Latest Additions to the Science Shelf book review archive

THE SCIENCE SHELF NEWSLETTER

News about the Science Shelf archive of book reviews, columns, and comments by Fred Bortz

Issue #29, Back from Hiatus edition, February 2009

NOTE: Links that follow take you to the review of the book in question. Each review has a link to buy at Amazon.com if you are interested.

Dear Science Readers,

I wrote in the previous Science Shelf newsletter that I was putting this newsletter on hiatus. I have finally reached a quieter time. I can once again go beyond reviewing books and adding them to the Science Shelf website. This long overdue newsletter is the result.

Happy Birthday Charlie D.!

With Darwin’s bicentennial birthday this month, I have seen a number of books about evolution, and I was able to persuade my newspaper clients to let me review Why Evolution is TrueWhy Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne. That review prompted two e-mails by readers of the Dallas Morning News, one telling me that I should review a book by Dembski on Intelligent Design, and the other telling me how brave I was for giving Coyne high marks in Big D., especially since Texas was revisiting the issue of how to describe evolution in the state curriculum.

To the first, I responded that with limited space on newspaper book review pages, I generally review books that I can recommend to some readers, even if I didn’t particularly like them myself. Coyne’s book makes a strong case for evolution, while the recently reviewed Only a Theory by Kenneth Miller, an observant Catholic, did an even better job demolishing Intelligent Design. Sorry, Dembski! Find a different reviewer.

To the second, Ronald Martin Wade, I replied that I was not as brave as he thought, since I live in the Pittsburgh area, not Texas. Then my hometown Pittsburgh Post-Gazette picked up the review and headlined it, “Breaking News! Darwin was Right.” No one picketed my house or sent a nasty e-mail, so I can’t claim any bravery here, either.

More about Mr. Wade below.

The Great Pluto-versy

Until I read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, I had never thought about the peculiar American passion for Pluto’s status as a planet. Apparently, the rest of the world is more comfortable with its “demotion” to the rank of “dwarf planet.”

To Tyson, Pluto will always reign as “the undisputed King of the Kuiper Belt.” And his book is rich in humor and story, not to mention wonderful scientific insights, about a distant icy world that remains as interesting scientifically as ever.

To Your Health!

During the hiatus, I also reviewed a pair of books that I would classify as potentially life-saving. The link takes you to a comparative review of Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., and Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, M.D.

The comparative review focuses more on psychiatrist and brain-cancer survivor Servan-Schreiber and his remarkable approach to his own disease than on the Singh and Ernst book. So I also posted a full-length review of the latter. If you don’t know the difference between complementary medicine (Ernst’s field) and alternative medicine, I highly recommend Trick or Treatment.

Meet Max

My correspondence with Ron Wade was entertaining. Despite our different backgrounds, we share an appreciation for irreverent humor and a good intellectual tussle. Without expecting anything in return, he sent me a copy of his self-published The Max Parallax: Things You Should Know.

I’ve only had a chance to scan the book, but I know that it is a collection of entertaining rants by Ron’s alter-ego, Max Gross. At least I think Max is Ron’s alter-ego. Ron remains coy about that, perhaps fearing that I suspect he may have a split personality.

In any case, you will probably enjoy agreeing and disagreeing with Max at the same time. I think that’s the point of the book, which Ron describes as follows on Amazon.com:
An atheist-libertarian and a lukewarm Christian Republican with common backgrounds in security and intelligence work argue their personal views of the human condition; an irreverent and hilarious glimpse of religion, politics, morality and government, an unexpected parallax view.

I rarely recommend a self-published book, but this one earns an exception. I’m sure both Ron and Max will be surprised to read this, since it was truly offered as a gift to a kindred spirit. But I always tell my young readers to follow their questions, and that’s exactly what Ron uses Max to do.

My Usual Thanks

Thank you to the growing number of people who are kind enough to buy some of the books that they discovered here through the Science Shelf links. They’ve even used the link on the Science Shelf homepage to enter and buy books and other Amazon.com products including, most recently, a bread-making machine and cook book.

I’ll never know who those buyers are unless they tell me, thanks to Amazon’s very sensible privacy policies. I just find out what they have bought, how much they paid, and how much my commission amounts to.

At the current pace, monthly commisions cover the cost of the web address, webhosting, and enough to buy me a two-topping large pizza (no anchovies, please). I’ll never expect commissions to cover the time I spend maintaining the archive of book reviews and sending out messages like this. That’s a labor of book- and science-love, and your feedback (in terms of increasing numbers of clicks) tells me you appreciate it.

As always, happy science reading, and thanks in advance for your support!

Fred Bortz



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