Dear Science Readers,
It’s been quite a while since I posted an update about my Science Shelf book review site. This blog entry includes excerpts of the latest reviews, recommendations of two children’s science books, and information about upcoming personal appearances.
I have just reviewed one additional book, The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion by Edward O. Wilson, but the review has not yet been published so it is not on-line.
Also, Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science has been reissued and updated in paperback. If you like reading about science and politics, this book should definitely be on your purchase list.
My review of Mooney’s hardcover original begins with skepticism but ends up with agreement.
Review excerpts follow.
…The prologue reflects on a typical first day of class in a lecture hall filled with “hormone-laden young men and women.”
“What can I say that will interest them…as I drone interminably about worms and clams?” he worries. His answer comes from a learned colleague’s “secret of good biology teaching….Infuse into each lecture a generous helping of sex, so that seething hormone-infused thoughts will be directed toward what I am saying, not Miss Nubile.”
The 31 main chapters follow, each featuring a particular type of marine life and each with the same structure: a dramatic opening, followed by biological content spiced with the author’s personal experiences. Drawn into a biology lesson by Prof. Kaplan’s comfortable prose, readers pay rapt attention while awaiting the juicy parts.
Occasionally, the motivational opening is more bizarre than erotic. Topics include unusual reproductive techniques with body structures to match, the proper way to prepare and eat poisonous fish, venomous spikes and tentacles, sea cucumbers that fill their mouths with sand while breathing through toothy anuses, a fish that enters a human urethra and swims upstream to devastate the bladder, penile bloodletting with stingray spines, and the evolution of various forms of eyes….
In the summer of 1969, 11-year-old Daniel J. Levitin spent $100, representing about 135 hours of hard work weeding neighbors’ gardens, on a stereo system. “I didn’t listen particularly loud,” he writes, “at least not compared to my college days when I actually set my loudspeakers on fire by cranking up the volume too high, but the noise was evidently too much for my parents.”
So young Daniel’s businessman father made him a proposition. He bought his son a pair of headphones in exchange for a promise to use them whenever he was home. That turned out to be a life-altering event, writes Levitin in the introduction to This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. It forever changed the way he listened to music. To him, “records were no longer just about the songs anymore, but about the sound.”
That discovery launched Levitin on a career as a professional musician, sound engineer, and record producer who worked with innovative world-class recording artists like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder, earning gold records along the way. He also worked with “dozens of musical no-names, people who are extremely talented but never made it.”
He couldn’t help wondering what ingredients went into musical success. He wondered what creativity is and where it comes from. He was curious about the emotional impact of music and the role of perception, especially “the uncanny ability of great musicians and engineers to hear nuances that most of us don’t.”…
Click here for full review of This is Your Brain on Music.
Walking is often conducive to scientific thinking. Charles Darwin, for example, had a daily routine of strolling around the Sandwalk in the grounds of his home, pondering as he paced. Chet Raymo, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, continues that association of walking and wondering in his latest book, Walking Zero. His six-week walk along a section of the prime meridian becomes the starting point for discussions of a range of scientific and historical issues, interspersed with snippets of his walking experiences….
Raymo’s reflections cover a splendid diversity of topics. One minute he’s discussing the current definition of the meter, and the next he’s made a connection to Eratosthenes, a librarian and jack-of-all-trades in ancient Alexandria. Later, he moves from a discussion of Newton’s weighty contributions in his Principia, claiming that its publication marked the beginning of modernity, to Pepys’ earthy pleasures as recorded in his famous diary. While acknowledging Newton’s genius, Raymo doesn’t ignore the man’s less celebrated fascination with alchemy and obscure biblical studies. Pepys likewise is captured in all his contradictions: from his interest in scientific developments to his delight in pretty women and his faith in a rabbit’s foot….
Raymo is a supreme storyteller. When hard historical facts are not available, he animates his account with memorable imagined scenes. For example, of the achievements of the Alexandrian librarian, he writes, “I like to imagine it happened something like this: A man of unquenchable curiosity, Eratosthenes haunted the marketplace and docks of Alexandria, quizzing caravanners and sailors about the geographies and cultures of the places they had visited.” This reconstruction goes on to offer an absorbing word picture of the librarian’s eureka moment. Later there’s an equally colorful depiction of Aristarchus with a grape in one hand and a melon in the other, explaining to his listeners the vast distance of the sun from the earth….
Honored with the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzer Prizes, Harvard entomologist and author Edward O. Wilson is noted for originality of thought and passion for his subject. His latest book, The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion, illustrates why. It is a passionate manifesto about the facts and consequences of humanity’s destructive impact on Earth’s biodiversity….
Full review to be added online in mid-September
CHILDREN’S BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
I have received two interesting books for middle grade readers that I am pleased to recommend to you.
The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World by Andrew C. Revkin
A New York Times reporter tells of his polar research trip and relates it to his published articles on climate change.
Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-Experiments in Science and Medicine by Leslie Dendy and Mel Boring
The second author’s name should be interpreted as “probing” rather than “dull” :)
Finally, I’ll remind you of my most recent book, now available in paperback for only $9.95. It’s Beyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel.
For further information, Click here.
In case that reminds you about Pluto’s changed status, read my revised “Ask Dr. Fred” article about it and share it with your favorite young scientists.
For those of you in the Pittsburgh, PA, or Rochester, New York, areas, I’ll be speaking and signing copies of my books at the Monroeville, PA, Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, September 20, at 7:00 p.m. I’m also expecting to take part in the outstanding Rochester Children’s Book Festival at the Brighton campus of Monroe Community College on Saturday, November 4.
I’m hoping to arrange school visits in the Rochester are before or after the festival. If you can help identify possible hosts, contact me or send the potential hosts to http://www.fredbortz.com/daywith.htm for more information.
I’m always interested in speaking to students, so please spread the word about my programs, which feature talks called “Our Next Planet: Why, When, and How People Will Settle Other Worlds” or “Why I Love Science.”
Fred Bortz — Author of science and technology books for young readers
Now offering presentations and school visits built around the themes
OUR NEXT PLANET: WHY, WHEN, AND HOW PEOPLE WILL SETTLE OTHER WORLDS
and WHY I LOVE SCIENCE