Recommended Science Books (for modern citizens)

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Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy

The Matter of Everything (2022) Suzie Sheehy
subtitled: Twelve Experiments that Changed Our World
The Matter of Everything (2023) Suzie Sheehy
subtitled: How Curiosity, Physics, and Improbable Experiments Changed the World

 highly recommended  for all citizens

This book is a "must-read" for all modern citizens. Why? I run into all sorts of people every week who question the value of fundamental scientific research. This book is chock full of numerous examples (in every chapter) where the scientists thought their scientific experiment would never be more than an intellectual curiosity with no practical value THEN went on to transform our modern world. Since this book contains almost no math or scientific equations, it will be accessible by people of all ages including those budding scientists and technologists in your family.

Watch this interview with author and particle physicist, Suzie Sheey

Isaac Newton (2005) Gale Christianson
Lives and Legacies Series

 highly recommended  for science nerds and science historians

Quarrelsome and quirky, a disheveled recluse who ate little, slept less, and yet had an iron constitution, Isaac Newton rose from a virtually illiterate family to become one of the towering intellects of science. Now, in this fast-paced, colorful biography, Gale E. Christianson paints an engaging portrait of Newton and the times in which he lived.
We follow Newton from his childhood in rural England to his student days at Cambridge, where he devoured the works of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, and taught himself mathematics. There ensued two miraculous years at home in Woolsthorpe Manor, where he fled when plague threatened Cambridge, a remarkably fertile period when Newton formulated his theory of gravity, a new theory of light, and calculus--all by his twenty-fourth birthday. Christianson describes Newton's creation of the first working model of the reflecting telescope, which brought him to the attention of the Royal Society, and he illuminates the eighteen months of intense labor that resulted in his Principia, arguably the most important scientific work ever published. The book sheds light on Newton's later life as master of the mint in London, where he managed to convict and hang the arch criminal William Chaloner (a remarkable turn for a once reclusive scholar), and his presidency of the Royal Society, which he turned from a dilettante's club into an eminent scientific organization. Christianson also explores Newton's less savory side, including his long, bitter feud with Robert Hooke and the underhanded way that Newton established his priority in the invention of calculus and tarnished Liebniz's reputation.
Newton was an authentic genius with all too human faults. This book captures both sides of this truly extraordinary man.

The Knowledge Machine (2020) Micheal Strevens
subtitled: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

 highly recommended  for all citizens interested in science

Why did it take so long—two thousand years after the invention of philosophy and mathematics—for the human race to start using science to learn the secrets of the universe?

In a groundbreaking work that blends science, philosophy, and history, leading philosopher of science Michael Strevens answers these challenging questions, showing how science came about only once thinkers stumbled upon the astonishing idea that scientific breakthroughs could be accomplished by breaking the rules of logical argument.

Like such classic works as Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The Knowledge Machine grapples with the meaning and origins of science, using a plethora of vivid historical examples to demonstrate that scientists willfully ignore religion, theoretical beauty, and even philosophy to embrace a constricted code of argument whose very narrowness channels unprecedented energy into empirical observation and experimentation. Strevens calls this scientific code the iron rule of explanation, and reveals the way in which the rule, precisely because it is unreasonably close-minded, overcomes individual prejudices to lead humanity inexorably toward the secrets of nature.

“With a mixture of philosophical and historical argument, and written in an engrossing style” (Alan Ryan), The Knowledge Machine provides captivating portraits of some of the greatest luminaries in science’s history, including Isaac Newton, the chief architect of modern science and its foundational theories of motion and gravitation; William Whewell, perhaps the greatest philosopher-scientist of the early nineteenth century; and Murray Gell-Mann, discoverer of the quark. Today, Strevens argues, in the face of threats from a changing climate and global pandemics, the idiosyncratic but highly effective scientific knowledge machine must be protected from politicians, commercial interests, and even scientists themselves who seek to open it up, to make it less narrow and more rational—and thus to undermine its devotedly empirical search for truth.

Rich with illuminating and often delightfully quirky illustrations, The Knowledge Machine, written in a winningly accessible style that belies the import of its revisionist and groundbreaking concepts, radically reframes much of what we thought we knew about the origins of the modern world.

The Frontiers of Knowledge (2021) A. C. Grayling
subtitled: What we know about science, history and the mind

comment: Not sure if this book should here or in the humanities section under philosophy but I still recommend it as a good read

In very recent times humanity has learnt a vast amount about the universe, the past, and itself. But through our remarkable successes in acquiring knowledge we have learned how much we have yet to learn: the science we have, for example, addresses just 5 per cent of the universe; pre-history is still being revealed, with thousands of historical sites yet to be explored; and the new neurosciences of mind and brain are just beginning.

What do we know, and how do we know it? What do we now know that we don't know? And what have we learnt about the obstacles to knowing more? In a time of deepening battles over what knowledge and truth mean, these questions matter more than ever. Bestselling polymath and philosopher A. C. Grayling seeks to answer them in three crucial areas at the frontiers of knowledge: science, history and psychology. A remarkable history of science, life on earth, and the human mind itself, this is a compelling and fascinating tour de force, written with verve, clarity and remarkable breadth of knowledge.

Spinoza A Life  is Simple (Second Edition - 2018) Steven Nadler

Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was one of the most important philosophers of all time; he was also one of the most radical and controversial. The story of Spinoza's life takes the reader into the heart of Jewish Amsterdam in the seventeenth century and, with Spinoza's exile from Judaism, into the midst of the tumultuous political, social, intellectual, and religious world of the young Dutch Republic. This new edition of Steven Nadler's biography, winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award for biography and translated into a dozen languages, is enhanced by exciting new archival discoveries about his family background, his youth, and the various philosophical, political, and religious contexts of his life and works. There is more detail about his family's business and communal activities, about his relationships with friends and correspondents, and about the development of his writings, which were so scandalous to his contemporaries.

Life is Simple (2021) Johnjoe McFadden
subtitled: How Occam's Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe

 highly recommended  for all citizens

Centuries ago, the principle of Ockham’s razor changed our world by showing simpler answers to be preferable and more often true. In Life Is Simple, scientist Johnjoe McFadden traces centuries of discoveries, taking us from a geocentric cosmos to quantum mechanics and DNA, arguing that simplicity has revealed profound answers to the greatest mysteries. This is no coincidence. From the laws that keep a ball in motion to those that govern evolution, simplicity, he claims, has shaped the universe itself. And in McFadden’s view, life could only have emerged by embracing maximal simplicity, making the fundamental law of the universe a cosmic form of natural selection that favors survival of the simplest. Recasting both the history of science and our universe’s origins, McFadden transforms our understanding of ourselves and our world.


  • 300 years before Galileo's arrest by the Catholic church, William of Occam was arrested and charged with heresy for questioning the Catholic church's pronouncements on science. Perhaps the best example of Occam's Razor is when William cut science away from theology (or was it the other way around?)
  • chapters 16-19 (quantum mechanics and cosmology) were an unexpected pleasure containing stuff not so simple
  • chapter 19 contains some interesting cosmological speculation from Lee Smolin of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
  • make sure you read the epilogue

The Man who changed everything (2003) Basil Mahon
subtitled: The life of James Clerk Maxwell

 highly recommended  for all science + technology nerds

Albert Einstein claimed that his work was built on previous work done by James Clerk Maxwell so how is it that very few modern people are familiar with Maxwell's name or is accomplishments?

On 2021-02-12 I received these next two books after winning them on a online auction (I know I paid too much for them). Not sure if they should go here or on my Recommended Technology Books page but they are full of all kinds of cool nerdy stuff.

Astronomical Algorithms (1991) Jean Meeus
429 Pages (hardcover)

 highly recommended  for all computer nerds also interested in astronomy

Fundamental Ephemeris Computations (1999) Paul J. Heafner
subtitled: For use with JPL data
315 Pages (hardcover) with CD-ROM containing "C" and PowerBasic Source Code

 highly recommended  for all computer nerds also interested in astronomy

The Varieties of Scientific Experience (2006) Carl Sagan (Edited by Ann Druyan)

 highly recommended for all modern citizens 

Carl Sagan died on 1996-12-20 and I thought I had read everything he published. I just (2020-12-23) stumbled onto this gem after I watched Ann give this interview ( ). It is material originally published for the Gifford Lectures (Scotland) in 1985. I will enjoy reading this book over the Christmas holidays.

The Gifford Lectures centre on what's called "Natural theology". The term applies to using scientific methods to support theology. One can only hope that by 1985, the members of the audience knew of Sagan's thinking prior to his emergence on stage. From the opening lecture, "Reconnaissance of Heaven", Sagan strips away old mythologies relating how the cosmos worked. In nine lectures and a following question and answer session, he reveals the scope and workings of our universe that science has revealed. The key factor, of course, is "evidence". What we have learned about the world around us is derived from centuries of hard work by dedicated workers. The effort, performed in small, but incremental steps, has revealed a universe over 14 billion years old. It is populated by more galaxies than there are stars in our Milky Way, with each of those cosmic gatherings themselves populated by their own billions of stars. Yet, with all those fantastic numbers, Sagan reminds us, there is a uniformity among that host of fiery orbs. Sodium here is the same as that at the edge of our perception. Organic molecules, without which life could exist nowhere, are present everywhere. What are the odds that we humans are the sole intelligent life? Extraterrestrial life and the implications arising from that possibility, form a sub-theme of the series. From the suggestion that so many stars exist, it naturally follows that many of them have planets, some of which ought to be capable of hosting life, perhaps even intelligent life. It's only logical that such life would also seek who might be residing as cosmic neighbours. Sagan explains the famous Drake Equation, which postulated the odds of such life existing. It hasn't been found, he admits, but that's no reason not to search for it. In his lectures, he supposes that in other places, intelligent life might last millions of years. That life might - ought - to be well in advance of ours. Furthermore, he contends, what does such life imply for our concept of a god who fashioned us and our beliefs? Is it rational, he asks, to think a universe as vast as ours should be initiated, let alone controlled, by a human-devised supernatural being? Before an audience interested in nature and theology, Sagan posits a new concept of a god. Not one with supernatural powers and dabbling in affairs of a single species on a remote planet, but something different. This deity should represent the expanse and complexity of the universe we are only beginning to understand. He explains how older versions of deities hampered scientific investigation - they're still doing so. A new, less defined and more open concept of the spiritual aspect of the universe is in order. Entirely new religious experiences can derive from redefining our relationship to the universe, one more realistic and, in Sagan's view, much grander and more fulfilling. This concept, of course, underlies the book's title. By adapting William James' highly insightful, if less informed, work of human religiosity, Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife and collaborator, gave a "tip of the hat" to that earlier collection. "The Varieties of Religious Experience", a previous Gifford Lectures series, also sought a broadened sense of spiritual values. James' work needed little "updating", but Druyan offers some examples of what has been learned in the two decades since her husband's lectures to fill in meaningful details. Sagan would have applauded, since each new bit of information buttresses his case. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) Edwin Abbott

 science lover's "must have"

This thought-provoking book seems to have been read by almost every scientist, technologist, and engineer. I just purchased a hard-cover reproduction from Amazon for the tiny sum of $14 (how did anyone make any money on this one?)

Tunnel Visions (2015) Michael Riordan, Lilian Hoddeson and Andreine W Kolb
subtitled: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC)

Starting in the 1950s, US physicists dominated the search for elementary particles; aided by the association of this research with national security, they held this position for decades. In an effort to maintain their hegemony and track down the elusive Higgs boson, they convinced President Reagan and Congress to support construction of the multibillion-dollar Superconducting Super Collider project in Texas—the largest basic-science project ever attempted. But after the Cold War ended and the estimated SSC cost surpassed ten billion dollars, Congress terminated the project in October 1993. Drawing on extensive archival research, contemporaneous press accounts, and over one hundred interviews with scientists, engineers, government officials, and others involved, Tunnel Visions tells the riveting story of the aborted SSC project. The authors examine the complex, interrelated causes for its demise, including problems of large-project management, continuing cost overruns, and lack of foreign contributions. In doing so, they ask whether Big Science has become too large and expensive, including whether academic scientists and their government overseers can effectively manage such an enormous undertaking.

comment: the initial budget for Ronald Regan's Strategic Defense Initiative was set between 400-800 billion dollars (ref) so I fail to see how 10 billion dollars was anyone's concern. Perhaps this is the beginning of the austerity movement.

Nobel Dreams (1986) Gary Taubes

A   highly recommended page-turner  purchased from a used-book vendor in 2020

Excerpt from the Preface: Theoretically, Carlo Rubia and his colleagues are engaged in the time-honored occupation, the pursuit of pure knowledge. Their work is probably more closely related to that of philosophers or, in some obvious ways, theologians than anything else. Unlike their brethren in solid state or nuclear physics, the work of the high-energy physicist has no practical uses. It does, however, produce spin-offs. When, in the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell proposed that electricity and magnetism were two aspects of the same force and propagated through space in waves, what resulted was more than just that bane of freshman physics majors known as Maxwell's equations. Among the future spin-offs would be numbered eclectic lights and radios and television sets. Later, the pin-offs from this physics were to include such items as atom bombs and X-ray machines and computer technology.

Comments: this book begins with the first big collider built at CERN in 1971 called ISR (Intersecting Storage Rings). If you ever wondered about the energy differences between "fixed-target particle accelerators" vs. "beam colliders" then this is the book for you. This author continually mentions the SSC (superconducting super collider) which was under construction at the time in Texas but cancelled by Congress in 1993. While doing a little poking around in 2020 I stumbled on this 2012 article by Steven Weinberg talking about the crisis in big science: . Excerpt:  One thing that killed the SSC was an undeserved reputation for over-spending. Projected costs did increase, but the main reason was that, year by year, Congress never supplied sufficient funds to keep to the planned rate of spending. This stretched out the time and hence the cost to complete the project. Even so, the SSC met all technical challenges, and could have been completed for about what has been spent on the LHC, and completed a decade earlier.
And then I stumbled onto this article from 2013:
Excerpt p152: Rubbia made two points in his after-dinner speech. He talked about the American plans for the Superconducting Super Collider and, as Cline related it, "Carlo said that building the SSC is harder than going to the moon" which the Americans didn't like. And secondly, there should be a collaboration with Europe, intellectually, if not otherwise which they also didn't like. So his after dinner speech didn't go very well 

The Calculus Diaries (2010) Jennifer Ouellete

Contains stories from both Math and Science  highly recommended for all modern citizens 

Jennifer Ouellette never took math in college, mostly because she-like most people-assumed that she wouldn't need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun and fascinating account of her year spent confronting her math phobia head on. With wit and verve, Ouellette shows how she learned to apply calculus to everything from gas mileage to dieting, from the rides at Disneyland to shooting craps in Vegas-proving that even the mathematically challenged can learn the fundamentals of the universal language.

quote: I think scientists have a valid point when they bemoan the fact that it's socially acceptable in our culture to be utterly ignorant of math, whereas it is a shameful thing to be illiterate.

Galileo: And the Science Deniers (2020) Mario Livio

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

Galileo’s story may be more relevant today than ever before. At present, we face enormous crises—such as the minimization of the dangers of climate change—because the science behind these threats is erroneously questioned or ignored. Galileo encountered this problem 400 years ago. His discoveries, based on careful observations and ingenious experiments, contradicted conventional wisdom and the teachings of the church at the time. Consequently, in a blatant assault on freedom of thought, his books were forbidden by church authorities. Astrophysicist and bestselling author Mario Livio draws on his own scientific expertise to provide captivating insights into how Galileo reached his bold new conclusions about the cosmos and the laws of nature. A freethinker who followed the evidence wherever it led him, Galileo was one of the most significant figures behind the scientific revolution. He believed that every educated person should know science as well as literature, and insisted on reaching the widest audience possible, publishing his books in Italian rather than Latin. Galileo was put on trial with his life in the balance for refusing to renounce his scientific convictions. He remains a hero and inspiration to scientists and all of those who respect science—which, as Livio reminds us in this gripping book, remains threatened even today.

Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field (2014) Nancy Forbes and Basil Mahon
subtitled: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics

 science lover's "must have"
Two of the boldest and most creative scientists of all time were Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879). This is the story of how these two men - separated in age by forty years - discovered the existence of the electromagnetic field and devised a radically new theory which overturned the strictly mechanical view of the world that had prevailed since Newton's time.

The authors, veteran science writers with special expertise in physics and engineering, have created a lively narrative that interweaves rich biographical detail from each man's life with clear explanations of their scientific accomplishments. Faraday was an autodidact, who overcame class prejudice and a lack of mathematical training to become renowned for his acute powers of experimental observation, technological skills, and prodigious scientific imagination. James Clerk Maxwell was highly regarded as one of the most brilliant mathematical physicists of the age. He made an enormous number of advances in his own right. But when he translated Faraday's ideas into mathematical language, thus creating field theory, this unified framework of electricity, magnetism and light became the basis for much of later, 20th-century physics.

Faraday's and Maxwell's collaborative efforts gave rise to many of the technological innovations we take for granted today - from electric power generation to television, and much more. Told with panache, warmth, and clarity, this captivating story of their greatest work - in which each played an equal part - and their inspiring lives will bring new appreciation to these giants of science.
page 221: From his mental pictures, Maxwell coined three expressions that eventually became universal currency - curl, divergence and gradient, the last two usually abbreviated to div and curl. Maxwell originally proposed "convergence" and "slope", and, in his Treatise, replaced curl with the more formal "rotation", but, in essence, all the terms have stood the test of time
comments: most people reading this will be aware of The Royal Society (of London) which was founded in 1660 to promote science. This book was the first time I learned of The Royal Institution (of London) and "City Philosophical Society" (of London) which where science promoters for the working and poorer classes. Michael Faraday was a famous lecturer at both.

Novacene (2019) James Lovelock
subtitled: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the Anthropocene - the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies - is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age - the Novacene - has already begun. New beings will emerge from existing artificial intelligence systems. They will think 10,000 times faster than we do and they will regard us as we now regard plants - as desperately slow acting and thinking creatures. But this will not be the cruel, violent machine takeover of the planet imagined by sci-fi writers and film-makers. These hyper-intelligent beings will be as dependent on the health of the planet as we are. They will need the planetary cooling system of Gaia to defend them from the increasing heat of the sun as much as we do. And Gaia depends on organic life. We will be partners in this project. It is crucial, Lovelock argues, that the intelligence of Earth survives and prospers. He does not think there are intelligent aliens, so we are the only beings capable of understanding the cosmos. Maybe, he speculates, the Novacene could even be the beginning of a process that will finally lead to intelligence suffusing the entire cosmos. At the age 100, James Lovelock has produced the most important and compelling work of his life.

NSR comments: This well written and easily digestible book may be as pivotal for humanity as Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" but there is a problem: it was written by a nerd (Lovelock) for nerds (scientists, engineers, technicians, computer programmers, students). Non-nerds (especially those people whose primary interest is in sports, finance, politics, religion and war) will be tone-deaf to the topics within. But all is not lost. Nerds created the imperfect internet-based world in which everyone now lives so it is up to the nerds to educate everyone else. It is impossible to Make America Great Again in the context espoused by politicians since it would mean going back to a previous era (did not work for the Luddites)

Quote from page 116: It is horrific that our leaders, almost all of whom are wholly ignorant of science and engineering, are encouraging the development of fill-this-blank. Their ignorance is compounded by an inability to reject the advice of lobbyists whose sole aim seems to be to profit from whatever can be made to seem an environmental hazard.

Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007/2012) Walter Isaacson

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

Reading this biography is a pure joy but it is not totally devoid of science; many modern scientists are quoted. The book weighs in at 675 pages with almost 100 of them source references.

page quote
ix Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
16 "I never failed at mathematics," he replied, correctly, "Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus"
159 Einstein tried to persuade Adler to focus on science rather than be enticed into politics. Adler ignored him which caused Einstein to write: "How an intelligent man can subscribe to a [political] party I find a complete mystery"
170 "the quantum hypothesis is provisional" and that it "does not seem compatible with experimentally verified conclusions of the wave theory"
335 Like Baruch Spinoza, Einstein did not believe in a personal God who interacted with man. But they both believed that divine design was reflected in the elegant laws that governed the way the universe worked.
comment: this makes both men, as well as most of America's founding fathers, deists. Click here to learn more:
367 Even a genius like Schopenhauer was crushed by employment, Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
371 Question: Do science and religion conflict? Einstein Answered: Not really, though it depends, of course, on your religious views"
379 Einstein was a humanist, socialist, and a democrat. He was completely anti-totalitarian, no matter whether it was Russian, German or South American. He approved of a combination of capitalism and socialism. And he hated all dictatorships of the right or left.
381 Despite his association with the Zionist cause, Einstein's sympathies extended to the Arabs who were being displaced by the influx of Jews into what would eventually be Israel. His message was prophetic: "Should we be unable to find a way  to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our 2,000 years of suffering. If the Jews did not assure that both sides live in harmony", he warned friends in the Zionist movement, "the struggle would haunt them for decades to come".

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution (2019) Lee Smolin
subtitled: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum

  1. I attended Professor Smolin's public lecture last night (April-18) at the Perimeter Institute and found it refreshing when he said (during the Q&A) that although the Copenhagen Interpretation was a crazy idea, that the many-worlds interpretation (which many people were driven to because of problems with the Copenhagen Interpretation) was even crazier. This was the first time I heard someone profess that many of the scientists who created quantum mechanics were not realists [they believed that reality existed only when it was measured]. On the other hand, others like Einstein and Schrödinger were realists who wanted a better explanation.
    • Professor Smolin was signing books in the lobby so I bought one. Yay!
  2. I am still surprised by the number of people who blindly accept the idea of Schrödinger's Cat without realizing that Schrödinger created this thought experiment as a criticism of the Copenhagen Interpretation
    • how can a cat be in a superposition of both alive and dead until the door is opened?
    • why doesn't anyone ever mention that the cat is an observer?
    • if you ever believed "that a tree that fell in the forest with no one around would not make a noise" then you are from the non-realist camp.
  3. IMHO, quantum mechanics is just another man-made tool with limitations. For example:
    • How soon we forget that dividing something into three thirds is only possible when we stick to fractions.
      • action: one divided by three yields three times 1/3
      • proof: three times 1/3 yields one
    • But as soon as we switch from fractions to decimals we run into limitations
      • action: one divided by three yields three 0.333...
      • proof: three time 0.333... yields 0.999... (oops)
    Professor Smolin is correct when he says that our current understanding of quantum mechanics should be treated in the same was as the Ptolemaic Theory of planetary motion. Good enough for the time but in need of more work.

Infinite Powers (2019) Stephen Strogatz
subtitled: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe

Comment: Like most nerds, I love math. Unlike most nerds, I am not good at math but I loved reading this book.

Without calculus, we wouldn’t have cell phones, computers, or microwave ovens. We wouldn’t have radio. Or television. Or ultrasound for expectant mothers, or GPS for lost travelers. We wouldn’t have split the atom, unraveled the human genome, or put astronauts on the moon. We might not even have the Declaration of Independence. It’s a curiosity of history that the world was changed forever by an arcane branch of mathematics. How could it be that a theory originally about shapes ultimately reshaped civilization? The essence of the answer lies in a quip that the physicist Richard Feynman made to the novelist Herman Wouk when they were discussing the Manhattan Project. Wouk was doing research for a big novel he hoped to write about World War II, and he went to Caltech to interview physicists who had worked on the bomb, one of whom was Feynman. After the interview, as they were parting, Feynman asked Wouk if he knew calculus. No, Wouk admitted, he didn’t. “You had better learn it,” said Feynman. “It’s the language God talks.”

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:

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

  • p213: There are physicists saying we don't have to test their ideas because they are such good ideas. To my mind that's a step backwards by a thousand years.
  • p213: the public rejection of scientific information regarding things like vaccination, climate change, GMO crops, and nuclear energy shows a public skepticism of science and scientists. Theoretical physics is supposed to be the bedrock, the hardest rock, of the sciences, showing it can be completely trusted.
  • p214: Then, theoretical physicists like Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss and others say that science proves that God doesn't exist, and so on - which no scientific experiment can prove - but it results in a general hostility against science, particularly in the United States.
  • p214: If you're in the Middle West USA and your whole life and your community revolve around the church, and some scientist comes along and says 'get rid if this' then [the scientist] better have a very solidly based argument for what they say. But David Hume already said 250 years ago that science cannot either prove of disprove the existence of God. He was a very careful [enlightenment] philosopher, and nothing has changed then in this regard
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.

  • Chapter-2 is titled "E is for energy"
    • discusses the work of Michael Faraday (electricity and magnetism) which leads to a general understanding of energy (including conservation principles)
  • Chapter-3 is titled "= is for equals"
  • Chapter-4 is titled "m is for mass"
    • discusses the work on Antoine Lavoisier whose experiments lead to a consistent understanding of mass (including conservation principles)
  • Chapter-5 is titled "c is for celeritas"
    • discusses the work of Giovanni Cassini, Jean Picard and Ole Roemer whose experiments measured "the speed of light"
    • discusses the work of James Clerk Maxwell whose work was derived from Faraday's note books
  • Chapter-6 is titled "2 (for squared)"
  • Chapter-10 is titled "Germany's Turn" (should be retitled "another example of political failure")
    • everyone reading this will already know the story of Einstein writing a letter to FDR in August of 1939. But this book is the first place I've seen material showing that FDR passed the information onto Lyman J Briggs who saw no urgency at all (and delayed doing anything real for almost two years).
    • Meanwhile, Germany began fission experiments in 1940 which was leaked to Einstein. This prompted him to write a second letter to FDR which appears to have been ignored since a reply was never sent (could this be due to the fact that the FBI was already warning that Einstein might be a subversive?)
    • Nothing changed in the USA until Mark Oliphant flew to the United States in late August 1941, ostensibly to discuss the radar-development program, but also to find out why the United States was ignoring the findings of the MAUD Committee.
  • Chapter-11 is titled "Norway"
  • Chapter-12 is titled "America's Turn"
  • Four chapters follow

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

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 ( ) 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.

  • quote from page 128: In the Cold War atmosphere that followed World War II, and in particular after the passage of the Internal Security Act of 1950, the US State Department's Passport Division was given almost unlimited authority to deny passports to anyone deemed to be too "leftist". Pauling applied to renew his passport in January 1952, as he was preparing to attend a Royal Society meeting in London the following May ... his passport could not be issued since the department was of the opinion that his travel "would not be in the best interests of the United States" 

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

Chapter 1 - Paragraph 1 (excerpt)
  • THE MODERN WORLD, our world of triumphant rationality, began on November 10, 1619, with a revelation and a nightmare. On that day, in the small Bavarian village of Ulm, René Descartes, a Frenchman, twenty- three years old, crawled into a wall stove and, when he was well warmed, had a vision. It was not a vision of God, or the Mother of God, or of celestial chariots, or of the New Jerusalem. It was a vision of the unification of all science.
    The vision was preceded by a state of intense concentration and agitation. Descartes' overheated mind caught fire and provided answers to tremendous problems that had been taxing him for weeks. He was possessed by a Genius, and the answers were revealed in a dazzling, unendurable light. Later, in a state of exhaustion, he went to bed and dreamed three dreams that had been predicted by his Genius.

Chapter 2 - Paragraph 1 (excerpt)

  • LET US TAKE, a quick measurement of the march that mathematics has taken in the four centuries since Descartes' dream. To do this we must have some notion of its extent in Descartes' own day. In business, the arithmetic of buying and selling had long been in place, as had that of loans and interest. Marine insurance policies have roots antiquity and were well and were well established by the 15th Century. Casualty and life insurance were coming in strongly in Descartes' lifetime. Lotteries and gambling were were an old story, though their deeper theory was just evolving. In astronomy, the calendar as we know it today was in place, with the exception of several slight corrections. Purely arithmetical methods for calculating the positions of the moon and the planets had been known since antiquity. The work of Ptolemy of Alexandria in the 2nd Century A.D. brought calculated astronomy to a high peak. The geometric schematization of Copernicus and the subsequent studies of Kepler, Tycho Brahe and Galileo would soon lead to the revolutionary work of Isaac Newton wherein, with the development of the calculus, mechanics and planetary motion would be reduced to systems of differential equations.


  • I just purchased this book from after a strong recommendation by a new internet friend
  • this is not a biography of René Descartes. There is no mention of him after page 12
  • this book runs for 30 chapters where each one is a standalone essay
  • read this book if you want to know "where humanity has come from (mathematically speaking)" and "where we are going"
  • remember that this 30-year-old book predates the world-wide-web, the rise of Microsoft and Windows, as well as the stumble (but not fall) of IBM
  • quote from page 129 (paraphrased): "It is interesting to contemplate where the computing field will be if the hardware reaches a plateau of development as it did, for example, the steam engine"
  • quote from page 157 (paraphrased): "If is is true that space flight is impossible without computers, it is equally true that the machines could not have been set number-crunching without the efforts of Ptolemy, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Newton"
  • starting with page 168, there is much talk about the dominant computer languages: FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/1, Ada, APL, Pascal and Assembler.
    • This side of Y2K the two most dominant languages are C and C++ (most companies have rewritten older languages like FORTRAN and COBOL in C/C++)
    • I suppose this may be due to the fact the internet was primarily supported by UNIX then subsequently Linux (where C/C++ are dominant)
    • the world-wide-web then popularizes Java/JavaScript/Perl etc.

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.

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:

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: and here: (diagram showing FCC being 80-100km long which is 3-3.5 times longer than the LHC).


  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:
    • Glossary: Quark, Gluons and Jets (p.22)
    • Glossary: Bosons and Fermions (p.31)
    • Glossary: Fields, Quantum and Otherwise (p.57)
    • Glossary: Cross Sections and Luminosity (p.72)
    • Glossary: Gauge Theories (p.96)
    • Glossary: Sigmas, Probabilities and Confidence (p.139)
    • Glossary: Feynman Diagrams (p.145)
  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?"

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.


  • quote from page 13: The next time you hear a modern Luddite -- from a creationist who rejects all modern astronomy, biology, and geology, to the faith healer or homeopath or other quack who rejects modern medicine --  just ask yourself one thing: Would you want to go back to the world of the late eighteenth century with its high death rates and short life expectancy, suffer exposure to many deadly diseases, and live in a world with limited education and poverty? This is the choice they are offering you -- even as those same creationists and other Luddites benefit from modern medicine, and even exploit modern technologies like the internet to push their antiscientific causes. As Michael Shermer put it, science and critical thinking are "the most precious things we have".
  • paraphrased from page 34: just a few individuals (Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, Robert Jastrow, Edward Teller, and a handful more) were at the front of attempts to deny reality (denying the science of: the dangers of smoking tobacco, secondhand smoke, nuclear winter, ozone hole, DDT, acid rain, anthropogenic global warming). Most of these men gained their reputations as nuclear physicists, and some actually built the first atomic bomb. After the Cold War ended there was no more Commie bogeyman to fear, they retained the Cold War mentality that anything threatening capitalism and free enterprise is bad -- even if the scientific case for it is overwhelming. Never mind that a background in nuclear physics gives one absolutely no qualifications whatsoever to evaluate studies in medicine or climate science. These few men have done more to harm the country and stunt the dissemination of scientific research than any Soviet threat ever could have accomplished.
  • quote from page 208: Yet this scientific rejection of astrology has had relatively little impact on the general public, thanks to the general scientific illiteracy of the American people.
  • page 109 includes a list of the top 34 countries by GDP but orders the list by scientific comprehension of their citizens:
    1. Greece
    2. Bulgaria
    3. Lithuania
    4. Latvia
    5. Cypress
    6. The United States of America
    7. Turkey
  • Chapter Titles:
    1. Reality Check
    2. Science, Our Candle in the Darkness
    3. Betrayers of the Truth: Selling Out Science
    4. Making the Environment the Enemy: Acid Rain, the Ozone Hole, and the Demonization of Rachel Carson
    5. Hot Enough for You? The Heated Debate over a Warming Planet
    6. Gimme That Old Time Religion: Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Denial of Humanity's Place in Nature
    7. Jenny's Body Count: Playing [vaccine] Russian Roulette with Our Children
    8. Victims of Modern Witch Doctors: AIDS Denialism
    9. If it Quacks like a Quack: Snake-Oil Con Artists in an Era of Medical Science
    10. What's Your Sign? The Ancient Pseudoscience of Astrology
    11. Down the Slope of Hubbert's Curve: The End of Cheap Oil and Natural Resources
    12. Far from the Madding Crowd: Human Overpopulation and Its Consequences
    13. The Rejection of Reality: How the Denial of Science Threatens Us All

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)


  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."

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.

  • Covers all the usual suspects from Albert (Einstein) to (Anton) Zeilinger even giving a brief description of Hugh Everett III

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

  • Today it appears that religious, political, and economic extremists are actually cultivating ignorance.
  • For this reason, I hope that this 7-minute video will help end the madness.
  • This video is based upon Isaac Asimov's rebuttal to a letter he received from a student critical of science and progress. A copy of the original letter can be found here

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 to locate used hardcover copies of:

  • Science, Numbers and I (1968)
  • Realm of Numbers (1969)
  • Please Explain (1973).

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

  • Einstein's steadfast refusal to accept certain aspects of quantum theory was rooted in his insistence that physics has to be about reality. Accordingly, he once derided as "spooky action at a distance" the notion that two elementary particles far removed from each other could nonetheless influence each other's properties--a hypothetical phenomenon his fellow theorist Erwin Schrodinger termed "quantum entanglement." In a series of ingenious experiments conducted in various locations--from a dank sewage tunnel under the Danube River to the balmy air between a pair of mountain peaks in the Canary Islands--the author and his colleagues have demonstrated the reality of such entanglement using photons, or light quanta, created by laser beams. In principle the lessons learned may be applicable in other areas, including the eventual development of quantum computers
  • Light is the research focus of Zeilinger, a physicist in Austria who studies photons’ ghostly quantum behavior. Here Zeilinger introduces the fictional Dr. Quantinger, who assigns two students to experiment on an apparatus that sends photons to separate detectors that they observe. Alice and Bob periodically report their findings, proffer theories to account for the results, listen raptly to Dr. Quantinger’s hints about quantum states of light, such as entanglement and polarity, then repair to their detectors to watch more photons. Sometimes Zeilinger suspends this fictional device to address readers directly about the quality of entanglement––the property of pairs of particles, no matter how far separated, whether by the Danube in Alice and Bob’s case or by light-years of space, to “know” the quantum state of its partner. This faster-than-light talent of quantum particles bothered Einstein but excites Zeilinger, who describes the technologies that entanglement could in principle permit, such as quantum computers or quantum teleportation. An innovative presenter of a complicated topic, Zeilinger will appeal to the futurists of the science set. --Gilbert Taylor

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.

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

 science lover's "must have"
  • 22 essays celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society of London
  • The Society of London began in November 1660 when a dozen men gathered at Gresham College to discuss advances in science and promote science education. A royal charter from King Charles II triggered a name change to the Royal Society of London. This organization was responsible these two (of many) advances:
    1. shifting science publications from Latin to English opened this field to a larger segment of the population
    2. requiring peer-review prior to publishing (was the only way to end the repetition of nonsense)
  • The Royal Society of London only enforced a few rules:
    • no discussion of religion
    • no discussion of politics
    • no discussion of news unless it relates to science

The Prism and the Pendulum (2003) Robert Crease

 science lover's "must have"
  • Chapters (A thought-provoking interlude exists after each chapter):
    1. Measuring the World: Eratosthenes' Measurement of the Earth's Circumference
      Interlude: Why Science is Beautiful
    2. Dropping the Ball: The Legend of the Leaning Tower
      Interlude: Experiments and Demonstrations
    3. The Alpha Experiment: Galileo and the Inclined Plane
      • Paraphrased from Galileo's notebooks and correspondence (re: rolling a ball down an inclined plane):
        As the time increases in a single unit progression (1, 2, 3, ...) then the distance traversed by the object between each succeeding beat increases according to the odd-numbered progression (1, 3, 5, ...)
        1. summing the odd-number progression results in the sequence: 1, 4, 9, ...
        2. the phrase "succeeding beat" is curious. Did Galileo (who was also a musician) really employ a water timer or did he use cat gut to produce a click or beat? If he used cat gut, then wouldn't this source of friction skew the numbers?
      Interlude: The Newton-Beethoven Comparison
    4. Experimentum Crucsis: Newton's Decomposition of Sunlight with Prisms
      Interlude: Does Science Destroy Beauty?
    5. Weighing the World: Cavendish's Austere Experiment
      • In a fifty-year career of obsessive work, he wrote fewer than twenty articles and no books. As a result, Ohms' Law (which describes the relationship among electrical voltage, resistance, and amperage), and Coulomb's Law (which describes the force between two electrically charged bodies) were not named for the man who first came across them. (namely Henry Cavendish)
      Interlude: Integrating Science and Popular Culture
    6. Light a Wave: Young's Lucid Analogy
      Interlude: Science and Metaphor
    7. Seeing the Earth Rotate: Foucault's Sublime Pendulum
      Interlude: Science and Subline
    8. Seeing the Electron: Millikan's Oil-Drop Experiment
      Interlude: Perception in Science
    9. Dawning Beauty: Rutherford's Discovery of the Atomic Nucleus
      Interlude: Artistry in Science
    10. The Only Mystery: The Quantum Interference of Single Electrons
      Interlude: Runners-Up
      Conclusion: Can Science Still Be Beautiful
  • Author's web site:

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

 science lover's "must have"
  • Although most people can recite Einstein's famous little equation, even if we don't know quite what it means, who has heard of the 18th-century mathematician Leonhard Euler, let alone know anything at all about his famous equation? Crease, a Stony Brook philosophy professor and popular science writer, has already taken on the ten most beautiful experiments in science in The Prism and the Pendulum, and in this enjoyable book he explores 10 rather beautiful equations. He begins with the beguiling simplicity of the equation that bears Pythagoras' name (although he says the Greek wasn't the first to discover it) and moves on to Newton's second law of motion and law of universal gravitation, the second law of thermodynamics, Maxwell's celebrated equations, discoveries by Einstein and Schrödinger and, finally, Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle. Crease explains the significance of each of these formulas for science and, in brief interludes between chapters, explores the journeys these scientists took from ignorance to knowledge, and the social lives of their theories—their impact on the larger culture. Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place.
  • Comments:
    • I purchased this book with the intention of only reading Chapter 6 (James Clerk Maxwell) but am now reading the whole thing because of the high signal-to-noise ratio.
    • This material is heavily cross-referenced (a good thing since most stuff published on the internet is not)
    • Chapters (An interlude exists after each chapter):
      1. Pythagoras's Theorem (~700 BC).
      2. Newton's Second Law of Motion (1666).
      3. Newton's Universal Gravitation Law (1666).
      4. Euler's Equation (1740's).
      5. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (1840's - 1850's).
      6. Maxwell's Equations (1860's).
        quote: From the long view of the history of mankind -- seen from say, ten thousand years from now -- there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance with this important scientific event of the same decade. -- Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics.
        Then: Feynman is surely joking again, right?
      7. E=mc^2 (1905) from Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity
      8. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (1915).
      9. Schrödinger's Equation (1926).
      10. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (1927).
  • Author's web site:
  • Caveat: page 99 of the hardcover edition describes equation "y=2^x" but the shows a graph for equation "y=x^2". I just checked the soft cover edition which contains the correct graph. That said, this is still a highly recommended book.

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.

Einstein's Mistakes (2008) Hans Ohanian

  • One theoretical physicist critiques the works of others
  • This book is not an attack on Einstein, it just proves he was a gifted mortal
  • Provides a good overview of Galileo's inquisition by the Catholic Church
  • Galileo suffered from hatter's syndrome (lead poisoning cause by his alchemy experiments)
  • E=mc2 was known before Einstein's five papers of 1905.

Reinventing Gravity (2009) John W Moffat

Professor John Moffat in 2007  highly recommended  for people interested in science
  • This book is a delightful read which begins with a short overview of physics from Galileo and Newton through to Einstein. It explains how scientists struggle with their models while new data is introduced from various sciences including: electromagnetic waves, gravity, quantum mechanics, nuclear energy, and string theory. Sometimes gaps in our knowledge were attributed to things like "ether" and the author thinks that we've made the same thing by inventing "Dark Energy", etc.

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

  • covers the stories of Richard Feynman (1918-1988)
  • includes a CD-ROM recording of Feynman titled "Los Alamos from Below" (~ 78 minutes)
  • All engineering and space enthusiasts need to re-read the last few chapters about the Challenger (Space Shuttle) Investigation 

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

  • 430 pages and published in 1992
    Caveat: This book covers Clarke's life from 1917 up to 1991 but every true fan knows that he died in 2008 and published many books between 1992 and 2008. 3001: The Final Odyssey is just one example. Rumor has it that there are a few more books waiting to be published.
  • I was shocked to learn about the Heinlein initiated feud with Clarke which was apparently started after Clarke publicly criticized Ronald Regan's SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) commonly known as Star Wars. Apparently, Heinlein was a stanch supporter of the Republican party and didn't think a British snob should be lecturing Americans. Think about this political bias next time you read Heinlein's  "Starship Troopers".

"God's Mechanics" (2007) Guy Consolmagno

  • This book is written for techies (math, science, computer, etc.) and touches on logic, philosophy, science + religion
  • The author attended MIT for seven years (earning two degrees then spending 3 years as a postdoc) then became a Jesuit Brother
  • He is one of many Vatican astronomers.
  • He thinks that the Intelligent Design theory which is being promoted to help religion, will eventually hurt religion.
  • quote: techies already accept many abstract concepts on faith (electrons, quarks, black holes). God is just another abstract concept.

The Theory of Almost Everything (2005) Robert Oerter

 science lover's "must have"
  • While the man on the street searches for scientific answers in popular explanations in string theory, multi-verses and other popular voodoo, the poorly named "Standard Model of Elementary Particles" is largely ignored. And yet this theory is the crowning achievement of humanity.
  • This book describes the most successful and important theory in physics today, fully explained to general readers
    • This book does for "the Standard Model" what Brian Greene did for "String Theory"
    • Historical perspective begins in the 19th century and explains where we are today and where we are heading next.
      • how people like Einstein and Noether kicked off Relativity
      • how people like De Broglie, Schrödinger, Heisenberg and Pauli kicked off quantum mechanics
      • how people like Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga kicked off QED (Quantum Electro Dynamics)
      • how people like Gell-Mann and Zweig kicked off QCD (Quantum Chromo Dynamics)
    • Compelling writing full of rich metaphor and analogy (similar to Feynman's lectures)
    • 70 illustrations present concepts to readers visually
  • Although many people are talking about string theory, it may only amount to a passing fashion: It hasn't yet been confirmed by experiment, the real test. What has? Where do we really stand? Robert Oerter shows what the next step in physics will without question be based on: The Theory of Almost Everything; the single theory that has dominated particle physics for the past 30 years. Cobbled together by many brilliant minds throughout the 20th century, and modestly known as the Standard Model of Elementary Particles, it is the most wide-ranging and precise theory in the history of physics. From the chemical reactions that power all living things to the nuclear reactions that power the sun, except for gravity, it describes all known physical interactions.
  • Robert Oerter teaches physics at George Mason University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He has done research in the areas of supergravity, especially as applied to superstring theories, and in the quantum mechanics of chaotic systems. He lives in Maryland.

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

  • the Vatican operates astronomical observatories world
  • the Vatican owned a really large meteorite collection
  • that Galileo would not have been arrested (and that whole embarrassing episode in church history would not have happened) if the Jesuits would not have been pushed out of favor during the century of the incident
  • the Vatican sees no conflict between religion and the theory of evolution as long as one acknowledged the creator acting this way
  • great men in science and religion:
    Albert the Great  Father of Geology
    Roger Bacon  Father of Chemistry
    Gregor Mendel  Father of Genetics
    Christopher Clavius  "second Euclid" of the renaissance
    Angelo Secchi  father of Astrophysics
    Georges Lemaitre  father of the Big Bang theory

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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.