Tag Archives: science

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre: I adore books about modern myths and this is among the best. Though the title is fairly generic, the science in question here is largely related to health: medicine, disease, and diet, and the media’s role in the spread of misinformation. I was surprised both by the debunking of myths I’d long thought to be true, as well as those myths and charlatans I’d never even heard of. As an American, reading about the British perspective was extra fascinating. Goldacre also has quite an amusing way with words, which helped dilute some of the anger a bit. Exasperation can be exhausting, but when tempered with humor it’s much more enjoyable. Sure, there are some tales, like the AIDS denial in South Africa, that are simply horrifying, but by and large it’s more eye-opening than depressing. Definitely recommended to anyone who’s ever had any interest in those big “such-and-such causes/cures cancer” tales constantly blasted over the airwaves.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman (unabridged audiobook read by Raymond Todd; 11.5 hrs on 10 discs): From his early days fixing radios by thinking to safecracking while working on the Manhattan Project to playing bongos in Brazil, Richard Feynman is certainly never short of a good story. I was especially amused by his attempt to enlist in the military. My only real complaint was how short the whole thing was on his main passion, science. Then again, that could be something to recommend it, since you are pretty much guaranteed to understand what’s going on. If you are easily shocked, you might want to skip this one – he’s pretty frank about his feelings about pretty girls, for example – but all in all I was quite entertained by his antics.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (unabridged audiobook read by George Guidall; 10 hrs 49 min on 9 discs): This is basically a biography of Galileo interspersed with letters from his devoted eldest daughter, a cloistered nun. The life story was of course quite fascinating, from his earliest publications to the trial by the Inquisition late in his life. His daughter’s letters, however, were less illuminating, consisting mostly of household minutiae and requests for money. Her repeated professions of love seemed to border on the passive aggressive, but I suppose that may have just been the translation. It’s too bad her father’s replies were lost; I would have liked to know what sorts of things he said to her. Still, this was a good overview of the life of a great man, and Sobel remains one of my favorite science writers.

A note on the audio: What can I say? It’s George Guidall. His name on a book guarantees it will be pleasantly listenable no matter what the subject matter. I know his voice well, and I appreciate that sort of consistency.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Black Bodies and Quantum Cats by Jennifer Ouellette

Black Bodies and Quantum Cats by Jennifer Ouellette: A series of essays about various milestones in the history of physics from Leonardo da Vinci to string theory. If you are a hardcore physicist, you will probably find this too dumbed down to be entertaining. However, though I was already familiar with all the concepts presented here, I was drawn in by the historical anecdotes surrounding the discovery and development of these various ideas. The pop culture references, while occasionally amusing (I hadn’t known, for instance, that Fabio once killed a goose with his face), could have been cut. They were not always relevant and the connection often felt forced. Still, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book and will have to find some other science history texts in the future.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Death from the Skies! by Philip Plait

Death from the Skies! by Philip Plait, PhD: You know, considering this is all about the various cataclysmic ways the world can end, I really expected to be more engrossed. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood or something, but I could never read more than a handful of pages before my mind started wandering or I fell asleep. I suspect this is largely my fault, as Plait is clearly in love with this topic and with astronomy in general. He describes each ghastly scenario with glee, from asteroid collisions to the death of the universe, and demonstrates in no uncertain terms that should any of these events take place within our lifetime, we are royally screwed. Granted, the odds of us actually witnessing most of the calamities described are infinitesimal, if not actually zero, a point which is also made clear enough to avoid any unnecessary fear-mongering. I learned a lot from reading this, and I recommend it to those with an interest in astronomy, or doomsday scenarios, or both.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Ig Nobel Prizes by Marc Abrahams

The Ig Nobel Prizes by Marc Abrahams: This is one seriously funny book. Ig Nobel prizes are awarded to those who pursue (and publish) research that first makes you laugh, then makes you think. Actual Nobel Laureates present the awards and participate in the general shenanigans that take place during the annual ceremony. Abrahams’s descriptions of this selection of winners had me cracking up repeatedly. It’s hard to pick a favorite, though I did particularly enjoy Levitating Crime Fighters and High Velocity Birth. And yes, as is repeatedly mentioned, all of these experiments are real. Definitely recommended.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman

What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman: This was the first Feynman book I’ve ever read, a fact which is a touch embarrassing given that I have a degree in Physics.  It was also probably not the best book to start with, since it is possibly the last book he ever wrote (it was published posthumously).  All the same, I thoroughly enjoyed it and now want to pick up everything else he’s written.  The first part is a variety of stories from his life about his childhood, his first wife, etc.  The second and longer part is about the investigation of the Challenger explosion.  Having been too young at the time to understand more than that a horrible tragedy had occurred, the descriptions of Feynman’s attempts to get to the bottom of things are riveting.  He’s funny, brilliant, and a touch egocentric, and it all makes for a delightful read.  Highly recommended.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer

Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer: I came away from this book with rather tepid feelings. It didn’t feel like it flowed very well from point to point, and each point made felt glossed over, with a couple of bare sentences with a footnote. Shermer’s survey of evolutionary biology was often unclear, but when he was in his element – that is, the psychology of belief and religiosity – the tone became smooth and easy to read. I especially liked his discussion of the evolution of morality and the Genesis revisit at the end. However, I found his discussion of logical fallacies fell flat, his responses to Intelligent Design arguments felt unsatisfying even to an evolutionist like myself, and he spent so much time referring to other books that I started to wonder what purpose there was in reading this one. I am not sure what the target audience of this book was, but I don’t think I was part of it. Still, I do want to pick up some of Shermer’s other works that fall closer to his own field of study.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan: Have you ever read something that filled you with such furvor that you wanted to write your own thoughts along those same lines, but whenever you tried you found you did nothing but repeat the original article?

That’s been me all over the place with The Demon-Haunted World. I want to ramble about the wonder of science, the importance of skepticism, the fact that school all but completely robbed me of any desire to learn, the dangers of pseudoscience, the intrinsic value of basic research even if it doesn’t lead to a specific application right away…but Sagan says it all, and he says it better than I ever could. This is one of those amazing books that made me think long and hard about a lot of things. It made me want to know more about the universe, to revisit old assumptions and condescensions, to step back a moment and drink it all in.

Sagan speaks as one with a giddy love for the scientific process, one whose healthy skepticism does not make him stodgy or closed to new ideas. Much of the first half of the book is spent more or less on aliens – not only explanations for much of what is attributed to extraterrestrial activity, but why people assume aliens at all. He does grump a little about the dumbing-down of American entertainment and its lack of accurate science, but coming from someone who prizes knowledge so highly, I can understand his disappointment at the popularity of shows like “Beavis & Butthead” and “Dumb & Dumber.” Likewise his unhappiness with dwindling popular and government support of science research and education.

This book is absolutely astounding. It’s one of the few that I recommend to anyone, even (and perhaps especially) if it challenges some of your closely held viewpoints. It did mine.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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