing for the level. However, they are skilled at providing useful simplifications that help a new person understand some of the ideas. On balance, this is what matters most. If you'd like an introduction to modern physics and the world of relativity, give the book a try.

David Dusenberry, Living at micro scale -- The unexpected physics of being small. Harvard, 2009. ISBN 978-0-674-03116-6. This is a book about the physical nature of cells, such as bacteria or gametes. Small cells moving through water sense the world very differently than do large organisms -- in water or air. For example, cells in water move significantly by Brownian motion, and their environment remains non-turbulent. Here, physicist David Dusenberry asks what we can learn from applying the laws of physics to cells. Is the energy cost of an active motility system worth it? What are good strategies for sensing the presence of food (or toxins or a mate)? It really is a physics book, with lots of equations, but it is quite readable -- and intended for biologists. Most of the math is basic algebra, though some gets messy. However, one can read over the book and follow the main ideas without worrying much about the math. What's good is that Dusenberry tries to put the main ideas into words, after showing the proper math. In fact, that is his emphasis. He makes a point to first show what laws of physics apply, then to try to make the application seem intuitive. Much is back-of-the-envelope, making general approximations about biological parameters that may vary considerably, or perhaps are not even known. Dusenberry does not claim that he explains all biology by applying physics, but he tries to show what those laws do imply, what constraints they may provide. Overall, this is a somewhat unusual book, and one that can be read at multiple levels. Those interested in careful study of a particular issue can benefit from a careful reading, but the book can also be read more casually, providing a useful and readable overview of the physics of cells.

Patricia Fara, Science -- A Four Thousand Year History. Oxford, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-922689-4. An intriguing book. Fara attacks a huge chunk of material, and provides an interesting and thought-provoking perspective. Her main point is that science is part of society. Not only does science proceed in ways more complex than we usually tell, but it is less "pure" than we often tell. Scientists are human, and part of society. They hold -- to varying extents -- the views of the time and culture; at the very least they are affected by them. She spends much time attacking the notion of the detached pure scientist, with entirely noble ends. Ok, good. I think scientists really understand that, though we probably simplify historical stories too much. Importantly, her point of view gives her structure for the book. This is not a simple chronological history, spanning 4000 years. It is a book of vignettes, each discussing a particular scientific story, which she tries to put into what she considers proper perspective. The breadth of the book is enormous -- not only 4000 years, but all of science. With that breadth, inevitably there will be quibbles. I think the most important point is that she has a good message and tells good stories. Scientific knowledge that is broadly accepted develops over time; over the short term, we must remember that the process is quite imperfect. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Bruce M Hood, SuperSense -- Why we believe in the unbelievable. Harper One, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-145264-2. A book about the supernatural. Children interpret the world around them -- filling in missing information with what their intuition suggests to them. Over time, we learn more about the real world, and substitute rational analysis for some of our intuitive beliefs. We also keep some of our intuitive beliefs -- either to fill in gaps in rational thinking, or, well, just because we do. Hood, a psychology professor, presents examples of our supernatural beliefs, and evidence on why we hold them. Hood's general view is that is natural for us to hold supernatural beliefs, and probably good that we do so in many cases. The problem is not with the basic idea but when we fail to allow real information to inform us to go beyond the intuitive supernatural beliefs. I should note that the book is not about religion per se; religion is only one aspect of our use of supernatural beliefs, and is not a major part of Hood's story. The book is written for the general audience. It is a lively read, though sometimes seems to have too much of the spectacular and too little scientific explanation. On balance, I enjoyed the book and recommend it as an introduction to man's use of supernatural beliefs. Read it with an open -- and critical -- mind.

Michael D Lemonick, The Georgian Star -- How William and Caroline Herschel revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. Norton, 2009; part of the "Great Discoveries" series. ISBN 978-0-393-06574-9. William Herschel is perhaps best known for discovering the planet Uranus. This was the first discovery of a planet beyond those long known from observations with the naked eye. (Herschel originally named the new planet the Georgian Star after his patron, King George III. Hence the book title.) But there is much more to Herschel. He started as a musician, took up astronomy as something of a hobby, then devoted his later life to it. Herschel designed and constructed telescopes that pushed the limits of the day, and contributed much to astronomy, both in observation and theory. Further, his sister Caroline Herschel became something of an astronomer in her own right. This book is a short readable account of all this, intended for the general audience. It is about music and astronomy, about William and Caroline; it offers a useful view of late 18th century astronomy. It is not at all a critical biography, but it is a good read. For more about the Herschels, see my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Art & Music: Science; scroll down to the picture of Uranus.

Jo Marchant, Decoding the Heavens: A 2000-year-old computer -- and the century-long search to discover its secrets. Da Capo, 2009. ISBN 978-0-306-81742-7. It's a corroded mess, pulled around 1900 from an ancient shipwreck near Antikythera (Greece). Gears are evident -- but no geared devices are known from anywhere near the time of the shipwreck. What is it? Study of this "Antikythera device" over the ensuing century, using successive new technologies for observing through the structure, revealed its complexity. It is the oldest known "gearworks", likely from about 100 BC -- about a thousand years older than any other known geared device when it was discovered. And it is more complex; its complexity is still startling. It seems to be an astronomical computer, calculating the positions -- and eclipses -- of the key heavenly bodies known to the ancient Greeks. (As a bonus, it even keeps track of the Olympiads.) The story has unfolded slowly, limited by the technologies available to study it, and only became clear within the recent decade. Here, Jo Marchant tells the story of the Antikythera device. She tells of successive waves of studying the device, using increasingly sophisticated X-ray techniques to reveal both the structures and the inscriptions. She tells of the evolving understanding of what it did. She discusses this in the context of the ancient Greek astronomy. The Antikythera device requires a change in previous views of the history of geared devices, including clocks; she introduces this story, which is still fragmentary. The book is well organized and well written (though the index is limited). The emphasis is on the story of the device. Highly recommended.

In 2006, Marchant wrote a News Feature that gave a nice overview of the Antikythera story. It is: In search of lost time, Nature 444:534, November 30, 2006. Online: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7119/full/444534a.html. Videos of the Antikythera device are available. A search on "Antikythera video" will get you started.

The Antikythera device is the basis of a Musings post: The Antikythera device: a 2000-year-old computer (August 31, 2011).

David J Meltzer, First Peoples in a New World -- Colonizing Ice Age America. University of California Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-520-25052-9. The Americas were the last part of the Earth to be inhabited by mankind. Mankind crossed from Asia over to America, via a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, something over 12,000 years ago, or so; there may have been multiple migration events. The modern "Native Americans" (or American Indians) are presumably descendants of these early immigrants. The facts I just gave are well known. Are they really true? How do we know? In this wonderful book, David Meltzer, a scientist in the field, tells the story. Meltzer presents about every aspect of the story one can imagine, trying to track down where the first American immigrants came from, how they got to America, how they expanded across the American continents, what we know of their various life styles, how they interacted with the changing geological environment, and so forth. Sometimes the detail is almost excruciating, then Meltzer sorts it out. He delights in presenting alternative views -- and controversy. And he tells you his opinion and his reasons. Overall, the book is an exciting view of what we do -- and do not -- know about the first Americans. It's not always easy reading, but overall is worthwhile for its view of early American life and of the science behind our understanding. Meltzer cautions that this book is not just an update, but a thorough revision of his 1993 book Search for the New Americans. That he considers the earlier book out-of-date is a testament to the progress in the field -- and to Meltzer's commitment to telling the best science he can. It may also be a hint that another book will be needed in a decade or so, with substantial revisions of current views. Such is science. Review, by D K Charles, American Scientist 98:254, 5/10: http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/pleistocene-pioneers.

This book is noted in some Musings posts about early Americans:
* Added August 16, 2016. Man's migration from Asia to America? Did it really happen by land? (August 16, 2016).
* How long ago did mankind arrive in the Americas? (March 18, 2016).
* Did the First Americans eat gomphothere? (July 29, 2014).
* Early American art: a 13,000 year old drawing of a mammoth (July 18, 2011).

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2008

Warwick Anderson, The Collectors of Lost Souls -- Turning kuru scientists into whitemen. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8018-9040-6. Kuru is a neurodegenerative disorder, a spongiform encephalopathy rather like what we refer to as mad cow disease (or BSE or CJD). It was the first large cluster of this type of disease, which was endemic to the Fore tribe of New Guinea. This book is the story of kuru, and the work of scientists in the late 1950s to learn about this unusual disease. In particular, it is the story of Carleton Gajdusek, who received the Nobel prize for showing that kuru was transmitted by ritual cannibalism among the Fore. Later work would lead to the understanding of the transmittable agent as a prion -- and to another Nobel prize, to Stan Prusiner. The book is the story of disease, but also of culture: the culture of the Fore, and the culture of the scientists. For example, there is a discussion of the nature of cannibalism, including a comparison with the doctors' practice of doing an autopsy and collecting brains. Much is made of the competition between various groups studying the Fore, and of changing styles in science in the US. It is interesting that, despite all the dedicated efforts to figure out kuru, what really made the difference was a casual comment by a veterinarian -- which Gajdusek was wise enough to follow. The book concludes on an inevitable down note, with Gajdusek's fall, and imprisonment. But that is part of the story, and it is handled gracefully. Author Anderson is a doctor and science historian, so he understands the content, and he writes well. All in all, this is an enjoyable book at multiple levels. I have listed this book for BITN: Prions. Another book by Anderson: Intolerant Bodies -- A short history of autoimmunity.

John D Barrow, Cosmic Imagery -- Key images in the history of science. Norton 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06177-2. The book consists of about a hundred 5-page chapters, each introduced with a picture. The pictures are not necessarily "beautiful" or historically "important", though there are some of each of those; each is a picture Barrow wants to build a little story around. Examples include the Hubble Deep Field, Robert Hooke's flea, a magazine cover showing a UFO, and Einstein. A beautiful atomic level drawing of myoglobin is followed by a picture of Irving Geis, who drew it, looking at it. The essay is on Geis, and on scientific illustration before the days of computer graphics. (Remember Geis?) This just gives you an idea of the eclectic nature of the book, which is what makes it fun. It's one man's tour around some interesting science. What makes it work is that most of his stories seem worth reading. Some of his science is a bit sloppy, so don't take all his points as the last word. Fun, good general reading. It's probably best for people who have some general knowledge in science, but it is fine to skim or jump around.

Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot, The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers. Profile Books Ltd, 2008. ISBN 978-1846681110. This is a short book that focuses on the ways in which statistics can be abused (either deliberately or not) by the media. Each chapter treats a different type of error, such as the belief that clusters of a random event have an underlying reason, the use of seemingly-large numbers that are meaningless without a proper sense of scale, and the incorrect connection between correlation and causation. Although the underlying messages are founded in mathematics, there is no mathematical detail given (although references are provided for further reading). The book is light and easy to read, and contains humorous and topical examples both from science and everyday life. I would recommend it to scientists and non-scientists alike. (From UK physicist Greg Pearce.) This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

Robert Crease, The Great Equations -- Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg. Norton, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06204-5. F = ma. You've probably heard of it. But do you know the story behind it? Crease takes this equation -- and nine more -- and tries to put them in the context of their time. Equations develop over time -- as do other scientific discoveries. Just stating the simple equation does not do justice to its significance; Crease tells of the journey that led to the equation. Don't be put off by the word "equations"; this is not a math book, but rather a book about exploring nature. An enjoyable book, which will enhance your understanding of how science develops. The chapters are substantially independent, so you can jump around as you wish. Review, by P Pesic, American Scientist 97:334, 7/09: http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/summations-and-distillations.

There is some similarity in intent between this book and Schwartz, In Pursuit of the Gene. Both seek to put the simple take home lessons in context. Schwartz focuses on one scientific idea, and deals with the scientific issues in detail. Crease deals with several topics, many quite unrelated, and tries to give a sense of their historical context. By the nature of the broader coverage, Crease is more superficial -- and may be more accessible for the general reader.

Michael S Gazzaniga, HUMAN - The science behind what makes us unique. HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 978-0-06-089288-3. Humans are very much like other animals in many ways; sometimes it seems that all of our more human traits are found, to some degree or other, in other animals. Yet we are not chimps or dolphins; we are unique. In this lively book, Gazzaniga explores why. He looks at brain structure, and focuses on the greater specialization of the two brain halves, compared to other animals. This means our brain approaches being twice as big as it seems, and allows for local regions to be more specialized. He then explores many aspects of human behavior, and tries to describe what is different in humans -- and why. He emphasizes the greater complexity of human social behavior. He often presents and compares multiple ideas, thus giving the reader a good feel for the state of the field, including its controversies and uncertainties. Importantly, the book is well written, a pleasure to read. I'm not a big fan of brain books, but I enjoyed this one. Review, by M Konner, American Scientist 97:424, 9/09: http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/unique-sort-of.

This book is noted in the Musings posts: The animal mind (July 23, 2009) and Split brains and yellow submarines (January 9, 2012).

Avery Gilbert, What the Nose Knows -- The science of scent in everyday life. Crown, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4000-8234-6. Smell. A book about smell. Author Gilbert is a scientist specializing in the olfactory sense; his experience includes working in the perfume industry. The book deals with a combination of cultural aspects and the underlying science. Gilbert discusses the smells of nature, but he also spends much time on how humans deal with smells. He discusses how we incorporate odor into art and how we try to manipulate the odor environment, e.g., with perfumes and with odor-enhanced movies. Readers of most any background will relate to many of the issues, and will be enriched by the analysis. The tone of the book is generally quite casual; the writing is good. All in all, an enjoyable book.

Peter R Grant & Rosemary Grant, How and Why Species Multiply - The Radiation of Darwin's Finches. Princeton Univ Press, 2008. See Weiner, The Beak of the Finch for some general background on Darwin's finches. This new book by the Grants is an updated version of the story, from the researchers themselves. I have not read this book.

Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder -- How the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science. Pantheon, 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-42222-5. A story of science -- mainly British science -- around 1800. It emphasizes people such as the chemist Humphry Davy and the immigrant astronomers William and Caroline Herschel, plus the botanist and long time head of the Royal Institution Joseph Banks. And it ties them in with the literary figures of the era, such as Byron, Coleridge and the Shelleys. It was an era not just of some important discoveries but important developments in the nature of science. The book includes the science, but casually; it is more about the era than the science per se. At times there is too much of the social lives, but overall the book is an interesting and enjoyable window into an era. Review, by F Gregory, American Scientist 98:250, 5/10: http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/romantic-discoverers.

This Holmes book was the winner of the 2009 Royal Society prize for science books. See the Musings post Royal Society suggests science books (July 27, 2009).

George Johnson, The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments. Knopf, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4000-4101-5. Ten vignettes, substantially independent, each describing one fascinating scientific experiment. There is some discussion of the context, of why the experiment is historically interesting. But the main focus is on why each experiment is "beautiful". The experimenters range from Galileo and Harvey to Pavlov and Millikan. Be sure to read the author's Prologue, so you know the groundrules. A low-key book, with some nice insight into how scientists think. Also see Glynn, Elegance in Science -- The beauty of simplicity, 2010 for some other books with similar themes.

Steven Johnson, The Invention of Air -- A story of science, faith, revolution, and the birth of America. Riverhead Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59448-852-8. This is a book about Joseph Priestly. Priestly is perhaps best known for his role in discovering oxygen. However, there is much more to Priestly. As a scientist, he was broadly involved in exploring air; he discovered -- but did not understand -- the opposing effects of plant and animal life on air, and he developed soda water. His exploratory spirit is an inspiration for many scientists. Beyond science, Priestly was also involved in religion and politics; he was a free-thinker in those areas as well. And he was a good friend and collaborator of Benjamin Franklin, thus establishing a connection with the emerging new country across the ocean. Later he was, at various times, friends with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In exploring the life and contributions of Priestly, Johnson offers a glimpse into the science and culture of the late 18th century, including the emerging America. The book is at its best presenting what happened; it is perhaps at its weakest when it tries to interpret it. It's not so much that the interpretation is flawed, as that there is too much of it at times. Overall, a good read. Review by Seymour Mauskopf, American Scientist 97:339, 7/09. http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/a-radical-thinker-comes-to-america.

David J C MacKay, Sustainable Energy - without the hot air. UIT Cambridge, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3. The book is provided free online at http://www.withouthotair.com; you can also get a "10-page synopsis" there, which may be a good way to start. This is a book about renewable energy, but it is largely about physics rather than politics. MacKay's overall message is a simple one: if we add up all the power we currently use, and compare with all the power we could obtain from renewable sources, do they add up? He uses simple back-of-envelope physics to make quantitative estimates, and argues for greater use of "numbers, not adjectives" when discussing energy. More technical information is provided in "technical chapters" at the end for interested readers. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in physics, from high school level upwards. The 'order of magnitude physics' gives a fascinating insight into the way physicists work, and what can be achieved by making simple (but sometimes surprisingly accurate) models. (From UK physicist Greg Pearce.) I would just add that much of the book is suitable for the general audience simply interested in the energy debate.

The book is also featured in the Musings post: Sustainable Energy - without the hot air (September 16, 2009).

P A Offit, Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Columbia Univ Press, 2008. ISBN 9780231146364. This book focuses on the now-discredited claim that vaccines are responsible for autism. I have not read this book, but choose to list it based on a review in BioScience and my experience with another book by Offit. Review, by Patricia M Rodier, BioScience 59:440, 5/09. Freely available at: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1525/bio.2009.59.5.12. For my comment on an earlier Offit book, see Offit, The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis. If you have read the new book and would like to contribute here, please contact me.

Richard Reeves, A Force of Nature - The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford. Norton, 2008; part of the "Great Discoveries" series. ISBN 978-0-393-05750-8. Beginning chemistry students know Rutherford for his discovery of the atomic nucleus. The experimental work that showed the nucleus is so elegant that we can describe the key ideas of it to beginning students. Yet by the time Rutherford did this work, he had already won a Nobel prize -- for his work on the nature of radioactive decay. Author Richard Reeves is best known for his books on American politics; I did not know that he had a degree in Engineering. In this brief book -- about 180 pages -- Reeves presents a mini-biography of Rutherford. Reeves participated in a reconstruction of Rutherford's famous experiment demonstrating the nucleus, and he clearly has substantial understanding of the science and its importance. The book gives an overview of Rutherford's science and the scientific era it helped define, and a picture of Rutherford the man. It is an accessible well-written book, a good read for young students, and perhaps an enjoyable overview for the more experienced scientist.

Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances". See the Nobel site: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1908/.

Pamela G Ronald & Raoul W Adamchak, Tomorrow's Table - Organic farming, genetics, and the future of food. Oxford, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-530175-5. A little book on the role of genetic engineering -- "GM" (genetic modification) as it is often called -- in organic farming. It is written by a plant geneticist who does GM and an organic farmer -- who are wife/husband. The organic farming movement has typically objected to GM, but the authors here suggest they should be more open to considering it. They suggest that GM is a good tool to achieve the underlying objectives of organic farming. This is a short and sometimes rambling book. It does not really answer questions, but its purpose is more to raise questions, to get people to look anew at the issues of what GM is and what its role might be. Importantly, it emphasizes that each individual use of GM should be considered on its own merit. I certainly encourage those who might be skeptical of GM to try this book -- not to change your mind, but simply as an opener to further discussion. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Agricultural biotechnology (GM foods) and Gene therapy.

James Schwartz, In Pursuit of the Gene -- From Darwin to DNA. Harvard, 2008. ISBN 978-0-674-02670-4. The story behind the story. We know the highlights: Darwin, Mendel and the rediscovery, the chromosome story, and finally the structure of DNA which makes clear the molecular basis of heredity. Here, Schwartz examines the details of the discovery of several of these points. He explores competing ideas, and the evidence -- and personalities -- behind them. The real story of how science develops is not as clean as our textbook summaries, and this book provides some of the real story. Biologists are likely to enjoy the story; laymen may or may not find it holds their interest. I'd certainly encourage the genetics novice to give the book a try; it will be worthwhile even if you don't finish it.

There is some similarity in intent between this book and Crease, The Great Equations. Both seek to put the simple take home lessons in context. Schwartz focuses on one scientific idea, and deals with the scientific issues in detail. Crease deals with several topics, many quite unrelated, and tries to give a sense of their historical context. By the nature of the broader coverage, Crease is more superficial -- and may be more accessible for the general reader.

Neil Shubin, Your Inner Fish - A journey into the 3.5-billion-year history of the human body. Pantheon, 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-42447-2. Neil Shubin attracted attention in 2006 when he published two papers on fossils of Tiktaalik, a fish with "hands". The "hands" were fish fins with a bony structure reminiscent of that of a human limb -- just the kind of animal predicted to be an intermediate in the evolution of land vertebrates. Further, he discovered Tiktaalik fossils in a geological structure that was of just the right age and physical environment predicted for this kind of intermediate between fish and land vertebrates. Not only was Tiktaalik an important "missing link", but it was found by making a prediction of when and where this fossil should appear. In this short delightful book, Shubin tells the story of Tiktaalik, and then goes on to tell more stories about how features of modern humans developed in various "more primitive" organisms -- not only fish, but even back to jellyfish and to bacteria. He discusses issues of body design, including the origin of teeth and skull. And he discusses the development of sensory systems -- smell, sight, and hearing. Sight is in some ways the most fascinating, since it is so easily traced back to almost the beginning of life, in bacteria. Throughout the book, Shubin emphasizes the unity of biology. He shows how all life is related, and how we can trace that relatedness by looking not only at fossils of old organisms, but also at the details of how modern organisms develop. The book is engaging, with good sound glimpses into our history. Little background is needed to enjoy and appreciate most of this book; suitable for the laymen and for young students. Review, by M A Bell, American Scientist 96:257, 5/08: http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/variations-on-a-theme. For another book by Shubin, see Shubin, The Universe Within, 2013.

Shubin's book was one of the finalists for the 2009 Royal Society prize for science books. See the Musings post Royal Society suggests science books (July 27, 2009).

Frank Wilczek, The Lightness of Being - Mass, ether, and the unification of forces. Basic Books, 2008. ISBN 978-0-465-00321-1. Looking for a gentle introduction to quarks, gluons, and the strong force? To virtual particles? To the physicists' dream of a single ("unified") theory to explain all the forces of nature? To the LHC (large hadron collider), which may test key aspects of such theories? Frank Wilczek won the Nobel prize in physics for his work on the story of quarks and such, thus offering an explanation for the nature of the atomic nucleus. But he is also an entertaining lecturer and writer, who understands that much of modern physics is difficult even for other scientists. This book apparently grew out of a series of lectures aimed at the general audience. So the book starts with basics, and builds from there -- with plenty of good humor along the way. You'll come away with a greater appreciation of what modern physics -- including the LHC -- is trying to do. And you'll probably find some of it difficult. Don't worry; recognize that you know more than you did, and that the book is fun to read. Website for the book: http://www.lightnessofbeingbook.com/. For more about Wilczek's Nobel prize, see the Nobel site: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2004/.

Carl Zimmer, Microcosm - E coli and the new science of life. Pantheon, 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-42430-4. There is little doubt that we know more about the bacterium Escherichia coli than about any other organism. E. coli is an interesting organism in its own right -- a normal inhabitant of the human gut, and yet also a serious pathogen. Beyond that, E. coli is one of the most important model organisms for biologists. As Jacques Monod put it, "What is true for E coli is true for the elephant." Science journalist Carl Zimmer uses the story of E coli to explore ideas of broad importance in biology. The book is aimed at a general audience, and does a good job of explaining why one studies simple model organisms, and then uses what is learned there to guide study of other organisms. A well-written and enjoyable book, a fine overview of some of the central ideas in modern biology.

Zimmer's book was a semi-finalist for the 2009 Royal Society prize for science books. See the Musings post Royal Society suggests science books (July 27, 2009).

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2007

Jeremy Bernstein, Plutonium: A history of the world's most dangerous element. Joseph Henry (National Academies Press), 2007. ISBN 978-0-309-10296-4. The book can be purchased online, pdf file or print: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11734/plutonium-a-history-of-the-worlds-most-dangerous-element; the page also has more information about the book. The author begins this history with the discovery of x-rays and radioactivity just before 1900, and traces the discoveries (and people who made them) which eventually led to the creation of plutonium in 1940. The book ends with the explosion of the two atomic bombs in Japan. However, there is no real mention of plutonium until half-way through, and the mid-twentieth century seemed a strange place to finish. There was no mention at all of nuclear power, and very little discussion of any of the present-day problems of plutonium security, storage or disposal. Surely these are as much part of the history of plutonium as its creation? I'd recommend this book as a brief history of atomic physics in the early twentieth century, or to give a glimpse of one or two of the unusual properties of plutonium, but I couldn't help but feel the story was historically incomplete and the science vague. (From UK physicist Greg Pearce. There is a full review of the book at http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/2007/3/the-stuff-of-bombs. This review, "The Stuff of Bombs", is by F N von Hippel, and was published in American Scientist 95:266, 5/07.)

Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee, The body has a mind of its own -- How body maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better. Random House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4000-6469-4. Stimulation of specific regions of the brain leads to sensation in specific body parts. This is perhaps the basic observation that leads to the idea of body maps: representations of the body in the brain. Contiguous body parts often are represented by contiguous brain regions; that is, the body map "looks like" the body -- though with great distortions reflecting the role of the specific map. For example, pianists have greatly expanded brain regions devoted to the fingers. And monkeys trained to use a tool to extend their reach show an extended brain region for "hand", taking into account that the tool has effectively become part of the body, part of the hand. Thus the body maps reflect how the brain keeps track of the body. They are flexible, as the above examples indicate. And they are subject to disease, so that we may end up with a distorted view of our body. For example, a stroke may damage a specific region, resulting in our inability to recognize a specific body part. In this book, the Blakeslees (mother and son) tell the story of body maps. It is a fascinating story, with practical implications; the story is well told here, for the general audience. Sandra Blakeslee is also listed on this page as a co-author of Jeff Hawkins (with Sandra Blakeslee), On Intelligence; 2004.

Fritjof Capra, The Science of Leonardo. Doubleday, 2007. ISBN 978-0-385-51390-6. Capra's thesis is that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a true scientist, in the modern sense: he observed, experimented, and interpreted the natural world. He used prior writings (authority) as a base to build on, not to be blindly accepted. Capra discusses how Leonardo approached art scientifically, and then how he extended his approach to other things he studied. About half of the book is a general biography, and thus a view of 15th-16th century Italy. The second half analyzes Leonardo's work on a wide range of topics. The weak point of the story is that Leonardo never published any of his scientific work, and thus had no influence on the historical development of science. It is an interesting analysis to read how he approached things, though sometimes Capra's interpretations seem stretched. Regardless, the book is worthwhile for its view of the times and its insights into Leonardo's work and the nature of science.

Dorothy H Crawford, Deadly Companions - How microbes shaped our history. Oxford, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-280719-9. Microbes were here long before we were. We ignore most of them, and have good working relationships with some. However, a few cause disease, and diseases come and go. Each human disease that is caused by a "bug" once "came" -- often by jumping from some other animal host. In this short book, Crawford discusses some of these bad relationships we have with microbes. She starts with a very recent event: the rise and fall of SARS, where we know a lot about how the disease arose and spread. Our response to it was swift -- and rather successful. Of course, that swift response, based on good understanding, was quite different from our responses through the ages. (That is not to imply that we understand it completely, or that it is "solved".) She then tells stories of smallpox and plague -- and many more. She talks of how human activities affect our interaction with microbes. Dense populations and jet travel are just two human cultural aspects that affect the spread of microbes. Crawford's style is matter-of-fact. There is little emotion or hype -- just the stories as best she can. There is no simple answer. We just have to live with the microbes, and try to understand what they do. With luck, we keep them at bay. A sobering book. I have listed this book for BITN: Emerging diseases.

Crawford's book is noted in a Musings post as general background on the transmission of diseases to humans from other animals: Swine flu (May 2, 2009).

Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think. Houghton Mifflin, 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-61003-7. The stated audience for the book is patients; the goal is to help them not only to understand the doc, but also to guide them in asking questions to prod the doctor to think more broadly about a case -- to keep the doc honest. Groopman himself is an MD. He describes and discusses examples of how doctors simplify -- and over-simplify; he then analyzes the thought processes that can lead to incorrect diagnosis. A major problem is the temptation to make things black and white, and not consider all the issues, especially when some findings don't quite fit and initial treatments are not effective. Although the focus is medical, the thought issues are quite general. It is well written, and certainly appropriate for high school age. Recommenced -- for doctors, patients, and young scientists!

David A Hopwood, Streptomyces in Nature and Medicine -- The antibiotic makers. Oxford Univ Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-515066-7. Streptomyces is a genus of bacteria perhaps most famous for making antibiotics; it is also responsible for the odor of fresh dirt. Streptomyces is part of a larger group of bacteria, called the actinomycetes, broadly characterized by making branching filaments, rather like fungi do. The actinomycetes include important pathogens, such as the Mycobacterium species that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. David Hopwood, long at the John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK) pioneered the field of Streptomyces genetics. Hopwood is noted for his generous spirit; his emphasis has been on extending the knowledge, and he generously collaborated with all who wanted to build the Streptomyces story. This book weaves several stories. It includes the history of both Streptomyces and the broader actinomycetes; as part of that, it includes much about the history of antibiotics. It discusses the development of Streptomyces genetics, from the earliest steps, just finding that something happened, through to the modern work in which recombinant DNA technologies are used to make novel antibiotics. The book is largely in Hopwood's usual relaxed style, but ends up covering a huge amount of biology. The book is a must for anyone whose career crossed David Hopwood's, or who encountered Streptomyces. But anyone who has wondered about that distinctive odor of fresh dirt, or about where the next generation of antibiotics is going to come from, should give this book a try. It's a pleasant book, which tells much. It even tells much about microbiology and molecular biology methodology; Hopwood takes time to describe many of the methods in some detail -- and if you feel overwhelmed by some of this, just skip it. Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, and recommend it. It may be something of a niche book, but I think the appeal really should be much broader than the title might suggest.

More on antibiotics is on my page Biotechnology in the News (BITN) -- Other topics under Antibiotics. That includes an extensive list of posts in my Musings newsletter on the subject.

Reviel Netz & William Noel, The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist. Da Capo Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-306-81580-5. (Also published in the UK, with alternative subtitles, including "Revealing the Blueprint for Modern Science" and "Revealing The Secrets Of The World's Greatest Palimpsest".) In 1998 a copy of an ancient book resurfaced. The book was by Archimedes, from the 3rd century BC; it included some texts otherwise unknown to modern scholars. The book had been copied onto parchment in the 10th century. The pages of that copy were scraped and rewritten with a prayer book in the 13th century -- creating what is known as a palimpsest. It is that copy, called Codex C, which re-emerged. This book tells all those stories -- and how modern scholars are uncovering the underlying Archimedes text from the prayer book, and what it contains. The authors are a scholar of ancient Greek texts and a museum manuscript curator. Somewhat oddly, the book seems to consist of a collection of chapters each written by one of the authors. It works. The common single word used to describe this book is "fascinating". I agree. It is fascinating at multiple levels -- a delightful read. The web site contains information about the project, as well as the book: http://www.archimedespalimpsest.org/. Wikipedia has a good introduction to the project: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes_Palimpsest.

Claire Nouvian, The Deep - The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss. Univ Chicago Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-226-59566-5. The bulk of this book is photographs -- over 200 of them. They are photos of life in the deep oceans -- organisms substantially unknown to man until recent decades. Each chapter begins with a short essay by a scientist in the field, to introduce the realm of the next group of photos. The author is a film director, and her motivation is conservation. Regardless, this is a book of art! Some information about the book and its author, and some samples of the photography, are at: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/nouvian/index.html. Thanks to Borislav in Zagreb for recommending this book.

Nouvian's book is noted in Musings posts presenting deep sea creature:
* Quiz: What is it? (October 31, 2012). See the answer.
* What is it? (December 28, 2010).

Richard Preston, The Wild Trees - A Story of Passion and Daring. Random House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4000-6489-2. This is more an adventure book than a science book. However, the subject of the adventure is the mighty redwood tree. Many of us Californians have admired redwood trees from their base, accepting the stiff neck that comes with trying to figure out where the top is. Perhaps we have walked or even driven through one, or counted the steps it takes to walk from one side to the other of a redwood cross section on exhibit in the forestry building at UC Berkeley. But the story here is about the tops of the redwood trees: how one gets there, and what it is like up there. Indeed the story is told largely as an adventure, only partially as a scientific endeavor, an introduction to canopy science. A good adventure story, and a limited but useful introduction to what is "up there".

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. Knopf, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4000-4081-0. The formula is familiar. Neurologist Oliver Sacks tells about people who have experiences that are different -- in this case experiences about music, either as listener or performer. Some of the experiences are in people we would generally consider normal, and some are clearly experiences of pathology; the dividing line is not always clear. Sacks explains some of the experiences in terms of brain anatomy, but that is really secondary. The main reason for reading Sacks is to read about people -- and about music. As always, he is a superb story teller. Highest recommendation. Review, by Norman M. Weinberger, American Scientist 96:518, 11/08; online at http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/musical-maladies. Also see Sacks, Uncle Tungsten - Memories of a chemical boyhood.

Eric R Scerri, The Periodic Table. Oxford University Press, 2007. Scerri presents a rare view of the period during which the periodic law was under development. It is perhaps not so unusual for someone to be unequivocal as to whom credit rightly belongs (Mendeleev, not Lothar Meyer or a host of lesser knowns), but his account authoritatively covers the back-and-forth of the discussions and arguments. Of interest also is his discussion of the inadequacy of quantum mechanical accounting for periodicity, an explication of semiperiodicity, and a quick review of nucleosynthesis, subjects not familiar to many chemists. [From Bob Holloway, Chemistry, Schreiner Univ, Kerrville TX. 3/08.]

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2006

Susan Allport, The Queen of Fats - Why Omega-3s were removed from the western diet and what we can do to replace them. Univ Calif, 2006. ISBN 0-520-24282-3. Omega-3 (ω-3) fatty acids are much in the news, and this is their story. Allport describes the history of our understanding of various types of fatty acids and their roles in living systems. It is a complex and often confusing story, because of methodological problems and small -- but perhaps important -- effects. The author is a journalist, not a scientist, and her weak science background often shows. Overall, I enjoyed this short and readable book as history and have used it as a starting point to learn more about the ω-3 story; however, I would be cautious about simply accepting her scientific case.

Michael Bellomo, The Stem Cell Divide: The facts, the fiction, and the fear driving the greatest scientific, political, and religious debate of our time. Amacom, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8144-0881-0. A short overview of the stem cell issues. The emphasis is on the broad picture, both in terms of the biology and the social perspective. The book is new enough to deal with the California Stem Cell Initiative and the fall of Hwang. This may be a good place to start for some people looking to get a sense of the stem cell landscape. Also see Scott, 2006 for more, especially on the biology. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Cloning and stem cells.

Lisa Seachrist Chiu, When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish ... and Other Tales about the Genes in Your Body. Oxford, 2006. ISBN 0-19-516994-8. This book contains a series of about 30 vignettes, each discussing a human gene. Each story starts with some discussion of the effect of the gene, but then goes on to discuss how the gene works. Each can be read independently, but the book is organized more or less by complexity. The book is for the lay reader, and includes a nice appendix on the basics of genetics. The writing style is quite breezy -- perhaps even a bit silly at times. Overall, enjoyable light reading -- and if you finish, you will have learned quite a bit about both simple and complex issues of how our genes affect us.

This book is somewhat similar in scope to Leroi, Mutants - On Genetic Variety and the Human Body, 2003. Chiu is probably the lighter reading, but both are intended for the general audience. They do discuss fairly distinct sets of genes. If you enjoy one, I suggest you try the other.

Camille Minichino, The oxygen murder, 2006. A recent book in the series of Periodic Table Mysteries. Minichino is a San Francisco area physicist (Lawrence Livermore National Lab) -- who also writes mystery novels. Her book The hydrogen murder was published in 1997, followed by The helium murder in 1998. And we might now expect ??? Some of these are set in the San Francisco area. See her web site, http://www.minichino.com, for more information. (Recommendation? No, I haven't seen them. But I thought it was a fun story worth passing on. A teacher on the Chemed-L list said that she enjoyed the books, and shared them with her classes.) This series is also listed on my page of Internet resources: Introductory Chemistry.

Christopher Thomas Scott, Stem Cell Now - From the Experiment That Shook the World to the New Politics of Life. Pi Press, 2006. ISBN 0-13-173798-8. A stem cell primer, for the general audience. It starts with basic biology, and describes the types of stem cells. It then describes some of the types of work being done with stem cells, and finally the moral and political debate. Scott is obviously an advocate of stem cell work, but strives for balanced presentation of controversies. The best part of the book, for many, will be the basic biology in the first chapters. Also see Bellomo, 2006; this may be a less technical introduction to stem cells. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Cloning and stem cells.

Ian Wilmut & Roger Highfield, After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning. Norton, 2006. ISBN 0-393-06066-7. Ian Wilmut was the head of the team that cloned Dolly the sheep. Here Wilmut teams with a science journalist to tell two interwoven stories. One is the story of how Dolly came to be, and the other is Wilmut's views of the social issues he has encountered -- and those that are in front of us, especially with regard to human cloning. The story of Dolly is superb -- told by a person who was at the center of it. Wilmut includes the historical background on which the Dolly work built. I found Wilmut's discussion of the social issues somewhat less interesting. He raises good questions, but tends to provide the simple pat answers one might expect from a scientist who is pioneering in the field. That's fine, but it does not add much. Certainly one should not go away simply accepting Wilmut's answers -- or those of any single individual. Perhaps his views will stimulate serious thought on the matter by some. Fortunately (for me), the bulk of the book was on the Dolly story and its background. The level is suitable for general reading. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Cloning and stem cells.

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2005

D P Clark & L D Russell, Molecular Biology made simple and fun. Cache River Press, 3/e, 2005. ISBN 1-889899-07-0. See entry for second edition, below.

Cathy Cobb & Monty L Fetterolf, The Joy of Chemistry - The Amazing Science of Familiar Things. Prometheus, 2005. ISBN 1-59102-231-2. This is intended for general reading by non-scientists. The basic approach is to present a simple demonstration, using common household materials; the reader can do the demo, or just read the quite thorough description. The demo then serves as a starting point for discussing some aspect of chemistry. Over the course of the 23 demos and subsequent discussions, much of a basic intro chem course is presented. So far, so good. What bothers me is the substantial number of basic factual errors (such as saying that C-14 decays to C-12). The book clearly suffers from lack of careful reviewing (as well as from a bizarre system of chapter numbering). Arguably, most of the errors won't bother the general reader much, and the "big ideas" are generally ok. If a student reads this book before taking chem, it might stimulate interest, but it might also cause confusion. Overall, I cautiously recommend the book for armchair reading. It is a good idea, but I hope the publishers will take more care with the next edition.

Thomas Eisner, Maria Eisner & Melody Siegler, Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. Belknap (Harvard University Press), 2005. ISBN 0-674-01882-6. I haven't read this one yet, but based on the related Eisner book (2003) and the review below, it is undoubtedly worth listing. Review, by May Berenbaum, Science 311:178, 1/13/06: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/311/5758/178.summary.

Peter Forbes, The Gecko's Foot - Bio-inspiration: Engineering new materials from nature. Norton, 2005. (Title of UK edition: The Gecko's Foot - Bio-inspiration: Engineered from nature). ISBN 978-0-393-06223-6. The lotus leaf is easily rinsed clean; the gecko can climb a glass wall. Why? And, can we make use of the principles that Nature has used to achieve these remarkable accomplishments? Those are just two of the topics in this delightful book -- one of which is reflected in its title. The theme is bio-inspiration (sometimes called biomimetics), in which we look to Nature for an idea about how to do something. The hook-and-loop fastener, popularly known by the tradename Velcro, is an example of old, but the field has now taken on an identity that reflects a more focused effort to discover and exploit what Nature has already learned. Forbes emphasizes work at the "nano" level, where recent advances in instrumentation, such as the scanning electron microscope (SEM), helped us unlock Nature's secrets. Commercial importance? Well, products based on the self-cleaning lotus leaf and the sticky gecko foot are on the market. They are not yet big successes; perhaps that will take time, or perhaps there is less here of commercial importance than we would like to believe. In any case, the book is delightful biology, delightfully presented. It is suited for the scientific novice, but even biologists are likely to find it rewarding. This book served as the stimulus to start a new section for Biotechnology in the News (BITN) on Bio-inspiration (biomimetics). It is also listed as further reading for Intro Chem Ch 15, re intermolecular forces, and for Organic/Biochem Ch 15, re spider silk.

Larry Gonick & Craig Criddle, The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry. Harper, 2005. ISBN 0-06-093677-0. Another book of Gonick cartoons. As before, he teams with a specialist in the field at hand to write a book that is both fun and educationally sound. Suitable for those with or without a chem background. Review, by Jake Yeston, Science 308:795, 5/6/05: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/308/5723/795.1.summary. Also see Gonick's Genetics book.

Robert M Hazen, Genesis: The scientific quest for life's origin. Joseph Henry (National Academies Press), 2005. ISBN 0-309-09432-1. The book can be purchased online, pdf file or print: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/10753/genesis-the-scientific-quest-for-lifes-origin; the page also has more information about the book. A superb book. The story of how life first arose must inevitably be a chemistry story -- perhaps a geochemistry story. Here, geologist Bob Hazen discusses a wide range of ideas on how life began. At the outset he gives the bottom line: we don't know. But there are many ideas, and some data. In fact, this is a fairly new but quite active field of scientific research, with serious work starting only in the second half of the twentieth century. Hazen discusses the ideas, presents what is known and what is not known for each. There is considerable emphasis on the role of surface chemistry -- reactions occurring on mineral surfaces; this important perspective reflects his background as a mineralogist, and is an area that biologists tend to overlook. (The "RNA world" is a great idea, but the key steps must be before that.) The book is calm, with no particular agenda -- other than to inform us of the current status of the field. And yet it is a compelling read. For one thing, his conclusions are correct: the answer is not known. His well-written calm presentation of contentious work is a welcome respite from the hype that often accompanies origin-of-life discussions. Further, Hazen conveys a sense of the field as a whole as well as the individual topics. The book is suitable for interested readers with little technical background, as well as for young science students. Also see Crick, Life Itself, 1981 for an earlier view. The contrast between these two books is a testament to the active pace of work in this field. For another book by the same author: Hazen, The Story of Earth -- The first 4.5 billion years, from stardust to living planet, 2012.

Marc W Kirschner & John C Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma. Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-300-10865-6; paper: ISBN: 0300-11977-1 (978-0300-11977-0). The theme of this book is a new way to look at evolutionary developments. We broadly think of evolution requiring a source of variation, followed by natural selection. Most commonly we emphasize the role of random genetic mutations as the source of variation. Kirschner & Gerhart suggest that one key source of variation is the flexibility of the organism, due to variations in regulation. This phenotypic variation may allow an organism to explore a new evolutionary space, and the result may then be stabilized by subsequent mutations. The idea builds on recent understanding of the key role of regulatory genes, such as the Hox family, and of body compartmentation. I found the book enjoyable as they reviewed the background material leading to their idea, and argued the plausibility of their idea. They make a good case that such phenotypic variation should be relevant to evolution; they do not suggest it is the entire story. Time will tell how important their idea is; for now, the important point is that it should stimulate discussion. The book is described as being both for biologists and the general reader; however, I think one needs a good general appreciation of biology to work through it. Review, by Brian Charlesworth, Science 310:1619, 12/9/05: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/310/5754/1619.summary. The book builds on some ideas in a "perspective" article by the same authors: M Kirschner & J Gerhart, Evolvability. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95:8420-7, 7/98. This article is free online: http://www.pnas.org/content/95/15/8420.abstract. (Author Gerhart was one of my professors in grad school, and indeed that was relevant in me choosing to read this book. I was also struck by seeing multiple reviews all suggesting the book was controversial.)

Nick Lane, Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life. Oxford, 2005. ISBN 0-19-280481-2; paper: 0199-20564-7 (978-0199-20564-6). Strange book, but worth reading for those interested in the evolution of mitochondria. Lane (who seems to be a scientist turned science writer) discusses several aspects of mitochondria, including their origin, their relationship to the nucleus, their role in the origin of sex, and their roles in apoptosis, disease and aging. He is a good story teller, yet the level of science is inconsistent. Lane intended the book for the general audience, but I think a reader without some general knowledge of mitochondria would find the book quite difficult. Lane sometimes discusses the development of ideas, with arguments for and against alternatives. But at other times he does not, and at times he seems to be pushing his own agenda, without it being clear that he is basically speculating. So the story can be fascinating, with some fascinating new ideas worth thinking about, but there is a real danger of coming away with an unclear picture of what is really known. The title of the book begs the question: is the book itself written better than the title? Regrettably, no. Lane seems to have an obsession with clever phrases. Many are silly hype that demean the scientific content of the book, and some are mysterious. However, overall, this book tells a good and provocative story -- actually a number of them. For one interested in the topic, this outweighs the stylistic problems. Review, by David G Nicholls, Science 311:1869, 3/31/06: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/311/5769/1869.1.summary. Review in Nature: J F Allen, Nature 437:1235, 10/27/05. I think it is a fair brief summary that the reviewers recommend the book, while cautioning against some of its excesses.

P A Offit, The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis. Yale Univ Press, 2005. ISBN 0-300-10864-8. I was a youngster at the time of the first polio vaccine -- and of the Cutter incident -- and remember at least some of the atmosphere of that time. However, I certainly did not have any appreciation of how early we all were in the story of developing safe vaccines, with good government oversight. Offit tells the story of the background of the Salk polio vaccine, the details of how it was made and tested, and the aftermath -- including the lawsuits. The lawsuits are an important part of the story, because they affected the legal issue of manufacturer liability -- even when the company was not necessarily "at fault". As Offit discusses in the latter part of the book, this effect has had a major impact on the vaccine industry, quite possibly to the detriment of human health. The book should be of interest to scientist and non-scientist alike. There is enough science in it to keep the biologist in, but the big stories are general, and quite accessible to the lay reader. It is also important because of the implications for current discussions of vaccine (or drug) safety. The book is short (a bit under 200 pages), but seems rather thorough in covering so much ground. Occasionally, Offit intrudes with his own opinions, but for the most part, the book just presents the story. As a little bonus for those in my area, this is in part a "local" story: Cutter was a Berkeley company, and the lawyer who brought the case against Cutter was San Francisco's colorful Melvin Belli. Review, by Olen Kew, Science 310:975, 11/11/05: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/310/5750/975.summary. For a more recent Offit book, see Offit, Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure.

I note this book of Offit's in a Musings post presenting some new developments about polio vaccines: Polio: progress toward eradication (November 5, 2010). I also note it for BITN: Polio.

Linda Stone & Paul F Lurquin, A Genetic and Cultural Odyssey - The Life and Work of L Luca Cavalli-Sforza. Columbia Univ Press, 2005. ISBN 0-231-13396-0. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (Luca Cavalli -- the book discusses the variations of his name at length!) is a geneticist, whose work has ranged from bacteria to humans. He is one of the founders of bacterial genetics; he discovered HfrC in E. coli, the first Hfr strain, which is named after him. Most of his career has been with human genetics, trying to understand the origins and genetic diversity of modern humans. Cavalli -- still active at Stanford -- is an interesting person, and he has done interesting and important work in a variety of areas. This short and readable book is a good introduction to both the person and the work.

John Timbrell, The Poison Paradox - Chemicals as friends and foes. Oxford, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-280495-2. The general theme of this book is that chemicals may be good or bad depending on the dose -- as famously enunciated by Paracelsus in the 16th century. The book is a reaction to the hype sometimes encountered when a chemical is shown to have a bad effect. Much of the book is a discussion of the effects -- good and bad -- of specific chemicals, both natural and synthetic. Some of the book discusses the general issues of how to evaluate chemicals -- and the issues of public perception. The author is a journalist, who is clearly struggling with understanding the scientific details. Overall, the book probably does a good job of laying out the big issues, though one certainly need not agree with all of the author's conclusions. And the stories of the individual chemicals are often fun reading.

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2004

John C Avise, The Hope, Hype, and Reality of Genetic Engineering: Remarkable stories from agriculture, industry, medicine, and the environment. Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-516950-6. Avise's approach here makes this a wonderful introduction to the issues involved in judging the merits of genetic engineering projects. Rather than discussing "genetic engineering" as a generality, he discusses specific projects -- a few dozen of them. The scope includes modification of microbes, plants, and animals -- with a final chapter on humans. For each project, he briefly outlines the purpose (the proposed benefit), the experience so far, and the problems, both perceived and encountered. Then, for each project, he suggests an evaluation somewhere along a scale from boondoggle to boon (which he displays pictorially on a little "boonmeter" at the end of each essay). By looking at each project separately, with its own pros and cons, one begins to get a good sense of things that are good ideas and things that are not -- and perhaps even of some general themes that come up repeatedly.

J Buckingham, Chasing the Molecule. Sutton, 2004. ISBN 0-7509-3345-3. A book of chemistry history -- from the "atom" of Dalton to an understanding of how atoms come together into molecules. The task of sorting out molecules includes understanding atomic weights -- the two issues are intertwined. Organic chemistry is born, and indeed it is the special properties of carbon atoms that provide much of the insight. The mysterious vital force -- something unique about the chemistry of organisms -- is put to rest, though not without difficulty. Those with an interest in this early chemistry history should enjoy the stories. I must say that I found the book rather disorganized, so it is hard to come away with any coherent picture of what happened; it ends up being mostly a collection of stories. Too much time is spent dealing with the personal lives of the players, and with their concerns about establishing priorities. This would be a more successful and interesting book if it simply told the big story. Nevertheless, many will find it an enjoyable book.

Elof Axel Carlson, Mendel's Legacy - The Origin of Classical Genetics. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2004. ISBN 0-87969-675-3. An interesting book of history. It deals largely with the story of genetics from about 1900-1950, roughly from the rediscovery of Mendel to the time of Watson & Crick's DNA structure, which perhaps symbolizes the beginning of the era of molecular biology. The author's career as a geneticist immediately followed this period, and he knew many of the players of classical genetics; this is almost an insider's tale. Carlson traces the development of many key ideas, and offers useful glimpses of the personalities. Each chapter concludes with a reference list that would be a gold mine for those wishing to delve further into the history. The book is probably best suited for those who already have some sense of the field, but it is indeed a good read for those who would like an enhanced historical perspective of a major era in modern biology. Also see Berg's book, below; the two books complement each other very well.

Nina V Fedoroff & Nancy Marie Brown, Mendel in the Kitchen - A scientist's view of genetically modified foods. Joseph Henry (National Academies Press), 2004. The book can be purchased online, pdf file or print: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11000/mendel-in-the-kitchen-a-scientists-view-of-genetically-modified; the page also has more information about the book. Fedoroff is a scientist who has worked on GM (biotechnology) foods, so brings some authority and knowledge -- and of course bias -- to the table. One strength of the book is the extensive discussion of conventional plant breeding, including its risks. This is interesting history, and also serves to put modern GM technologies in proper historical perspective. Another strength is that Fedoroff takes the time to analyze several particular cases in some detail, including good analyses of arguments made against specific developments. (Occasionally, I think she spends too much time on some topics -- a minor problem.) A must read if you want to understand the development of GM plants. In controversial areas, no one book can be trusted to provide a complete view, but this one should be one important part of understanding the GM story. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Agricultural biotechnology (GM foods) and Gene therapy.

David Goodstein, Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, 2004. Author Goodstein, Provost [and physicist] at Cal Tech, writes a wonderfully readable book projecting the energy future. Sort of an undergraduate text. [Submitted by Bob Holloway, Chemistry, Schreiner Univ, Kerrville TX. 3/05.]

Jeff Hawkins (with Sandra Blakeslee), On Intelligence. Times Books, 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7456-2. From the cover: "How a new understanding of the brain will lead to the creation of truly intelligent machines." Hawkins is a computer scientist, the inventor of the Palm Pilot. He also has a long-standing interest in the brain -- and in intelligent machines. Here he presents his ideas on how the brain works -- along with some predictions to test his novel ideas. The book, written in collaboration with a science journalist, is intended for a general audience. It is written with the zeal of an evangelist -- frankly, somewhat annoying at times. However, the book should be judged by how the ideas stimulate further discussion and work in the still murky field of understanding the biological basis of intelligence. (Hawkins started the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, on the San Francisco peninsula, to promote such work.) For more about the book, see its web site: http://www.OnIntelligence.com. Sandra Blakeslee is also listed on this page as a co-author of Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee, The body has a mind of its own -- How body maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better; 2007.

Edward J Larson, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory, 2004. One of the best of many books on the subject. [Submitted by Bob Holloway, Chemistry, Schreiner Univ, Kerrville TX. 3/05.]

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2/e, Scribner, 2004. ISBN 0-684-80001-2. A new edition of a book that has become a classic. If you are curious about the scientific issues behind food and cooking, check this book. Its 800 pages make it a major project to read straight through, but a fine index allows you to look things up as they arise. You will probably find yourself exploring nearby topics -- and then who knows what. A great book for browsing! Review, by Joe Schwarcz, Science 307:1048, 2/18/05: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/307/5712/1048.summary.

E C Minkoff & P J Baker, Biology Today - An Issues Approach. Garland, 3/e, 2004. ISBN 978-0815341574. See entry for second edition, below.

Paul Roberts, The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World, 2004. Somewhat hysterical, but full of good information. [Submitted by Bob Holloway, Chemistry, Schreiner Univ, Kerrville TX. 3/05.]

John R Searle, Mind - A Brief Introduction. Oxford, 2004. ISBN 0-19-515733-8. This is a philosophy book, not really a science book. But the philosophical topic of the mind is close to the neurobiological topic of the brain. Searle discusses diverse views of the mind, over many centuries, and tries to develop some modern views consistent with the emerging neurobiology. The writing style is lively, and the book is intended for the general audience. I found it quite engaging. Searle is a professor here at Berkeley, so the book is also of local interest.

This book is noted in a Musings post: The animal mind (July 23, 2009).

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2003

Paul Berg & Maxine Singer, George Beadle - An uncommon farmer; subtitled "The emergence of genetics in the 20th century". Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2003. ISBN 0-87969-688-5. George Beadle received the Nobel Prize for enunciating the principle of one gene-one protein. His career bridged the eras of classical and molecular genetics. This book, by two eminent molecular biologists, captures not only the essence of the science, but the flavor of that era of science. After the bulk of his career as an active scientist, Beadle became an administrator (Chairman of Biology at Caltech, then President of the University of Chicago), so he dealt with issues of the development of science post WWII -- and with the issues of the McCarthy era. The book is not too technical, and should largely be accessible to those interested in the era, but less concerned with scientific details. Yet it should also appeal to those who know the science well, because of its insights into the man and the times. Review, by James F Crow, Science 302:394, 10/17/03: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/302/5644/394.summary. Also see Carlson's book, above; the two books complement each other very well.

J Michael Bishop, How to win the Nobel prize -- An unexpected life in science. Harvard Univ Press, 2003. ISBN 0-674-00880-4. Bishop is a local story -- long time scientist at UC San Francisco, later Chancellor there. Bishop's work on cellular genes that become cancer genes earned the Nobel Prize for him and his UCSF colleague Harold Varmus. (And a few days after the Nobel announcement he was at Candlestick Park for the World Series game that did not happen.) The book is based on a series of lectures, and has the informal breezy style of talks for a general audience. It is more generally about the nature of science, and about baseball, music and the human Michael Bishop, than about cancer in particular. One chapter does indeed give a good, not-too-technical introduction to the nature of cancer -- and his own contributions. The final chapter is about the future of science, and its role in society. All-in-all, a fairly light but interesting read. Review, by Sydney Brenner, Science 301:1483, 9/12/03: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/301/5639/1483.1.summary. I have listed this book for BITN: Cancer.

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything. Broadway, 2003. ISBN 0-7679-0817-1. Bryson set himself an impossible task here; it is not a surprise that he does not entirely succeed. What is remarkable is that he succeeds as much as he does. Bryson, a non-scientist, set himself the task of learning about nature; here he tries to convey what he learned. He tries not only to discuss what we understand about nature, but to give some sense of how we learned it -- some sense of the context and controversy of the discoveries. The scope is indeed "nearly everything" -- from cosmology to biology, and everything in between. Bryson writes well, and generally explains well. He does not get it all right -- partly because of inevitable simplifications, but also partly because at times I think he does not understand it yet. But he shares his voyage of discovery with us -- with enthusiasm and sincerity. That is what matters most. This is a book to get you excited about a wide range of science; it is not the final word. It is a good read for young students; the length may be intimidating, but the secret is to just read a bit at a time. Those with a scientific background may find his broad synthesis intriguing and enjoyable. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Nina Burleigh, The Stranger and the Statesman - James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum: The Smithsonian. HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 0-06-000241-7. I think I enjoyed this book -- but I am not quite sure why. I'm not even quite sure what it is about, and even making your way through the entire extended subtitle only hints at the content. It is probably common knowledge among Americans that our great Smithsonian Institution was founded based on the proceeds left to the US in the will of an obscure Englishman. And I think the big problem with this book is that one approaches it expecting to learn much more about Smithson. Apparently, little is known about him. So the author spends much time on the general tone of the times -- and much is frankly irrelevant. Fortunately, Burleigh is a good writer, so the book is always enjoyable to read, even if the content is not as expected. Now, we do learn a few interesting things about Smithson, who indeed was something of a scientist himself. The more interesting part of the book, perhaps, is the discussion of what happened on this side. Political intrigue and mean-spirited partisan debate -- and Congressional indifference to science -- are not new!

T Eisner, For Love of Insects. Harvard Univ Press, 2003. ISBN 0-674-01181-3. Eisner is a chemical ecologist who studies insects -- in the loose sense of the word, including other CCT (creepy, crawly things) such as spiders and millipedes. So this is a book about the roles of chemical signals in the lives of insects -- as defensive agents and as attractants, say for mating. Eisner is a good story teller -- and scientist. He talks of the behavior of the insects, and how chemical aspects of the behavior were elucidated. He describes generally the scientific processes, from original observations through structural studies and experimental tests, but one rarely gets bogged down in detail; the insects are the central players at all times. Each of the ten fairly long chapters has a theme, of a type of signal, but each chapter consists of a series of short vignettes which can be read more or less independently. Generously illustrated, both with photos and drawings. If you are fascinated by insects, you'll love this book. If you feel otherwise about the little bugs, give Eisner a try; I wouldn't be surprised if he converts you. Review, by Ian T Baldwin, Science 303:958, 2/13/04: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/303/5660/958.summary. Review, by Scott Hoffman Black, BioScience 56:623, 7/06: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1641/0006-3568(2006)56%5B623:EFE%5D2.0.CO;2. Also see Eisner's 2005 book.

A post in my Musings newsletter on chemical ecology: The advantage of washing with formic acid (August 8, 2014).

Howard Gest, Microbes - An invisible universe. ASM Press, 2003. ISBN 1-55581-264-3. This nice little book was originally written for a college course to introduce microbiology to nonscientists. It succeeds; I recommend it highly. It has a reasonable dose of history, but most importantly describes the range of microbes and their many roles. It is certainly not a "DNA book"; it provides an important perspective on microbes as organisms. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News.

Janes Gleick, Isaac Newton. 2003. A fascinating story of Newton's life, including not only his contributions to science and his place within the scientific world of his time, but also the other major aspects to his life -- such as, perhaps surprisingly, his work on alchemy. It is certainly worth reading, but it's worth considering that the book is rather pro-Newton -- other biographies (such as those of Robert Hooke) portray him in a less positive light. This book is written for the general audience and can be understood and enjoyed without knowledge of Newtonian physics or calculus. Review, by Patricia Fara, Science 301:920, 8/15/03: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/301/5635/920.1.summary. [Submitted by Greg Pearce, Dept of Physics, Univ Bath, UK. 3/05.]

Lenny Guarente, Ageless Quest - One scientist's search for genes that prolong youth. Cold Spring Harbor Lab Press, 2003. ISBN 0-87969-652-4. Guarente is a biologist at MIT. In this short book, he talks about finding a gene that extends the life of simple yeast -- and of worms. The question, then, is whether it is relevant to aging in higher organisms, including humans. He discusses evidence that it may be, though conclusive evidence is not yet available. This story is a good testimonial to the importance of basic research -- how studying simple model systems leads to insights that guide work in more complex systems. It is also a good story of how scientists develop and pursue leads -- some of which work out and some of which do not; that is how science works. It is an optimistic book -- perhaps too optimistic, since the gap between what has been shown and what is needed is still quite large. Enjoy the story, and Guarante's enthusiasm. But be careful to distinguish what turns out to work from the exciting discussions of what might be. Review, by Daniel Promislow, Science 299:1319, 2/28/03: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/299/5611/1319.summary. I have listed this book for BITN: Aging.

A relevant post in my Musings newsletter... A drug that delays neurodegeneration? (June 14, 2013).

Stephen S Hall, Merchants of Immortality - Chasing the dream of human life extension. Houghton Mifflin, 2003. ISBN 0-618-09524-1. This is a book by a journalist, not a scientist. It tells the story -- or is it stories? -- of developments in the related fields of aging (especially the hype about telomerase), cloning and stem cells. Much of it focuses on Michael West and a couple of his companies -- including the Bay Area company Geron, a pioneer in aging work. The book has little scientific depth, but the science is rather good so far as it goes. The subject matter of the book has been major grist for news over recent years, and the social issues remain unresolved. In fact, the scientific issues largely remain unresolved. Hall takes the story into 2001 and even 2002. I think this book can be a good introduction to cloning and stem cells, with a little science and a good sense of the public debate. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Cloning and stem cells and for BITN: Aging.

J Hamilton, Faraday: The Life. 2003. An interesting account of the life of Michael Faraday, including his scientific discoveries (and the controversies surrounding them) but also much background on his life prior to the work that brought him fame. The book describes particularly well Faraday's place within the scientific world of the nineteenth century, but I found the descriptions of Faraday's experiments somewhat hard to follow. While the point that he was highly organised, logical and meticulous is made very clearly, there was not a correspondingly clear and logical explanation of how his discoveries were motivated and linked together. Nevertheless, the book paints a vivid picture of the scientific scene in London in the early nineteenth century, and gives a good overall description of Faraday's personality and qualities as a scientist. [Submitted by Greg Pearce, Dept of Physics, Univ Bath, UK. 3/05.]

Andrew H Knoll, Life on a Young Planet -- The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. Princeton University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0691120294 (paperback). Knoll brings biology and geology together to discuss aspects of early life on earth. He emphasizes major transitions, such as the rise of oxygen-evolving photosynthesis, eukaryotic cells, and the explosion of animal forms. Knoll is a practicing paleontologist, a player in some of the work. He conveys the excitement of discovery and of trying to sort out competing hypotheses. At times, there is more detail than I wanted, but that is a minor problem. The final chapter includes an analysis of the famous Martian meteorite that was claimed, in 1996, to show evidence of Martian life. The story of life's history is complex, and still only partially understood. No one book can deal with it all; this book is one good contribution.

Penny Le Couteur & Jay Burreson, Napoleon's Buttons - How 17 molecules changed history. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003. ISBN 1-58542-220-7. A delightful book -- an interesting combination of history and chemistry. Each of the 17 chapters focuses on a particular chemical or group of related chemicals. Those topics include spices, sugars and related compounds, phenols, a range of drugs -- and more. It presents a brief story of the importance of the chemical(s) in human society, often pointing to major historical events it might have affected. And then it discusses the chemistry, with some emphasis on how very similar chemicals may behave quite differently. The title of the book derives from the story that Napoleon's army may have suffered when the tin buttons of their uniforms changed to a non-metallic powdery form in the cold. (Oddly, this story is then mentioned only briefly -- in the introduction.) There is some continuity of story through the book, but the chapters are substantially independent; it is fine to jump around, reading about individual topics that catch your eye. The book requires little or no chemical background. However, chemists -- and chem students -- will find the juxtaposition of chem and history to be informative. This book is somewhat similar in approach to Kurlansky, Salt - A World History. Kurlansky focuses on a single chemical, whereas Le Couteur & Burreson briefly survey many chemicals and types of chemicals. Kurlansky has a much higher ratio of history to chemistry.

Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants - On Genetic Variety and the Human Body. Viking, 2003. The broad topic of this book is human development - and how it is determined genetically. Each chapter starts with some unusual (but "natural") human, and then discusses the genetic basis of the unusual feature. Since the unusual features have often been long recognized (many involve visible deformities), but the understanding is recent, there is also a historical bent to the book, showing how our understanding has developed. The author is a developmental biologist, but the book is intended for the general audience. The chapters are substantially independent, so one can skip around if it gets a bit slow. Overall, a fascinating look at how we become what we are. Review, by Monique Martineau, Science 303:1774, 3/19/04: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/303/5665/1774.1.summary.

This book is somewhat similar in scope to Chiu, When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish ... and Other Tales about the Genes in Your Body, 2006. Chiu is probably the lighter reading, but both are intended for the general audience. They do discuss fairly distinct sets of genes. If you enjoy one, I suggest you try the other.

For another book by the same author, see Leroi, The Lagoon -- How Aristotle Invented Science, 2014.

L Mlodinow, Feynman's Rainbow - A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life. Warner, 2003. ISBN 0-446-53045-X (paperback also available). A young physicist is unsure how to approach his future. Fortunately, his new job is down the hall from two of the giants of his field, Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. Here, Mlodinow tells of his interactions with these two very different scientists, especially the former. Over time, he discovers what is really important -- to him -- in life. Mlodinow's doubts are undoubtedly common among young scientists, and I think many would benefit from reading this book -- whether they agree with the author's conclusions or not. The book is about physicists, and yes, there is a little physics in the book. Worry not; that certainly is not a barrier to any young scientist reading this delightful and insightful little book (less than 200 pages). Laymen seeking a glimpse of what makes a scientist tick may also find the book of interest. (Recommended to me by a chem student.)

Another of Mlodinow's books was a finalist for the 2009 Royal Society prize for science books. See the Musings post Royal Society suggests science books (July 27, 2009).

Marion Nestle, Safe Food - Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism. Univ Calif, 2003. ISBN 0-520-23292-5. This is a fine book about an important topic. The broad theme is food safety, and Nestle's key point is to show the complex issues involved. These extend from whatever scientific facts are known, to the social and political systems that deal with these facts -- plus all the myths and biases that are around. The book has two major sections, one dealing with foodborne illnesses and one with biotechnology. (The book was written in the shadow of "9-11", and has a brief discussion of bioterrorism in the final chapter.) Throughout, Nestle looks at the facts, at how things are changing (from the archaic laws of yesteryear to the emerging global market for food products, as well as biotech), and at how decisions on food safety are made. The book is well organized, with extensive cross referencing, and extremely well written. Nestle writes not only with clarity, but with some sense of humor, able to poke a little fun at all parties. ["Under the current system, a sandwich made with bread, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato raises regulatory issues of terrifying complexity." (p 57) And she forgot the mayo!] Nestle states that her goal is to present a balanced picture, but also to not shy away from presenting her own views. She holds to that well. Indeed, I found myself disagreeing with her at times, but then realizing that I was disagreeing on some of her preferred answers. The presentation of the issues and how we as a society should better approach them is excellent; if we were better able to follow her general recommendations the more specific answers would work out reasonably. I suppose there are grounds for pessimism that this will happen; the polarized nature of public debate on controversial issues is not restricted to food safety! Overall, highest recommendation. [In the interest of full disclosure, author Nestle was a colleague of mine in graduate school. Further, I spent nearly two decades working in the biotech industry, and perhaps even played a bit part in the development of "GM" plants. I should also add that Nestle has appeared on the local program Forum (KQED-FM) on numerous occasions.]

I note this book of Nestle's in some Musings posts presenting issues in food safety:
* Killer eggs: The American egg problem (September 8, 2010).
* A vaccine to make food safe (December 15, 2009).

J Prebble & B Weber, Wandering in the Gardens of the Mind - Peter Mitchell and the making of Glynn. Oxford, 2003. ISBN 0-19-514266-7. Peter Mitchell is the biochemist who developed the chemiosmotic model, which proposed that the energy from the mitochondrial electron transport chain is used to form a proton gradient, which then drives ATP formation. He received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. Mitchell is also known as a maverick scientist, who found academia too constraining -- and therefore organized his own research institute. This book has three themes: a biography of Mitchell, the development of the chemiosmotic model, and the story of Glynn, a small private research institute. It succeeds admirably in its portrait of Mitchell. There are many scientific styles and personalities; the book reveals much about Mitchell the scientist, for better and worse. One of the intriguing points of the story is Mitchell's reliance on theory over data. The old quip, "If the data doesn't fit the theory, throw out the data" is so appropriate here -- for a good reason: the field of energy transduction in oxidative phosphorylation was an experimental nightmare, with much contradictory data. Those generally familiar with the chemiosmotic model should find the historical development interesting. Those not familiar with it may or may not figure it out from this book, but that does not really detract from the book's value in presenting the Mitchell and Glynn stories. As to the Glynn story, it is an unusual one in modern science, not likely to be repeated. Perhaps it should be! The book at least documents the Glynn story. Alone, that probably is not of great interest to most. The main value of this book is for learning about a remarkable and complex scientist, and the ups and downs of a revolutionary idea in biochemistry. It should be essential reading for those interested in the chemiosmosis story; beyond that, it is accessible and useful to a wide range of scientists, though the non-biologists may browse some of the more technical parts and simply appreciate a fascinating story of how science works.

Mark Ratner & Daniel Ratner, Nanotechnology - A gentle introduction to the next big idea. Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN 0-13-101400-5. An overview of an emerging field. It is intended to give the layman a feel for the field, both for its underlying ideas and what it may achieve. The authors have expertise in the scientific, engineering, and business aspects of the field, and they try to distill the highlights. Superficial, but a useful introduction. It is a quick read -- intended to be read on a flight across the country, they say.

J D Watson (with A Berry), DNA - The Secret of Life. Knopf, 2003. Watson has played a major role in the DNA story, most famously as co-discoverer of the DNA double helical structure and as the first head of the US Human Genome Project. Here he discusses the history and future of the human genome project. He is a fine writer -- clear, and provocative enough to be fun. This book is for the general public. The science in it is good, and well-explained, with helpful artwork. The history is broadly good. And it is Watson's style to tell you what he thinks about controversial issues; agree or disagree, he makes for lively reading. For two -- very different -- reviews: Lindee, Science 300:432, 4/18/03; Singer, Nature 422:809, 4/24/03. Lindee concludes that "[Watson's] latest promotional brochure is not worth anyone's time." Singer says that the public and even scientists "can learn a great deal from the book, and enjoy doing so." I recommend it -- without endorsing all of his opinions. (The Science review: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/300/5618/432.summary.) I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: DNA and the genome.

P Yam, The Pathological Protein: Mad cow, chronic wasting, and other deadly prion diseases. Copernicus, 2003. ISBN 0-387-95508-9. An excellent overview of the prion story, for the general audience, from a science journalist. This book presents the range of prion diseases, in animals and humans, and the relationships between them. It develops our current understanding of what prions are and how they work, with a good consideration of uncertainties in the story. A good place to start, if you want to know what prions are about; probably a good overview for many scientists, as it brings together a lot of information into one fairly short and very readable book. I have listed this book for BITN: Prions.

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2002

Mark Kurlansky, Salt - A World History. Walker, 2002. ISBN 0-8027-1373-4. Salt. Sodium chloride. A staple of the chem lab. But this book is not about salt as a chemical; rather, it is about salt in our culture. Salt has long been valued for its ability to preserve food; now, its major use (in the US) is in deicing roads. Salt was so valuable that people were paid in salt; the word "salary" reflects that connection. Kurlansky discusses the history of salt -- the history of the world, with an emphasis on the role of salt. You will learn how salt is made, how it is used (recipes abound -- many you will not want to try), and how salt has played a role in world affairs. Light reading; quite enjoyable. This book is somewhat similar in approach to Le Couteur & Burreson, Napoleon's Buttons - How 17 molecules changed history. Kurlansky focuses on a single chemical, whereas Le Couteur & Burreson briefly survey many chemicals and types of chemicals. Kurlansky has a much higher ratio of history to chemistry.

A Linklater, Measuring America -- How an untamed wilderness shaped the United States and fulfilled the promise of democracy. Walker, 2002. ISBN 0-8027-1396-3. A book about why the US should have but did not adopt the metric system from the start. A book about the history of measurements, and of units. A book about surveying -- and about Thomas Jefferson. A book that is surprisingly much more interesting than the short title might suggest, in part because it is well written and in part because it brings together a range of seemingly unrelated topics in an unusual but fascinating way (as the subtitle may hint). [Listed in Intro Chem (X11) Ch 3 handout, under Further Reading.]

Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin - The dark lady of DNA. Harper/Collins, 2002. One of the dark parts of the DNA story is the lack of recognition of the role of Rosalind Franklin, who made the very fine X-ray pictures that Watson & Crick used as part of developing the double-helix structure. This lack of recognition was magnified by Watson's poor treatment of Franklin, especially in his earlier book, The Double Helix. Brenda Maddox's new biography has received wide praise as being fair and accurate; she had access to many materials that were previously unavailable. This is a biography, not a science book -- though you will certainly get a good sense of how the DNA story was developed. Highly recommended, but don't expect to come away declaring winners and losers; it's not that simple, but it is a good story, and it certainly enhances our understanding of an important scientist. (One part of the controversy, to some, is why Franklin did not share in the Nobel prize for the DNA work. It is a sufficient answer to that question that she died a few years before the DNA Nobel, 1962; posthumous Nobels are not allowed. Note that this point does not address the merits of her contributions, but does address one question which often comes to the forefront.) Review, by Anne Fausto-Sterling, Science 298:1177, 11/8/02: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/298/5596/1177.summary. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: DNA and the genome.

Maddox's book is noted in a Musings post on the DNA story: The original Watson-Crick paper on the structure of DNA (October 25, 2010).

Ahmed Zewail, Voyage through Time - Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize. American University of Cairo Press, 2002. ISBN 977-424-677-2. An autobiographical book from the Nobel-winning chemist. Zewail developed the field of femtochemistry, which allows direct observation of the transition states in chemical reactions. Zewail tells of his background, of his big transition from Egypt to America, of his work -- at a level quite accessible to the general reader, and finally of his visions for improving the world. The book is well organized and well written. It continually bubbles with Zewail's optimism -- whether he reminds us of it or not. That optimism is important to both his personal story and his scientific achievement. Clearly, Zewail wants this book to be read by young potential scientists from the developing world, but his story is so good, it should be read by young potential scientists, period. Zewail was a post-doc at UC Berkeley before taking his current position at Caltech, so this is a local story here. Highly recommended.

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2001

Daniel Charles, Lords of the harvest - Biotech, big money, and the future of food. Perseus, 2001. ISBN 0-7382-0291-6. (Paperback: ISBN 0-7382-0773-X.) A journalist tells the story of "GMOs" -- the application of biotechnology to agriculture. The book is intended for the general audience, and avoids scientific detail while presenting all the basic logic. The book is widely regarded as being a fair presentation of a range of views on the subject. I enjoyed reading it. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News: Agricultural biotechnology (GM foods) and Gene therapy.

J Emsley, Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z of the Elements. Oxford, 2001. Reviewed in Nature 414:20, 11/1/01. The review describes the book as "a layman's field guide to the periodic table". It contains a chapter about each element, with useful and fun information. John Emsley is a science writer at Cambridge University. Another good book by him is The Elements, 3/e, Clarendon Press, 1998. ISBN 0-198-55818-X for the paperback edition. This book is primarily a data book, with a main two page entry for each element, showing chemical data, physical data, biological data, nuclear data, electron shell data, crystal data, and geological data. The appendices include more historical information and summary tables. Useful and fun.

F M Harold, The Way of the Cell - Molecules, Organisms and the Order of Life. Oxford, 2001. ISBN 0-19-513512-1. A popular account of cells -- the fundamental unit of life. If you are relatively new to biology, Harold's book can be a good overview of living systems at all levels. If you are familiar with much of the biology, this book is a delightful attempt to integrate and find the "big ideas". I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi. 2001. This book was the subject of a post in my Musings newsletter: Book: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (July 13, 2008).

Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab -- Chemistry and the making of the modern world. McGraw Hill, 2001. ISBN 0-07-140795-2. This is a book about technology, primarily about the chemical industry. It consists of nine chapters, each focusing on an individual. Most focus on that individual's development of a chemical process, which brought "good" to society. It also brought "bad", such as pollution or toxicity. The bad side typically was recognized only later, though we also see that the discoverer may have had some appreciation of the possible downside. The first such story is that of Nicolas Leblanc and the development of a new process for making inexpensive soap -- in the late 18th century. This made soap a practical consumer product, and resulted in some of the most polluting factories yet known. Other chapters include Perkin (dyes), Rillieux (sugar), Haber (fertilizer and poison gas), Midgley (leaded gasoline and freons); Carothers (nylon), Müller (DDT). Two chapters are on individuals whose role was mainly on the positive side: Frankland (clean water) and Patterson (removing lead in consumer products -- including Midgley's leaded gasoline). Five of the nine chapters deal with 20th century science; as noted, the stories go back to the 18th century. A caution... The chemistry in the book is not very good. But that is not the emphasis. The book is about technology and society; it sends a clear message that the problems of understanding the good vs bad of technology have long been with us. It's a message that is worthwhile.

E C Minkoff & P J Baker, Biology Today - An Issues Approach. Garland, 2/e, 2001. ISBN 0-8153-2760-9. This is a college level biology textbook, but one that is organized largely around topics of current interest, rather than by the traditional biology subtopics. The book has been used at UCB for a non-majors biology course. I have listed this book for BITN - Biotechnology in the News. Third edition, 2004. Briefly noted above.

Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten - Memories of a chemical boyhood. Knopf, 2001. Neuroscientist Oliver Sacks, already well established as a gifted writer for the general audience, here recounts his childhood -- and a good deal of chemical history. The book is delightfully written and the chem is at about the right level for intro chem students. Highly recommended. [Listed in Intro Chem (X11) Ch 1 handout]. Review, by L P Kadanoff, Science 295:448, 1/18/02: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/295/5554/448.1.summary. Also see Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain.

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2000

D P Clark & L D Russell, Molecular Biology made simple and fun. Cache River Press, 2/e, 2000. ISBN 1889899046. I highly recommend this book as a general introduction to molecular biology. It is intended for both a general audience and a wide range of science students. It presents the basics of molecular biology in a way that is readable and fun, yet scientifically quite sound. I have listed this book for both X107 - Molecular Biology and BITN - Biotechnology in the News. More recent editions are noted above: 3rd edition, 2005; 4th edition, 2010. I have not read editions since the 2nd.

Ben Selinger, Chemistry in the Marketplace. 5/e, Harcourt, 2000. ISBN 1865082554. The chemistry of things you use. Sections include Chemistry in the laundry, Chemistry in the garden, Chemistry in the dining room, and many more. A fairly hefty but inexpensive paperback, with a good index, so good for looking up things. The author is from Australia, and many of the product names will be unfamiliar. But still, the basic information is there. May or may not be good for reading straight through, but certainly a nice reference. Older editions are probably fine for most purposes.

Doron Swade, The Cogwheel Brain - Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer. Abacus, 2000. ISBN 0-349-11239-8. [Also published, in the US, under the title The difference engine - Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer, 2001.] "The Cogwheel Brain" is the story of Charles Babbage and his attempts to design and build the first fully automatic calculating machines -- in effect, the earliest computers. The first parts of the book describe Babbage's life, his ingenious machines, and his attempts to build them. The author also tries to dispel many of the myths surrounding Babbage and his contemporaries, particularly in relation to why his engines never succeeded. The last few chapters are devoted to describing the author's involvement in a project to recreate an authentic replica of Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2 -- the only one of Babbage's engines ever made in full -- in the 1990s. This is done with a real sense of passion, and following the modern-day ups and downs of trying to recreate Babbage's work makes compelling reading. It was slightly disappointing to find that the book lacked any major attempt to describe the technical background to Babbage's designs. Swade was able to simplify and comment on some areas in detail, but this was not consistent throughout; it was a little unsatisfying to finish the book without even a general idea how his machines would have operated. Overall, though, the book was enjoyable and should interest anyone curious to know exactly what Babbage achieved and why he was not more successful. [Submitted by Greg Pearce, Dept of Physics, Univ Bath, UK. 6/05.]

Posts in my Musings newsletter on computing history include:
* Alan Turing, computable numbers, and the Turing machine (June 23, 2012).
* The Antikythera device: a 2000-year-old computer (August 31, 2011).

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1990s

Within this multi-year section, the books are in order by publication year, most recent first. Within a year, they are alphabetical by first author.

Freeman J Dyson, The Sun, the genome, and the internet -- Tools of scientific revolutions. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-512942-3. Freeman Dyson is a distinguished theoretical physicist. This slim book is based on a series of three lectures he gave to a general public audience at the New York Public Library, in 1997. His broad goal is to suggest how technology can be used for the good of mankind. He starts by emphasizing the importance of tools in the development of science and technology; he then goes on to discuss the role of the three tools of his title in shaping our future. Dyson is a visionary, and an optimist. And eloquent. He is bold, in suggesting "big ideas", but also modest, in realizing that predictions may or may not play out. In fact, as I read this book 15 years after the original lectures, I could see some of his successes and failures of prediction. But that is not the point. His point is to paint a big picture, and to challenge us to think broadly and boldly about the future. We can chuckle about his proposal to look for freeze-dried fish around Jupiter, but his broad critique of NASA is right on. Overall, this is quick and light reading -- still well worth it.

Ron Shepard, Amateur Physics for the Amateur Pool Player. 3/e, 1997. Even if you don't play pool very much, this document provides much insight into the physics of rotating spheres. It requires at least a first year university course in physics to fully understand. The book is available online, at sites such as: http://www.e-booksdirectory.com/details.php?ebook=1058. If it's not there, put the title into a search engine.[Submitted by Nick, a high school student in Ontario.]

A J Menezes, P C van Oorschot & S A Vanstone, Handbook of Applied Cryptography. CRC Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8493-8523-7. Topics include digital signatures, public keys, etc. Featured in the NetWatch column in Science, 288:1927, 6/16/00. Online at the authors' site: http://cacr.uwaterloo.ca/hac/.

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch: A story of evolution in our time. Knopf, 1994. ISBN 0-679-40003-6. Darwin's finches, the diverse finches on the Galapagos Islands, are the stuff of legends. Actually, Darwin did much less with them than is commonly supposed -- but others have done much. At the forefront have been Princeton biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, and their students. The Grants have studied the finches over many years, providing much detailed information about how evolution works. The bulk of this book is about the work of the Grants, and how it illustrates aspects of evolution over the time-scale of a few years. The book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is well written and accessible to the general audience. A caution... The book has at times been hyped as being the last word on evolution. Of course, it is not, and the author would not claim that. It is one set of good stories illustrating some aspects of evolution. And it does not deal at all with the molecular basis of what is going on. Highly recommended. See Grant & Grant, How and Why Species Multiply for a more recent book on this same topic -- from the researchers themselves.

A post in my Musings newsletter is about the finches... Finding a gene behind the beak diversity of Darwin's finches (July 14, 2015).

Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The heretical nature of science. Oxford, 1993. ISBN 0-19-508213-3. This short book -- barely 200 pages -- is a history of science and an essay on the nature of scientific thinking. Cromer suggests that scientific thinking, guided by fact and reason to reach commonly accepted descriptions of the natural world, actually goes against more common forms of human thinking. Cromer traces the development of science from the ancient Greeks, and explains how the Greek culture made the development of scientific thinking possible. Cromer's writing makes this a good read; he enjoys being provocative, and often notes that some of his points are controversial. The book is at its best as an overview of the development of science and as an exposition of the nature of modern science. Its attempts to explain why something did or did not happen are thought-provoking, but not always convincing. Interestingly, three of the predictions that Cromer makes in his introductory chapter are already known to be wrong. That's fine, and I'm sure would not bother Cromer. But it does serve to remind us that our understanding is not always complete -- a good lesson about the nature of science. Cromer was a physicist -- turned science educator (he died in 2005). He was a key figure in the development of Project Seed for promoting science education; indeed he devotes the last chapter of the book to this topic -- and he makes a radical proposal for overhauling the US educational system. The success of the Seed approach attests that Cromer's understanding of how science is learned is sound, and thus attests to the quality of much of this book. All in all, this is a good -- and enjoyable and thought-provoking -- book for scientists and science students; just don't expect it all to be right. This book is listed on my page Biotechnology in the News (BITN) -- Other topics under Ethical and social issues; the nature of science, and on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics. Harper, 1991. ISBN 0-06-273099-1. Cartoonist Gonick teams with microbiologist Wheelis to provide a good -- and fun -- introduction to the main ideas of genetics. Suitable for those with or without a genetics background. Also see Gonick's Chemistry book.

Harold J Morowitz, The Thermodynamics of Pizza. Rutgers, 1991. Morowitz is a biophysicist (at Yale, at the time of this book). This is a collection based on essays originally written for the magazine Hospital Practice. The essays are short and wide ranging -- musings might be a good term for them. Some of the essays are about science, at least peripherally, but many are just the thoughts of one scientist, all too often on something that might have caught the nerves of any of us. Whether the topic is hot pizza or a comma that Robert Frost did not include or the cochlea of an elephant, this is a book that brings smiles. Good light reading, for any audience.

H Petroski, The Pencil. 1990. (paper: 1992; ISBN 0679734155.) The Intro Chem (X11) Ch 1 handout lists the following article, referring to this book:
* H Petroski, Why 'The pencil'? American Scientist 88:114, 3/00. Online at http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/why-the-pencil/1. A delightful article on one major use of one form of carbon. The author is an engineer, and a regular columnist in American Scientist. In this article, he is promoting his book. The book uses the development of a common object to discuss the broad issues of product development, especially from an engineer's viewpoint. Should you read the book? Well, I suggest you read this article first, if you can access it. 400 pages on the history of the pencil is a bit much, but much of it is fun, good history, and a good sense of what engineering is all about. (Did you know that Henry David Thoreau played an important part in the fledgling American pencil industry?) Give the book a try, if you want, but plan to skip sections from time to time.

Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, 1990. This Pulitzer Prize winner is the history of oil through the first Gulf War. Incredibly good. [Submitted by Bob Holloway, Chemistry, Schreiner Univ, Kerrville TX. 3/05.]

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1980s

Within this multi-year section, the books are in order by publication year, most recent first. Within a year, they are alphabetical by first author.

Charles Tanford, Ben Franklin Stilled the Waves: An informal history of pouring oil on water with reflections on the ups and downs of scientific life in general. Duke Univ Press, 1989. What a delightful little book! The central scientific story -- announced in the subtitle -- is a simple one, one observed by many from ancient times onwards. Among those who observed it was the American statesman -- and scientist -- Benjamin Franklin, whose observations were published by the Royal Society. Tanford discusses this story, from early observations through explanation in terms of molecules and polarity -- and up through its relevance to the nature of the cell membrane. Along the way he tells us about some key scientists of the 18th-20th centuries and about the scientific environment they worked in. Tanford consistently conveys his enthusiasm for the subject matter, making the book a pleasure to read. This book is listed as further reading for Intro Chem Ch 15, re intermolecular forces. (The Franklin paper referred to is "Of the Stilling of Waves by means of Oil. Extracted from Sundry Letters between Benjamin Franklin, LL. D. F. R. S. William Brownrigg, M. D. F. R. S. and the Reverend Mr. Farish". Philosophical Transactions 64:445-460, 1774. It is freely available at http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/64/445.)

This book is noted in the Musings post: Benjamin Franklin and the electrical kite (November 22, 2011). It is also noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Science: History.

Thomas D Brock, Robert Koch - A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology. Springer, 1988 (with later versions, including by ASM Press; apparently reprints of same book). This is the story of the first clear elucidation of the life cycle of a pathogenic bacterium (anthrax), of the discovery of the agent of the most important infectious disease of the time (tuberculosis), and of the discovery of the cholera agent. It is the story of the development of major techniques in bacteriology, such as photomicroscopy and plating. In short, it is the story of Robert Koch. Brock starts the book with a list of 17 of Koch's contributions, many as major as those noted above. Those interested in bacteria, especially as agents of disease, will enjoy this fascinating tale of the origins of modern medical microbiology. I have listed this book for BITN: Anthrax.

Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A personal view of scientific discovery. Basic Books, 1988. Crick, probably best known to the general public as one half of the Watson-Crick duo, was one of the towering figures of the classic era of molecular biology. Like many of the leading figures of that era, he started as a physicist before turning to genes as the fundamental issue to be addressed. Crick was more a theoretician, and one of the things he does here is to discuss the important give and take between theory and experiment. This is a short book, breezy but not flashy. It is probably of most interest to those with some familiarity with Crick's role. Young scientists may also find it good to read the reflections of a great scientist. Also see Crick, Life Itself, 1981.

Hans-Georg Elias, Mega Molecules -- Tales of adhesives, bread, diamonds, eggs, fibers, foams, gelatin, leather, meat, plastics, resists, rubber, ... and cabbages and kings. Springer, 1987. ISBN 0-387-17541-5. A book about polymers -- as the extended title tells you. It's a fun little book, with lots of history along the way. Chemists really began to understand polymers only in the 20th century, but of course mankind had been using them for millennia. He discusses a wide range of uses, and along the way introduces the principles of what polymers are, how they are made, and how they "behave". The book is a bit dated, in part because of our changing values since the 1980s. Just keep the book date in mind; the meat of the book is independent of those values.

Francis Crick, Life Itself - Its origin and nature. Simon and Schuster, 1981. This book came up in a discussion (summer 2007). Despite the book's age, I decided to read it through. In this short book, Crick discusses the issues surrounding that great mystery of how life began. Most of the book describes the basics of life and of the early earth on which life may have arisen. Crick then outlines how we might envision life arising. He largely avoids the trap of promoting one view or another, but rather tries to present alternative views and the arguments for and against them. The book is written in Crick's usual casual, conversational style. The book suffers from a couple of problems. First, it is out of date in some ways. For example, Crick bemoans that we do not yet know a molecule that can serve as both catalyst and gene. Interestingly, understanding of such a molecule -- RNA -- was published the year after the book came out. This discovery of "ribozymes" greatly simplifies the problem of how life originated. As another example, his discussion of planets beyond our solar system is almost entirely speculative; now, a couple hundred are known, because of technical advances in detection during the last decade. The new information is in no way fatal to Crick's basic arguments. He presents ideas about life and how it may have started. His biggest conclusion is that we do not know, and the new advances do not change that basic story. The second problem is that his story line revolves around the idea of panspermia: that life began elsewhere, and was transported to earth (an idea apparently originally due to Svante Arrhenius). Frankly, I have never felt that this idea adds much to the discussion. However. it doesn't detract too much from the book, and he evaluates it as critically as he does all other ideas, making clear that there really is no evidence one way or the other. All in all, this short book is still a worthwhile read. It outlines major issues regarding the origin of life, and reaches no firm conclusions; for better or worse, that last point is still appropriate. Also see Crick, What Mad Pursuit, 1988 for more Crick. Also see Hazen, Genesis: The scientific quest for life's origin, 2005 for a more recent view of the origin-of-life field.

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1970s through 1930s

Within this multi-year section, the books are in order by publication year, most recent first. Within a year, they are alphabetical by first author.

Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I. G. Farben. Free Press, 1978. ISBN 0-02-904630-0. The book starts -- on the frontispiece -- with the famous quotation from Eisenhower warning us about the military-industrial complex. The book then proceeds to tell why. It is the story of how the German chemical industry supported the war effort -- in both World Wars I and II, with an emphasis on the latter. The supply of materiel was central to the German war effort, and the chemical industry was the supplier. I. G. Farben was the German conglomerate that controlled most of the chemical industry for Germany in the Nazi era -- in preparation for and during World War II. Its constituent companies had been similarly important in WWI. Because of that importance, IG Farben people were the main group charged with war crimes and tried in the Nuremberg trials following WWII. Author Borkin started his study of IG Farben as an investigator for the US Senate, in 1934, and here he tells what he learned over many years of study. He clearly has much to say, and for the most part just lays it out with little emotion. That's fine. The story is chilling enough without an author adding his own emotion. At times, the book may overwhelm with details, but the book largely succeeds in laying out the story of the role of a company that makes war materiel -- and thus plays a central role in determining our future. It's not a simple good guy-bad guy story; it's easy to understand many of the motivations along the way. Perhaps that is what makes it so chilling a story. What is to prevent it from happening again? For Americans, this is not just a story of "them"; Standard Oil and the presidency of Warren Harding are among the important players -- among the "bad guys". This is a book about war and history. Science is not the emphasis, but chemists will appreciate some of the process development issues along the way. [Thanks to Borislav in Zagreb for recommending this book.]

UNESCO, 700 Science Experiments for Everyone. Compiled and published by UNESCO. 1964. (Various editions and translations, 1956-1964.) This wonderfully illustrated book is aimed at high school students. This is not a single author book, but it has been compiled by an organization with the help of teachers all around the world. If you are a visual learner, interested in doing simple experiments related to mechanics, electricity and magnetism, properties of light and sound, chemistry and last but not the least, in making models for our lungs, then this book is for you. Most of experiments are accompanied by a diagram that clarifies the experiment. Great for students making science projects. This book is also available online as two PDF files: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/700un1.pdf and http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/700un2.pdf. [Submitted by M Farooq Wahab, Dept of Chemistry, Univ Karachi, Pakistan. 10/06.]

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. 1962. This book was the subject of a post in my Musings newsletter: Silent Spring -- on its 50th anniversary (October 5, 2012).

Clifton Fadiman (ed), Fantasia Mathematica -- Being a set of stories, together with a group of oddments and diversions, all drawn from the universe of mathematics. Simon and Schuster, 1958. This is an anthology of short stories, poems (including limericks), and a wide range of miscellany -- all with the general theme that they have some mathematical connection. The one that led me to the book was A Subway named Moebius, a 1950 short story by A J Deutsch. It's set in the Boston subway system, just after a modification of the track layout, which led to, let's just say, a topological anomaly (not particularly well reflected in the title), which had serious consequences. It's fantasy -- and a good story. It's not mathematically educational, but mathematically inspired. The book includes items from Isaac Asimov, Martin Gardner, Plato, Lewis Carroll, and Edna St. Vincent Millay -- among many. Quality of the items was uneven, but overall I enjoyed browsing the book. This book is noted on my page of Miscellaneous Internet Resources, under Mathematics; statistics.

Robert Jungk, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A personal history of the atomic scientists. Harcourt, 1956 (1958 English translation from the original German). ISBN 0-15-614150-7. A list of the central characters of this book reads like a who's who of physics in the 20th century: Oppenheimer, Bohr, Born, Einstein, Heisenberg, Fermi, Feynman and many more. This book attempts to give an insight into the lives of these scientists and the way in which their work influenced the course of world politics through the invention of atomic weapons. The book was written only ten years after the end of WWII, and as a result the author was able to interview many of the figures involved personally. However, this does present its problems: there is little information on the Soviet side of the story, and even that of the American and European contributions is unlikely to be complete. In addition, the fact that so many of the book's subjects were still alive at the time of writing has perhaps biased the author towards painting a somewhat rose-tinted view of all involved. Nevertheless, for anyone interested in learning more about the names behind so much of modern physics, this is an enjoyable read. The book is non-technical, and focuses on the lives and personalities of the atomic scientists rather than on the technical aspects of their work; no knowledge of physics is assumed. No detailed knowledge of history is needed either, but be prepared in the second half of the book for a rather detailed description of the politics of the start of the Cold War. (From a scientific point of view, the earlier parts are arguably more interesting/relevant.) [From Greg Pearce, Univ Erlangen, 12/06.]

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1929 and earlier

Special listing: John Muir's Book of Animals. Illustrations by Lisel Jane Ashlock. A collection of writings from Muir (1838-1914). See main entry.

Except for the above... Within this multi-year section, the books are in order by publication year, most recent first. Within a year, they are alphabetical by first author.

Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith. 1925. The novel Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis was written in 1925 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926. It is the story of Martin Arrowsmith's life from the age of 14 through the time he practices medicine in a backwater country town to his becoming a prestigious researcher in New York City. It covers very modern topics: the lure of money vs. the attraction of pure research and, thus, is quite contemporary in its subject matter. Apparently Dr. Paul de Kruif (author of The Microbe Hunters) helped Lewis write some of the scientific aspects of the book. For those of you who balk at reading a 1920's novel, the book provides a fascinating window onto 1920's-era medical practice and microbiology. The parallels to modern medicine are extremely interesting, and it only goes to show that surroundings may change, but human beings do not. Martin Arrowsmith makes breakthroughs in bacteriophage research. This phage can destroy the plague bacteria and it provides a dramatic interlude in the novel. His mentor, Max Gottlieb, is the epitome of the 1920's professor and is a fascinating character in his own right. Interestingly enough, phage research is being investigated again as a possible treatment option for resistant bacteria. While some of the Caribbean Island interlude is fairly fantastic, one must somewhat ignore this to absorb the book's true message. In the end it proves the point that success always has a price. [Contributed by microbiologist Judy Dilworth. I wholeheartedly endorse her recommendation of this book. It is a fine novel, by an important American author (he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930). And it is a book very deserving of a place on a list of science books.]

There is a short item about the use of phage in medicine on my page Internet resources: Biology - Miscellaneous in the section Microbiology: other. Phage therapy.

A post in my Musings newsletter about a possible use of phage therapy: A virus that could treat acne? (October 21, 2012)

Karel Capek, R.U.R. -- Rossum's Universal Robots. 1920. I have received R.U.R. as a present. Being a long-time fan of Science Fiction, I of course knew about the first robot book, tho I had never come to actually read it. And a true marvel it turned out to be. I don't remember many books that left me open-mouthed at the end. The book itself is very short, and it is actually a play, so except the story itself, a lot is left for reader's imagination. Different people will probably "see" drastically different stuff upon reading this book, but I think this little piece will have much deeper significance for biotech people than for anyone else. I would even go so far saying that R.U.R. is in a way a prophecy of the future of humankind. What Karel Capek did with his R.U.R., is maybe only comparable to works of Jules Verne, or Herbert George Wells, both of them being "scientists of imagination." Definitely recommended; for me this is one of the best books I've ever read. (From Borislav Dopudja, Zagreb, 7/09.)

R.U.R. is available online for free, in both the Czech original and an English translation. See the Wikipedia page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.U.R.; go to the section "External links", near the bottom. The page also provides some basic background on R.U.R..

This book is featured in a Musings post: R. U. R. (July 20, 2009).

Mark Twain, 3,000 Years Among the Microbes. 1905. Mark Twain on microbiology and chemistry. It's a short novel (or a very long short story) -- about 100 pages in a standard book. The story was written by a bacterium -- a cholera bacterium, who was previously a human, until a magic experiment went awry. It was translated by Twain from Microbic into English. So says Twain. Of course, the heart of the story is Twain's commentary on society, but it also reveals Twain's interest in science issues. It's 1905 science, and he doesn't get it all right, but it is interesting to see things that one could refer to in a modern classroom. Twain shows some knowledge of atomic structure. More importantly, he knows the key role of microbes in the ecosystem. I learned of this story from an article in Microbe, the news magazine of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The article discusses the mutual admiration and influence of Twain and microbiologist Herbert Conn, a founder of ASM. Twain refers to Conn in the story. The Microbe article is K M Noll, Herbert Conn: Mark Twain's Microbiologist Muse. Microbe 6:319, July 2011. http://www.asmscience.org/content/journal/microbe/6/7; scroll down to the item. The Twain story can be found in various collections of his work. It's probably not the best Twain, but it is of special interest for those interested in the science; give it a try.

Michael Faraday, The chemical history of a candle: a course of lectures delivered before a juvenile audience at the Royal Institution. These lectures were given during the Christmas holidays of 1860-1. Also included is a Lecture on platinum, delivered to the Royal Institution, February 1861. The lectures were edited by William Crookes, and originally published in 1861. Numerous editions have been published since. The one I read was an 1894 book, published by Chatto & Windus, in the UCB library. Michael Faraday's public lectures are legendary, and this book will show you why. The topic is simple: how a candle burns -- and related issues. If only we could have been there! But just reading the lectures makes clear how he enraptured a youthful audience for six lectures on this one seemingly simple topic. Highly recommended, as chemistry and history. No particular background is required to read it. The book is also available online at various sites, including: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=ALQ5362.0001.001 and http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14474. The first of those includes the illustrations, but can only be displayed one page at a time. The second offers several options, with or without the figures.

Books by Faraday, including this one, are also at Google books: http://books.google.com/; just search on his name. I have also noted this on my page of Internet resources: Chemistry - Miscellaneous; History section.

There is an abridged version of the Candle lectures, with some beautiful pictures, at The Chemical History of a Candle. This could serve as a good introduction.

This Faraday book is noted in a Musings post: A candle for Christmas (December 20, 2010).

Galileo, Sidereus nuncius (The Celestial Message). 1610. This book was the subject of a post in my Musings newsletter: Book review: Galileo (October 6, 2010).

Johannes Kepler, Astronomia Nova (New Astronomy). 1609. This book was the subject of a post in my Musings newsletter: Book review: Kepler (February 3, 2010).


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