Recommended Science Books (for modern citizens)

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Science, Math, some Tech Culture

Gene Machine (2018) Venki Ramakrishnan
subtitled: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome

"An enchanting and invigorating work, Gene Machine casts a many-angled light on the world of science, the nature of discovery, and on one of the deepest mysteries of twentieth-century biology. Ramakrishnan, one of the key players in deciphering the molecular basis of protein translation, gives us both a rollicking scientific story and a profoundly human tale. In the tradition of The Double Helix, Gene Machine does not hesitate to highlight the process by which science advances: moving through fits and starts, often underscored by deep rivalries and contests, occasionally pitching towards error and misconception, but ultimately advancing towards profound and powerful truths. An outsider to the world of ribosome biology--an Indian immigrant, a physicist by training--Ramakrishnan retains his 'outsider's' vision throughout the text, reminding us about the corrosive nature of scientific prizes, and the intensity of competition that drives researchers (both ideas, I suspect, will have a munificent effect on our current scientific culture). Ramakrishnan's writing is so honest, lucid and engaging that I could not put this book down until I had read to the very end."―Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Art of Logic (2018) Eugenia Cheng

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

Introduction: WOULDN’T IT BE HELPFUL if everyone were able to think more clearly? To tell the difference between fact and fiction, truth and lies? But what is truth? Is the difference between “truth” and “untruth” always that simple? In fact, is it ever that simple? If it is, why do people disagree with each other so much? And if it isn’t, why do people ever agree with each other at all? The world is awash with terrible arguments, conflict, divisiveness, fake news, victimhood, exploitation, prejudice, bigotry, blame, shouting, and miniscule attention spans. When cat memes attract more attention than murders, is logic dead? When a headline goes viral regardless of its veracity, has rationality become futile? Too often, people make simple and dramatic statements for effect, impact, acclaim, and to try and grab some limelight in a world where endless sources are competing relentlessly for our attention all the time. But the excessive simplifications push us into fabricated black and white situations when everything is really in infinite shades of gray and indeed multi-colors. Hence we seem to live with a constant background noise of vitriol, disagreement, and tribes of people attacking other tribes, figuratively if not for real. Is all hope lost? Are we doomed to take sides, be stuck in echo chambers, never agree again? No. There is a lifebelt available to anyone drowning in the illogic of the modern world, and that lifebelt is logic. But like any lifebelt, it will only help us if we use it well. This means not only understanding logic better, but also understanding emotions better and, most importantly, the interaction between them. read more...

NSR Comments: If you are like me, and are tired of the current round of political divisiveness where politicians refute arguments by shouting "fake news" then this book is for you. Even if you do not read the book, please listen to these interviews with Eugenia Cheng:

Click Here to Kill Everybody (2018) Bruce Schneier
subtitled: Security and Survival in a Hyper-connected World

From driverless cars to smart thermostats, from autonomous stock-trading systems to drones equipped with their own behavioral algorithms, the internet now has direct effects on the physical world. While this computerized future, often called the Internet of Things, carries enormous potential, best-selling author Bruce Schneier argues that catastrophe awaits in its new vulnerabilities and dangers. Forget data theft: cutting-edge digital attackers can now literally crash your car, pacemaker, and home security system, as well as everyone else's. In Click Here to Kill Everybody, Schneier explores the risks and security implications of our new, hyper-connected era, and lays out common-sense policies that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of this omnipotent age without falling prey to the consequences of its insecurity. From principles for a more resilient Internet of Things to a recipe for sane government oversight, Schneier's vision is required reading for anyone invested in human flourishing.

Lost in Math (2018) Sabine Hossenfelder
subtitled: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

A contrarian argues that modern physicists' obsession with beauty has given us wonderful math but bad science.

Whether pondering black holes or predicting discoveries at CERN, physicists believe the best theories are beautiful, natural, and elegant, and this standard separates popular theories from disposable ones. This is why, Sabine Hossenfelder argues, we have not seen a major breakthrough in the foundations of physics for more than four decades. The belief in beauty has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these "too good to not be true" theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.

NSR comments: the author properly points out that the work of theoretical physicists must be validated by experimental physicists in order for any hypothesis to be promoted to a theory. So why are some theoretical physicists making scientific pronouncements about certain topics for which an experiment has not yet been done, or will never be done? What follows are some lightly paraphrased quotes from cosmologist George Ellis describing the current situation humanity finds itself in

After the public hears scientists discussing unproven (science fiction?) topics like "wormholes" and "the multiverse", the public then assume that other scientific pronouncements like "vaccinations are safe" and "humanity-influenced climate change is real" are also similar scientific speculations. IMHO, just hearing the public misuse the phrase "that's just a theory" is enough evidence to show that we've got a problem.

Light of the Stars (2018) Adam Frank
subtitled: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth

 a great read for citizens and science nerds alike

Light of the Stars tells the story of humanity’s coming of age as we awaken to the possibilities of life on other worlds and their sudden relevance to our fate on Earth. Astrophysicist Adam Frank traces the question of alien life and intelligence from the ancient Greeks to the leading thinkers of our own time, and shows how we as a civilization can only hope to survive climate change if we recognize what science has recently discovered: that we are just one of ten billion trillion planets in the Universe, and it’s highly likely that many of those planets hosted technologically advanced alien civilizations. What’s more, each of those civilizations must have faced the same challenge of civilization-driven climate change. Written with great clarity and conviction, Light of the Stars builds on the inspiring work of pioneering scientists such as Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, whose work at the dawn of the space age began building the new science of astrobiology; Jack James, the Texas-born engineer who drove NASA’s first planetary missions to success; Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian geochemist who first envisioned the Earth’s biosphere; and James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who invented Gaia theory. Frank recounts the perilous journey NASA undertook across millions of miles of deep space to get its probes to Venus and Mars, yielding our first view of the cosmic laws of planets and climate that changed our understanding of our place in the universe.

NSR comments

  1. Before y2k, many of us enjoyed reading new science as explained by astronomer Carl Sagan who died in 1996. This book was written by astronomer Adam Frank and, while reading it, I couldn't help thinking that Adam Frank was carrying on Carl Sagan's work by informing the public of scientific knowledge as understood by the majority of working scientists (and without the political or religious biases so commonly seen in mass media today)
  2. If memory serves, I first learned about the Drake Equation in Carl Sagan's book titled Cosmos. This equation came out of the cold war era so many people, including Frank Drake, Carl Sagan, Philip Morrison and others assumed that the equation's 7th and final term labeled "L" would be related to nuclear war. This book by Adam Frank replaces "nuclear war" with "climate change". He argues that even if some extraterrestrial civilizations never developed nuclear weapons, all would eventually grow to a size where the collective actions of their populations would change their climates. Very thought provoking!

E=mc2 (2000) David Bodanis

 Recommended for people interested in mathematics and science 

What a treat. This book's title might make you think that this book is only about Einstein, or his special theory of relativity, but you would be wrong.

The Quantum Astrologer's Handbook (2017) by Michael Brooks
subtitled: a history of the Renaissance mathematics that birthed imaginary numbers, probability, and the new physics of the universe

 Recommended for people interested in mathematics and science 

This is a landmark in science writing. It resurrects from the vaults of neglect the polymath Jerome Cardano, a Milanese of the sixteenth century. Who is he? A gambler and blasphemer, inventor and chancer, plagued by demons and anxieties, astrologer to kings, emperors and popes. This stubborn and unworldly man was the son of a lawyer and a brothel keeper, but also a gifted physician and the unacknowledged discoverer of the mathematical foundations of quantum physics. That is the argument of this charming and intoxicatingly clever book, which is truly original in its style, and in the manner of the modernists embodies in its very form its theories about the world. The Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook is a science book with the panache of a novel, for readers of Carlo Rovelli or Umberto Eco. It is a work of and about genius.

caveat: nothing to do with astrology

Rigor Mortis (2017) Richard Harris
subtitled: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billons

 highly recommended for science students and budding researchers 

I bought this book just after hearing an interview with the author on the NPR radio program, Science Friday (episode: 2017-04-21) which you can still listen to here ( http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/bringing-rigor-back-to-health-research/ ).

Do not let the subtitle deceive you, this is not a book advocating increases or decreases in government funding. Rather, it advocates experimental researchers doing a better job with the money they already have. This was the first time I heard the phrase "Eroom's Law" which is derived from Moore's Law with the first word spelt backwards. According to interviews by the author, if changes are not forthcoming then humanity can expect no new pharmaceutical treatments after the year 2040.

The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far (2017) Lawrence M. Krauss

As Bard of the Universe, physicist Lawrence Krauss may be uniquely qualified to give us the Greatest Story Ever Told — a masterful blend of history, modern physics, and cosmic perspective that empowers the reader to not only embrace our understanding of the universe, but also revel in what remains to be discovered.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, American Museum of Natural History

Excerpt from chapter-1 (From the Armoire to the Cave): When scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to our selves and our children not to give a free pass to governments — totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic — that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered 'sacred'. Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance.

The Left Hand of the Electron (1974) Isaac Asimov

I just bought this paperback book for $1.00 from a used book store. What a treat. It is a collection of 17 science articles published elsewhere.

You can still buy a paper copy online ( www.bookfinder.com ) or download this free PDF.

Brilliant Blunders - From Darwin to Einstein (2013) Mario Livio

Last night I attended a lecture given by the author at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. The audience was captivated.

This book humorously shows that scientific progress does not move in a straight line. Each one of the five scientists covered (Charles Darwin, William Thompson (a.k.a. Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein) published errors after their initial huge contribution to science.

Descartes' Dream - The World According to Mathematics (1986) Philip Davis & Reuben Hersh

Chapter 1 - Paragraph 1 (excerpt)

Chapter 2 - Paragraph 1 (excerpt)

Comments:

Einstein's Dice and Schrodinger's Cat (2015) Paul Halpern
subtitled: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics

When the fuzzy indeterminacy of quantum mechanics overthrew the orderly world of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger were at the forefront of the revolution. Neither man was ever satisfied with the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, however, and both rebelled against what they considered the most preposterous aspect of quantum mechanics: its randomness. Einstein famously quipped that God does not play dice with the universe, and Schrödinger constructed his famous fable of a cat that was neither alive nor dead not to explain quantum mechanics but to highlight the apparent absurdity of a theory gone wrong. But these two giants did more than just criticize: they fought back, seeking a Theory of Everything that would make the universe seem sensible again.

Skeptic Magazine (volume 2 number 3)

This very thought provoking issue is dedicated to Alfred Russel Wallace. It contains lots of information about:

The Invention of Nature (2015) Andrea Wulf

 highly recommended

Excerpt from page 3: Described by his contemporaries as the most famous man in the world after Napoleon, Alexander Humboldt was one of the most captivating and inspiring men of his time. Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family, he discarded a life of privilege to discover for himself how the world worked. As a young man he set out on a five year exploration to Latin America, risking his life many times and returning with a new sense of the world. It was a journey that shaped his life and thinking, and that made him legendary across the globe. He lived in cities such as Paris and Berlin, but was equally at home on the most remote branches of the Orinoco River or in the Kazakh Steppe at Russia's Mongolian border. During much of his long life, he was the nexus of the scientific world, writing some 50,000 letters and receiving at least double that number. Knowledge, Humboldt believed, had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody.

Excerpt from page 4: Charles Darwin wrote that 'nothing ever stimulated my zeal so much as reading Humboldt's Personal Narrative' saying that he would not have boarded the Beagle, nor conceived of the Origin of Species, without Humboldt.

Comment: we know from his diaries that Darwin continued to read Humboldt during his own five year journey aboard the Beagle

Most Wanted Particle (2015) Jon Butterworth

 a great read for citizens and science nerds alike

Official Blurb from the Publisher: Jon Butterworth is one of the leading physicists at the Large Hadron Collider and is Head of Physics and Astronomy at University College London. He writes the popular Life & Physics blog for the Guardian and has written articles for a range of publications including the Guardian and New Scientist. For the last 13 years, he has divided his time between London and Geneva, Switzerland

I purchased this book last month in the foyer of the Perimeter Institute of Physics (in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) after the author's lecture. On first glance it appeared to be just another general book on science with emphasis on particle physics, but for me turned out to be much more. I have (I think) a reasonable "layman's understanding" of colliers and quantum mechanics but this book added to my knowledge by delivering numerous anecdotes (here I am using that word to mean "depicting small narrative incidents") which would only be possible from an author with first-hand experience of particle physics in general and the LHC in particular. As the author says himself, "this is not a textbook" but he has not been shy in placing a tiny amount of maths in the subscripts at the bottom of each page for the science nerds who want a little more information. Many people might wish to read this book just to learn why scientific research is so important. Jon Butterworth is, after all, an educator as well as experimentalist.

In case you hadn't guessed, the most wanted particle is the Higgs Boson. I bought this book after attending a lecture by the author at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Watch the video here: https://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/videos/most-wanted-particle

The author's presentation reminded me of other "great explainers in science" like Carl Sagan. He also showed slides of CERN's FCC (future circular collider) which is a working name for EuroCirCol H2020 project. Explore here: https://fcc.web.cern.ch and here: https://fcc.web.cern.ch/Pages/About.aspx (diagram showing FCC being 80-100km long which is 3-3.5 times longer than the LHC).

comments:

  1. most countries today value the NATO Treaty where members agree to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. Euro-zone countries are required to contribute 1 percent of GDP to European Scientific Research and I suspect this might be a better investment
  2. this general science book is valuable in more ways then you would first think. For example, this is the first time I've see glossaries sprinkled throughout rather than having a single glossary at the end. They are titled:
  3. a teaser from page 116: "In other words, a proton contains gluons, but it also contains many more than three quarks, and lots of anti-quarks too. But if you cancel every antiquark off against every quark, you are still left with a net total of three quarks"
  4. If you watch the video above, be sure to watch the question asked in the Q+A at time marker 1:01:35 which states "explain how a neutron can contain a top-quark that has more mass than a neutron as a whole?"

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (2014) Bill Nye

This book is much more than a defense of Evolution. It's a well-written and entertaining showcase of what makes nature so fascinating. I recommend it for creationists, for those who understand evolution, and for those who simply enjoy a good read.

Other reviewers said:

  1. "With his charming, breezy, narrative style, Bill empowers the reader to see the natural world as it is, not as some would wish it to be. He does it right. And, as I expected, he does it best."—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D, host of COSMOS
  2. "This gracefully written book provides a tour through not just the big ideas of evolution, but why evolution is such a captivating idea scientifically, philosophically, and emotionally. Written from the heart—but science always comes from the heart with Bill Nye."—Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  3. "Bill Nye has penned one of the clearest and most moving explanations of that process since Darwin's On the Origin of Species. With clarity and passion, Nye brings evolutionary theory to life."—Michael Shermer, Ph.D., author of Why Darwin Matters and The Moral Arc
  4. "Bill Nye has written a wonderfully clear, readable, and enjoyable explanation of what evolution is and is not. In his casual, humorous style, he…describes the gigantic mountain of evidence that demonstrates that evolution not only happened in the past, but is happening in real time."—Donald Prothero, Ph.D., author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  5. "Following right in his mentor Carl Sagan's footsteps, this call to action and awareness of the lingering ‘debate’ over the reality of Evolution will further cement Bill Nye's place as our time's premier spokesman for science and reason."—Dr. Jim Bell, president of The Planetary Society and author of The Interstellar Age

Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field (2014) Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon

 science lover's "must have"  (no time to elaborate - Buy This Book)

Magnificent Principia (2013) Colin Pask

 Buy this book  (this book is more about the book "Principia" and less about the man "Newton")

Einstein and the Quantum (2013) Douglas Stone
subtitled: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian

 science lover's "must have"

Einstein and the Quantum reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein's contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light--the core of what we now know as quantum theory--than he did about relativity.

A compelling blend of physics, biography, and the history of science, Einstein and the Quantum shares the untold story of how Einstein--not Max Planck or Niels Bohr--was the driving force behind early quantum theory. It paints a vivid portrait of the iconic physicist as he grappled with the apparently contradictory nature of the atomic world, in which its invisible constituents defy the categories of classical physics, behaving simultaneously as both particle and wave. And it demonstrates how Einstein's later work on the emission and absorption of light, and on atomic gases, led directly to Erwin Schrödinger's breakthrough to the modern form of quantum mechanics. The book sheds light on why Einstein ultimately renounced his own brilliant work on quantum theory, due to his deep belief in science as something objective and eternal.

A book unlike any other, Einstein and the Quantum offers a completely new perspective on the scientific achievements of the greatest intellect of the twentieth century, showing how Einstein's contributions to the development of quantum theory are more significant, perhaps, than even his legendary work on relativity.

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (2013) Donald R. Prothero

 highly recommended for citizens. Should be required reading by all first-year secondary school students 

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientific community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.

Comments

The Universe Within (2013) Neil Shubin
subtitled: Discovering The Common History Of Rocks, Planets, And People

From one of our finest and most popular science writers, and the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, comes the answer to a scientific mystery as big as the world itself: How are the events that formed our solar system billions of years ago embedded inside each of us?

In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin delved into the amazing connections between human bodies—our hands, heads, and jaws—and the structures in fish and worms that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In The Universe Within, with his trademark clarity and exuberance, Shubin takes an even more expansive approach to the question of why we look the way we do. Starting once again with fossils, he turns his gaze skyward, showing us how the entirety of the universe’s fourteen-billion-year history can be seen in our bodies. As he moves from our very molecular composition (a result of stellar events at the origin of our solar system) through the workings of our eyes, Shubin makes clear how the evolution of the cosmos has profoundly marked our own bodies.

Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe (2012) Silvan S. Schweber

 highly recommended 

[Bethe was] the supreme problem solver of the twentieth century. (Freeman Dyson)

Nuclear Forces is a carefully researched, historically and biographically insightful account of the development of a profession and of one of its leading representatives during a century in which physics and physicists played key roles in scientific, cultural, political, and military developments. (David C. Cassidy, Author Of A Short History Of Physics In The American Century )

Schweber's account of Hans Bethe's life through his Nobel Prize-winning 1938 work on energy generation in stars reveals the origins of a charismatic scientist, grounded in the importance of his parents and his Jewish roots...[Schweber] recreates the social world that shaped the character of the last of the memorable young scientists who established the field of quantum mechanics. (Publishers Weekly 20120507)

A detailed and thoroughly researched study of Bethe's development as a scientist and as a human being...Schweber has trawled [Bethe's] correspondence [with Rudolf Peierls], together with Bethe's voluminous archive, with the finest of gauzes, and the result is a richly detailed picture of his life. Schweber tells it with compassion and admiration, although Nuclear Forces is no hagiography…This is a deeply rewarding book…[It's] an insightful account of how Hans Bethe became, in the constellation of 20th-century physicists, one of its most luminous stars. (Graham Farmelo Times Higher Education 20120614)

Nuclear Forces is a highly readable account of a remarkable period in physics, tracing the future Nobel laureate through his formative years and up to the eve of World War II. (Manjit Kumar Wall Street Journal 20120713)

Nuclear Forces, by the distinguished physicist Silvan Schweber, tells the story of the first three decades of Bethe's life and career, up to the time of his Nobel Prize–winning work on nuclear reactions in stars. But the book offers much more besides, with a history of the development of physics—atomic, solid-state and nuclear—in the first third of the twentieth century, and of the institutions in which Bethe worked. Schweber's analysis of the physics is the book's great strength. (Frank Cose Nature 20120628)

Schweber, a physicist and historian of physics, provides an engaging account of the life of Hans Bethe...The book essentially ends just before the beginning of WW II. It gives the intellectual, cultural, and scientific background needed to understand Bethe's scientific work and his advocacy for control of nuclear weapons after the war. (M. Dickinson Choice 20121201)

Comments:

  1. The first half of this book focuses upon the Bethe Family along with their friends and colleagues in Europe. The second half of this book focuses upon the contributions of many people, including Hans Bethe, to developments in quantum mechanics resulting in stellar nucleosynthesis. In some ways, this book is similar to Turing's Cathedral: The Origins Of The Digital Universe in that it describes a veritable golden age in scientific research.
     
  2. Hans Bethe's father was Albrecht Bethe (professor and director of the Institute of Physiology at the University of Kiel beginning in 1912 then later became head of the new Institute of Physiology at the University of Frankfurt am Main in 1915). This means that much has been written about this family as well as the people coming into contract with them. This book, then, also provides a good glimpse of how anti-Semitism -and- conservative politics slowly destroyed European culture eventually driving out many of Europe's brightest people before the insanity of war inflected the final blow.
     
  3. Page 232 references a 1918 speech titled "Science as a Vocation" given by Max Weber to students of Munich University given shortly before the end of WW1. Quote: Weber also wanted to convey to his audience his belief that the antiscience and antischolarship temper that was prevalent in a very large segment of the defeated German population was symptomatic of "the cultural and political crisis facing modern Western civilization"
     
    What I find odd (and chilling) is that I hear similar anti-science sentiments almost every day coming from both the United States and Canada. These views do not appear to be greater than 50% (although the number appears to be increasing) but it does seem to me that people are already making choices where "political opinion" trumps "scientific evidence". I wonder if the west's recent infatuation with conservatism (starting with Thatcher and Regan) is an echo from an uglier time.
     
  4. Pages 226-229 provide a glimpse of how the Nazi Civil Service Law of 1933 (which forbade any non-Aryan from holding any state or federal position) affected the scientific community. Page 278 mentions the lesser known "Nazi intolerance of women in academia" making it difficult, if not impossible, for women in Germany (or Nazi influenced Europe) to have a career in science.
     
    Whatever Max Weber thought about "progress", this wasn't it. I think this quote from David Hilbert sums up the proper progressive view: When Emmy Noether’s appointment to the University of Göttingen was being blocked by stubborn faculty members, one of them complained to Hilbert that the students would resent learning “at the feet of a woman.” Hilbert replied that it should not matter. "We are a university, not a bath-house."

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (2012) Michael Mann

 highly recommended for all citizens 

The ongoing assault on climate science in the United States has never been more aggressive, more blatant, or more widely publicized than in the case of the Hockey Stick graph -- a clear and compelling visual presentation of scientific data, put together by Michael E. Mann and his colleagues, demonstrating that global temperatures have risen in conjunction with the increase in industrialization and the use of fossil fuels. Here was an easy-to-understand graph that, in a glance, posed a threat to major corporate energy interests and those who do their political bidding. The stakes were simply too high to ignore the Hockey Stick -- and so began a relentless attack on a body of science and on the investigators whose work formed its scientific basis.

The Hockey Stick achieved prominence in a 2001 UN report on climate change and quickly became a central icon in the "climate wars." The real issue has never been the graph's data but rather its implied threat to those who oppose governmental regulation and other restraints to protect the environment and planet. Mann, lead author of the original paper in which the Hockey Stick first appeared, shares the story of the science and politics behind this controversy. He reveals key figures in the oil and energy industries and the media front groups who do their bidding in sometimes slick, sometimes bare-knuckled ways. Mann concludes with the real story of the 2009 "Climategate" scandal, in which climate scientists' emails were hacked. This is essential reading for all who care about our planet's health an dour own well-being.

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True (2011) Richard Dawkins

My parents were conservative Lutherans who refused to accept evolution primarily due to the fact that they possessed no scientific education whatsoever, and their church told them not to (you do not need to give up your belief in God to accept the evidence of Darwin's Theory). While reading this unexpected gem, I kept thinking "I wish my parents were still alive so they could read this lucid explanation of evolution (in chapter one)". Although not a book targeted toward young adults, I would have no problem gifting this book to pre-teenagers about to enter secondary school. What an unexpected surprise.

Our Angry Earth: A Ticking Ecological Bomb (1991) Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl

A wake-up-call from 1991 which was ignored by almost everyone.

The Inquisition of Climate Science (2011) James Lawrence Powel

Comments:

  1. many of today's climate deniers think "they" are smarter than professional scientists; think scientists are part of some sort of world-wide liberal conspiracy; think addressing the issues of climate change will "wreck" the economy. A much smaller number of deniers have actually suggested killing some scientists. Do any of these points sound familiar
  2. prior to the 1990s, Soviet peoples wasted much bandwidth labeling everything as either "bourgeois this" or "proletariat that" and I thought it made them sound ridiculous. Since the 1990s, Americans seem to be unable to discuss anything without including labels liberal or conservative. I wonder why this ideological shift has gone unnoticed?

Knocking on Heaven's Door (2011) Lisa Randall
subtitled: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World

From one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, a rousing defense of the role of science in our lives The latest developments in physics have the potential to radically revise our understanding of the world: its makeup, its evolution, and the fundamental forces that drive its operation. Knocking on Heaven's Door is an exhilarating and accessible overview of these developments and an impassioned argument for the significance of science.

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality (2011) Manjit Kumar

 science lover's "must have"

Quantum theory is weird. As Niels Bohr said, if you aren't shocked by quantum theory, you don't really understand it. For most people, quantum theory is synonymous with mysterious, impenetrable science. And in fact for many years it was equally baffling for scientists themselves. In this tour de force of science history, Manjit Kumar gives a dramatic and superbly written account of this fundamental scientific revolution, focusing on the central conflict between Einstein and Bohr over the nature of reality and the soul of science. This revelatory book takes a close look at the golden age of physics, the brilliant young minds at its core, and how an idea ignited the greatest intellectual debate of the twentieth century.

Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011) Lawrence M. Krauss

Physicist Richard Feynman has a reputation as a bongo-playing, hard-partying, flamboyant Nobel Prize laureate for his work on quantum electrodynamics theory, but this tends to obscure the fact that he was a brilliant thinker who continued making contributions to science until his death in 1988. He foresaw new directions in science that have begun to produce practical applications only in the last decade: nanotechnology, atomic-scale biology like the manipulation of DNA, lasers to move individual atoms, and quantum engineering. In the 1960s, Feynman entered the field of quantum gravity and created important tools and techniques for scientists studying black holes and gravity waves. Author Krauss (The Physics of Star Trek), an MIT-trained physicist, doesn't necessarily break new ground in this biography, but Krauss excels in his ability, like Feynman himself, to make complicated physics comprehensible. He incorporates Feynman's lectures and quotes several of the late physicist's colleagues to aid him in this process. This book is highly recommended for readers who want to get to know one of the preeminent scientists of the 20th century.

The Relativity of Wrong: Essays on Science (1988) Isaac Asimov

Lots of neat stuff, but here is some material from chapter 17

Three science oldies (1968-1973) Isaac Asimov

A few months back I was routing through an box of old paperbacks when I rediscovered "Science, Numbers and I". It was too fragile to handle but brought back lots of good memories so I used www.bookfinder.com to locate used hardcover copies of:

What a pleasure to reread. I didn't encounter any errors but found the description of "Neutron Decay" in "Science, Numbers and I" a little anachronistic since there was no mention of a down quark turning into an up quark. However, that level of detail was probably beyond the scope of a popular science book at that time. The third book titled "Please Explain" does contain three short essays involving quarks.

Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation (2010) Anton Zeilinger

Personal comments:

Einstein Wrote Back: My Life in Physics (2010) John W. Moffat

Professor John Moffat in 2007 science lover's "must have"  

An entertaining memoir about the peculiar and competitive world of modern physics.

John W. Moffat was a poor student of math and science. That is, until as a young man in the early 1950s in Copenhagen he read Einstein's famous paper on general relativity and Einstein's current work seeking a unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism. Realizing that he had an unusual and unexplained aptitude for understanding complex physics and mathematics, Moffat wrote two papers based on Einstein's unified field theory. Soon, he found himself being interviewed by Denmark's most famous physicist, Niels Bohr, and giving a seminar on unified theory at the Niels Bohr Institute. When he faced derision and criticism of Einstein's current research by the audience of physicists at the Bohr Institute, Moffat went home and wrote a letter to Einstein that would change the course of his life. Einstein replied to Moffat and they exchanged a series of letters in which they discussed both technical matters relating to the scientific papers and their views on the current state of physics. This correspondence led to Moffat being interviewed by influential physicists in Britain and Ireland, including Erwin Schrödinger. Their recommendations resulted in Moffat being enrolled in the PhD physics program at Trinity College, Cambridge, the first student in the College's 400-year history to be enrolled without an undergraduate degree.

Moffat and Einstein did not continue their correspondence, as the great man died shortly after Moffat began his studies. However, Moffat continued, over the next fifty years, to modify and expand on Einstein's theory of gravity.

Einstein Wrote Back tells the story of Moffat's unusual entry into the world of academia and documents his career at the frontlines of twentieth-century physics as he worked and studied under some of the greatest minds in scientific history, including Niels Bohr, Fred Hoyle, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrödinger, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Abdus Salam, among others.

Taking readers inside the classrooms and minds of these "giants" of modern science, Moffat affectionately exposes the foibles and eccentricities of these great men, as they worked on the revolutionary ideas that, today, are the very foundation of modern physics and cosmology.

Merchants of Doubt (2010) Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
subtitled: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

 highly recommended  for any citizen wondering about science denial or political lobbyists

 This book is recommended to anyone who...

Seeing Further: The Story of Science and The Royal Society (2010) Bill Bryson

 science lover's "must have"

The Greatest Show On Earth (2010) Richard Dawkins
subtitled: The Evidence for Evolution

 science lover's "must have"

The Prism and the Pendulum (2003) Robert Crease

 science lover's "must have"

The Great Equations (2008-2009) Robert P. Crease
subtitled: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

 science lover's "must have"

The Discovery of Global Warming (2008) Spencer R. Weart

The Discovery of Global Warming very highly recommended  for anyone interested in science or climate change

Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles (2009) Paul Halpern

A history of experimental particle physics (particle accelerators to colliders) from Ernest Rutherford to the LHC (Large Hadron Collider). This book also contains some shocking information about how and why the SSC (Superconducting Super Collider) was shut down after $2 billion was already spent and 13 miles of tunnel was already dug.

The Evolution of Charles Darwin (2009) CBC Audio

Charles Darwin very highly recommended  for people wanting more details about Darwin, and the times in which he lived.

Einstein's Mistakes (2008) Hans Ohanian

He Knew He Was Right (2008) John Gribbin

What an unexpected surprise. Not only does this book include a biography of James Lovelock along with a description of his Gaia Hypothesis, it also includes a general history of the physics and chemistry of atmospheric and geological sciences which starts in the 1700s with the work of Jean Fourier (heat) and Joseph Black (discoverer if Carbon Dioxide which was then known as "fixed air"). Maybe it is only because I am a science fan but I couldn't put this book down. It is highly recommended to the general reader wishing to learn more about climate change.

First Principles: The Crazy Business of Doing Serious Science (2009) Howard Burton

Climate Wars (2008) Gwynne Dyer

 highly recommended  for everyone in the modern world

 

Reinventing Gravity (2009) John W Moffat

Professor John Moffat in 2007  highly recommended  for people interested in science

Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character (2006) Ralph Leighton

Arthur C. Clarke - The Authorized Biography (1992) Neil McAleer

"God's Mechanics" (2007) Guy Consolmagno

Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning (2006) George Monbiot

Just a few interesting facts from the first couple of chapters:

The Theory of Almost Everything (2005) Robert Oerter

 science lover's "must have"

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe (2005) Simon Singh

 science lover's "must have"

Albert Einstein once said: 'The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.' Simon Singh believes geniuses like Einstein are not the only people able to grasp the physics that govern the universe. We all can. As well as explaining what the Big Bang theory actually is, the book will address why cosmologists believe that it is an accurate description of the origin of the universe. It will also tell the story of the scientists who fought against the establishment idea of an eternal and unchanging universe. Simon Singh, renowned for making difficult ideas much less difficult than they first seem, is the perfect guide for this journey. Everybody has heard of the Big Bang Theory. But how many of us can actually claim to understand it? With characteristic clarity and a narrative peppered with anecdotes and personal histories of those who have struggled to understand creation, Simon Singh has written the story of the most important theory ever.

Brother Astronomer - Adventures of a Vatican Scientist (2001) Guy Consolmagno

Mostly Genetics (some biology)

The Human Advantage (2016) Suzana Herculano-Houzel
A New Understanding of How our Brains Became Remarkable

Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies, use 25% of all the energy the body requires each day, and became enormous in hardly any time in evolution, leaving our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right?

Wrong: according to the evidence uncovered by the author, humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals because we have a brain built in the image of other primate brains that managed to gather the largest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex due to a technological innovation that allowed a larger caloric intake in less time: cooking.

comments: this book explains why "dogs are twice as smart as cats" and "humans are twice as smart as gorillas". And why is it that elephant brains are three times larger than human brains, and yet human are three times smarter than elephants.

New science proves why "dogs are smarter than cats" and "humans are smarter than gorillas". Even through elephant brains are three times larger, why are humans smarter?

my review: This book is a real "page turner" and I recommend it for all modern citizens who ever wondered "why humans are so much more intelligent than other species?" Much of my own knowledge on this subject began in 1977 when I read a book by Carl Sagan titled "The Dragons of Eden" (subtitled: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence). In chapter 1 of "The Human Advantage", the author mentions that much brain science popularized in Sagan's book (who was publishing outside his area of expertise) is now considered wrong. Error-1: the concept of the human "triune brain" (where a neocortex is layered over a paleocortex which is layered over a reptilian (limbic) brain) is now considered a complete fiction because the first mammalian brain evolved "before" the first reptilian brain. Error-2: previous books claim the human brain is composed of 100 billion neurons. But it appears that an actual experiment was never done, and the number every book quotes is just a rounded-up estimate. Error-3: the cultural meme that we only use 10% of our brains is totally wrong. In fact, we use 100% of our gray matter (our brains are composed of 10% gray matter layered over 90% white matter which acts as a mechanical substrate). CAVEAT: Everything I have just written comes from chapter 1. The remainder of the book is just as rich with new information. If you enjoyed reading general science books by Carl Sagan then you will definitely enjoy reading "The Human Advantage".

The Epigenetics Revolution (2012) Nessa Carey
How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance

Epigenetics can potentially revolutionize our understanding of the structure and behavior of biological life on Earth. It explains why mapping an organism's genetic code is not enough to determine how it develops or acts and shows how nurture combines with nature to engineer biological diversity. Surveying the twenty-year history of the field while also highlighting its latest findings and innovations, this volume provides a readily understandable introduction to the foundations of epigenetics.

Nessa Carey, a leading epigenetics researcher, connects the field's arguments to such diverse phenomena as how ants and queen bees control their colonies; why tortoiseshell cats are always female; why some plants need cold weather before they can flower; and how our bodies age and develop disease. Reaching beyond biology, epigenetics now informs work on drug addiction, the long-term effects of famine, and the physical and psychological consequences of childhood trauma. Carey concludes with a discussion of the future directions for this research and its ability to improve human health and well-being.

Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance (2011) by Richard C. Francis

"The potential is staggering. The age of epigenetics has arrived." Time, January 2010
Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Epigenetics is the first book for general readers on this fascinating and important topic. The book is driven by stories such as the Dutch famine of World War II, Jose Canseco and steroids, the breeding of mules and hinnies, Tasmanian devils and contagious cancer, and more.

DNA: The Secret of Life (2003/2004) by James Watson

What makes DNA different from hordes of competitors purporting to help readers understand genetics is that it is written by none other than James Watson, of Watson and Crick fame. He and his co-author Andrew Berry have produced a clear and easygoing history of genetics, from Mendel through genome sequencing. Watson offers readers a sense of immediacy, a behind-the scenes familiarity with some of the most exciting developments in modern science. He gleefully reports on the research juggernaut that led to current obsessions with genetic engineering and cloning. Aided by profuse illustrations and photos, Watson offers an enthusiastic account of how scientists figured out how DNA codes for the creation of proteins--the so-called "central dogma" of genetics. But as patents and corporations enter the picture, Watson reveals his concern about the incursions of business into the hallowed halls of science. After 1975, DNA was no longer solely the concern of academics trying to understand the molecular underpinnings of life. The molecule moved beyond the cloisters of white-coated scientists into a very different world populated largely by men in silk ties and sharp suits. In later chapters, Watson aims barbs at those who are concerned by genetic tinkering, calling them "alarmists" who don't understand how the experiments work. It is in these arguments that Watson may lose favor with those whose notions of science were born after Silent Spring. Nevertheless, DNA encompasses both sides of the political issues involved in genetics, and Watson is an enthusiastic proponent of debate on the subject.

Who better than James Watson to lead a guided tour of DNA? When he and his English colleague, Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, little could they imagine that a mere 50 years later scientists would be putting the finishing touches on a map of the human genome. In this magisterial work, Watson, who won the Nobel Prize with Crick for their discovery, guides readers through the startling and rapid advances in genetic technology and what these advances will mean for our lives. Watson covers all aspects of the genome, from the layout of four simple bases on the DNA molecule through their complex construction into genes, then to the mechanisms whereby proteins produced by genes create our uniquely human characteristics-as well as the genetic mutations that can cause illnesses or inherited diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease. Watson may have mellowed a little over the years since he displayed his youthful brashness in The Double Helix, but he still isn't shy about taking on controversial subjects. He criticizes biotech corporations for patenting genes, making diagnostic medical procedures horribly expensive and damping further basic research. He notes that while China and other countries with large populations to feed have eagerly grasped the potential of genetically modified foodstuffs, America squandered $100 million on a recall of taco shells and the genetically modified corn used in them. He pleads passionately for the refinement and widespread use of prenatal genetic testing. Watson will probably provoke the most controversy with his criticism of scientists, corporations and government funding sources for their avoidance of important areas of research-notably the genetics of skin coloration-for political reasons. Every reader who wants to understand their own medical future will want to read this book.

The Code of Codes (1993/2000) Daniel Kevles and Leroy Hood
subtitled: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project

Another popularization of the Human Genome Project, this one has the distinction of being the first published as an anthology, and among its contributors are some leading scholars, scientists, and social critics. The three parts of the book present essays covering topics in "History, Politics, and Genetics," "Genetics, Technology, and Medicine," and "Ethics, Law, and Society." Some of the essays are quite provocative, especially editor Kevels' "Out of Eugenics: The Historical Politics of the Human Genome" (creepy to read but necessary so humanity does not repeat this mistake - NSR) , Dorothy Nelkin's "The Social Power of Genetic Information", Ruth Schwartz Conan's "Genetic Technology and Reproductive Choice", and James D. Watson's "A Personal View of the Project." Still, there is a good deal of substantive overlap among the essays and, while the discussions by experts are more sophisticated and specialized than those appearing in other books, little new information is presented for general readers. Public libraries with either Jerry Bishop and Michael Waldholz's Genome ( LJ 7/90) or Robert Shapiro's The Human Blueprint ( LJ 9/1/91) do not need this title, but academic libraries should consider it.

Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, President and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, is a pioneer in systems approaches to biology and medicine. Dr. Hood's research has focused on the study of molecular immunology, biotechnology and genomics. His professional career began at Caltech, where he and his colleagues developed the DNA sequencer and synthesizer and the protein synthesizer and sequencer--four instruments that paved the way for the successful mapping of the human genome and lead to his receiving this year's prestigious Russ Prize, awarded by the Academy of Engineering. A pillar in the biotechnology field, Dr. Hood has played a role in founding more than fourteen biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Darwin, The Accelerator and Integrated Diagnostics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, one of only 10 people in the world to be elected to all three academies. In addition to having published more than 700 peer reviewed articles, he has coauthored textbooks in biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology and genetics, as well as a popular book on the human genome project, The Code of Codes. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lasker Award, the Kyoto Prize and the Heinz Award in Technology. Dr. Hood has also received 17 honorary degrees from prestigious universities in the US and other countries.

The Eighth Day of Creation (1979/1996/2004) Horace Freeland Judson
subtitled: Makers of the Revolution in Biology (25th Anniversary Edition)

In the foreword to this expanded edition of his 1979 masterpiece, Horace Freeland Judson says, "I feared I might seem the official historian of the movement"--molecular biology, that is. If by official he means "authoritative; definitive; the standard against which all others are measured" then his fears are warranted. Detailed without being overly technical, humane without being fulsome, The Eighth Day of Creation tells of molecular biology's search for the secret of life. "The drama has everything--exploration of the unknown; low comedy and urgent seriousness; savage competition, vaulting intelligence, abrupt changes of fortune, sudden understandings; eccentric and brilliant people, men of honor and of less than honor; a heroine, perhaps wronged; and a treasure to be achieved that was unique and transcendent." And in Judson this drama found its Shakespeare.

This lay history of molecular biology now contains material on some of the principal figures involved, particularly Rosalind Franklin and Erwin Chargaff. The foreword and epilogue sketch the further development of molecular biology into the era of recombinant DNA.

Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007) Gary Taubes

 Everyone needs to read this book
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Neil Rieck
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.