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Full title A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Mariner Books
Categories Anthology, biology, essay and science
Publication year 2004
Original publication year 2003
ISBN 978-0-618-48539-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 263
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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction to the American Edition
  1. Science and Sensibility
    • 1.1 A Devil's Chaplain
    • 1.2 What is True?
    • 1.3 Gaps in the Mind
    • 1.4 Science, Genetics and Ethics: Memo for Tony Blair
    • 1.5 Trial By Jury
    • 1.6 Crystalline Truth and Crystal Balls
    • 1.7 Postmodernism Disrobed
    • 1.8 The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundle
  2. Light Will Be Thrown
    • 2.1 Light Will Be Thrown
    • 2.2 Darwin Triumphant
    • 2.3 The 'Information Challenge'
    • 2.4 Genes Aren't Us
    • 2.5 Son of Moore's Law
  3. The Infected Mind
    • 3.1 Chinese Junk and Chinese Whispers
    • 3.2 Viruses of the Mind
    • 3.3 The Great Convergence
    • 3.4 Dolly and the Cloth Heads
    • 3.5 Time to Stand Up
  4. They Told Me, Heraclitus
    • 4.1 Lament for Douglas
    • 4.2 Eulogy for Douglas Adams
    • 4.3 Eulogy for W. D. Hamilton
    • 4.4 Snake Oil
  5. Even the Ranks of Tuscany
    • 5.1 Rejoicing in Multifarious Nature
    • 5.2 The Art of the Developable
    • 5.3 Hallucigenia, Wiwaxia and Friends
    • 5.4 Human Chauvinism and Evolutionary Progress
    • 5.5 Unfinished Correspondence with a Darwinian Heavyweight
  6. There is All Africa and her Prodigies in Us
    • 6.1 Ecology of Genes
    • 6.2 Out of the Soul of Africa
    • 6.3 I Speak of Africa and Golden Joys
    • 6.4 Heroes and Ancestors
  7. A Prayer for My Daughter
    • 7.1 Good and Bad Reasons for Believing
  • Endnotes
  • Index
Full title A Mathematician's Apology [permalink]
Language English
Author G. H. Hardy (author)
Categories Mathematics and science
Publication year 1940
Online version Link
Pages 52
Full title The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence [permalink]
Language English
Author Ray Kurzweil (author)
Categories Computing and science
Publication year 1999
Pages 257
Synopsis

The first part explains the Law of Accelerating Returns, discusses the idea of an intelligence (us) creating a greater intelligence (computers), and how a machine would deal with ambiguities of language (there are at least four ways of interpreting the sentence "time flies like an arrow", laid out in the book). The second part deals with preparing the present, and discusses different ways of building brains (and uploading already-built brains to another substrate). The third part is a journey through the twenty-first century, with stops for snapshots at 2009, 2019, 2029, and 2099. At the end of each chapter is an imaginary talk with an imaginary reader, Molly, which helps explain things.

Full title The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Mariner Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2004
ISBN 978-0-618-61916-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 623
Synopsis

A history book about life, in reverse chronology.

Review

This 600+ pages book could easily be called Dawkins' magnum opus. It's a history of life, written in reverse chronology, starting with humans and working backwards to the common ancestor to all life. The book is divided into chapters, called Rendezvous, and each rendezvous would be where two twigs on the tree of life meet. If you picture the tree of life, then the book starts at one tip of the tree, humanity, and moves progressively backwards (inwards) to the root of the tree. (Actually, this is slightly misleading. The entire tree of life is an unrooted phylogenetic tree, not a rooted one.) At each rendezvous, a joining pilgrim (sometimes several) gets a chance to tell its Tale, and the tale usually illustrates a point about biology. This is what makes this book such a joy to read. While you're reading you can (and are in fact encouraged to) imagine that you're on a pilgrimage (see subtitle), à la Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. But unlike The Canterbury Tales, this isn't a work of fiction, and you'll inevitably learn a lot of biology while you're at it.

In the book, like with most of Dawkins' books, he doesn't shy away from using technical words, but he's very meticulous about explaining ones that may be unfamiliar to the reader. Being a hobby etymologist, this is the kind of writing that I love. (The word 'Neanderthal', for instance, comes from Neander, the valley in Germany in which the original fossil was found, and 'thal', which is German for 'valley'.) And besides, it's a fun challenge for the reader to go look up the words she doesn't understand.

This is a thoroughly excellent and riveting book, but be warned that it's also a long and difficult book. Set aside a good chunk of uninterrupted time for it. I read about one-fifth of it (straight) in bed, and the rest during a thirteen-hour bus trip, and I was in a daze for a week. (Maybe partly because I read it on a bus, but mostly because the book itself is so eye-opening.)

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Full title Asimov On Numbers [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Pocket Books
Categories Mathematics and science
Publication year 1978
ISBN 0-671-82134-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 275
Synopsis

This is a collection of essays by Asimov on numbers and mathematics. It discusses how we got the concept of zero (from India via the Arabs), exponents, factorials, aleph numbers (there are actually different kinds of infinities), pi, imaginary numbers, huge numbers (like googol, but that doesn't even scratch the surface), the metric system (yum), and a host of other stuff. It also has an essay on animals and their sizes.

Review

As with most essay collections from Asimov, this one is a sure-fire good read. Asimov explains in detail (but not too painful detail) a lot of difficult mathematics, step by careful step. Unlike a lot of his other collections, this one feels a little miscellaneous, but that doesn't at all detract from its quality.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • Part I NUMBERS AND COUNTING
    • 1. Nothing Counts
    • 2. One, Ten, Buckle My Shoe
    • 3. Exclamation Point!
    • 4. T-Formation
    • 5. Varieties of the Infinite
  • Part II NUMBERS AND MATHEMATICS
    • 6. A Piece of Pi
    • 7. Tools of the Trade
    • 8. The Imaginary That Isn't
  • Part III NUMBERS AND MEASUREMENT
    • 9. Forget It!
    • 10. Pre-fixing It Up
  • Part IV NUMBERS AND THE CALENDAR
    • 11. The Days of Our Years
    • 12. Begin at the Beginning
  • Part V NUMBERS AND BIOLOGY
    • 13. That's About the Size of It
  • Part VI NUMBERS AND ASTRONOMY
    • 14. The Proton-Reckoner
  • Part VII NUMBERS AND THE EARTH
    • 15. Water, Water, Everywhere—
    • 16. Up and Down the Earth
    • 17. The Isles of Earth
Full title Asimov's New Guide to Science [permalink]
Original title The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Biology, chemistry and science
Publication year 1987
Original publication year 1984
ISBN 978-0-140-17213-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 880
Synopsis

This is a thick door-stopper of a book, dealing with all of science (and the history of science in general). It's divided into two major parts, The Physical Sciences and The Biological Sciences.

Review

Asimov wrote very well fiction, but I think non-fiction is where he shines, and this book is no exception. Go buy it, and get an overview of the vast fields of science!

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Full title Bad Science [permalink]
Language English
Author Ben Goldacre (author)
Publisher HarperCollins
Category Science
Publication year 2009
Original publication year 2008
ISBN 978-0-00-728487-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 370
Synopsis

Bad Science is a book almost entirely dedicated to the exposition of poor and damaging science reporting in the media, especially medical science. (Another major point of the book is focusing on specific people in the media who Goldacre thinks are doing a poor job or a disservice to the public.) This isn't all of the book, however: some chapters (The Placebo Effect and Bad Stats stand out) go into how medical science is actually done and what methods are used in clinical trials.

Review

I found the book both entertaining and enlightning, although the book is heavily focused on the UK. If you're from the UK then you'd probably enjoy this book much more than I did, being from Norway.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Matter
  • Chapter 2: Brain Gym
  • Chapter 3: The Progenium XY Complex
  • Chapter 4: Homeopathy
  • Chapter 5: The Placebo Effect
  • Chapter 6: The Nonsense du Jour
  • Chapter 7: Dr Gillian McKeith PhD
  • Chapter 8: 'Pill Solves Complex Social Problem'
  • Chapter 9: Professor Patrick Holford
  • Chapter 10: The Doctor Will Sure You Now
  • Chapter 11: Is Mainstream Medicine Evil?
  • Chapter 12: How the Media Promote the Public Misunderstanding of Science
  • Chapter 13: Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things
  • Chapter 14: Bad Stats
  • Chapter 15: Health Scares
  • Chapter 16: The Media's MMR Hoax
  • And Another Thing
  • Further Reading and Acknowledgements
  • Notes
  • Index
Full title The Beginning and the End [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Pocket Books
Categories Anthology, astronomy, essay and science
Publication year 1978
Original publication year 1977
ISBN 0-671-47644-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 253
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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction

A THE PAST

  • 1 The Real Cyrano
  • 2 Of What Use?
  • 3 The Democracy of Learning
  • 4 The Monsters We Have Lived With
  • 5 The Fossil Fuels
  • 6 A Stop of Water

B THE PRESENT

  • 7 Smart, but Not Smart Enough?
  • 8 Recipe for an Ocean
  • 9 Technology and Energy
  • 10 The Glorious Sun
  • 11 Astronomy
  • 12 The Large Satellites of Jupiter
  • 13 The Natural Satellites
  • 14 Of Life Beyond
  • 15 The Beginning and the End
  • 16 Gravitation, Unlimited
  • 17 Man and Computer

C THE FUTURE

  • 18 The Big Weather Change
  • 19 Tighten Your Belt
  • 20 America—A.D. 2176
  • 21 The Coming Decades in Space
  • 22 Colonizing the Heavens
  • 23 The Moon as Threshold
Full title The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher W. W. Norton
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2006
Original publication year 1986
ISBN 978-0-14-102616-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 358
Review

The Blind Watchmaker demolishes the argument from design, which was first advanced by the theologian William Paley. In short, it goes like this: If you're walking somewhere and you find a rock, you don't require an explanation for why it's there. But if you find a watch, you'll assume that the watch had a maker. Organisms are complex things, like a watch, so they, too, should require a maker (evolution is the blind watchmaker that the title alludes to). The book introduces biomorphs, creatures in a computer program that can evolve a multitude of shapes based on nine different "genes" (variables) which control how the form grows. Even with only nine genes, the number of forms that can be generated is huge, and the reader is invited to imagine walking through the (nine-dimensional!) space of possible shapes.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction to the 2006 edition
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 Explaining the very improbable
  • Chapter 2 Good design
  • Chapter 3 Accumulating small change
  • Chapter 4 Making tracks through animal space
  • Chapter 5 The power and the archives
  • Chapter 6 Origins and miracles
  • Chapter 7 Constructive evolution
  • Chapter 8 Explosions and spirals
  • Chapter 9 Puncturing punctuationism
  • Chapter 10 The one true tree of life
  • Chapter 11 Doomed rivals
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix (1991): Computer programs and 'The Evolution of Evolvability'
  • Index
Full title Climbing Mount Improbable [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher W. W. Norton
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1996
ISBN 978-0-393-31682-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 326
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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Acknowledgements
  • Picture Acknowledgements
  • 1 Facing Mount Rushmore
  • 2 Silken Fetters
  • 3 The Message from the Mountain
  • 4 Getting off the Ground
  • 5 The Forty-fold Path to Enlightenment
  • 6 The Museum of All Shells
  • 7 Kaleidoscopic Embryos
  • 8 Pollen Grains and Magic Bullets
  • 9 The Robot Repeater
  • 10 'A Garden Inclosed'
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps [permalink]
Language English
Authors Kees Boeke (author), Els de Bouter (illustrator) and Arthur H. Compton (introduction)
Publisher John Day Company
Categories Children's and science
Publication year 1957
ISBN 0381980162 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Online version Link
Pages 48
Synopsis

Cosmic View is the inspiration for the 1977 IBM short video Powers of Ten. It's a pretty short book written for children (though it's very interesting for adults as well) about the relative sizes of things in the universe. The book differs a bit from the video, mainly in that it explores each scale at more depth.

The book starts out showing a girl in Holland, zooming outwards, each time by a factor of ten, 25 times (so that the scale ends up being 1:1025). Each image is accompanied by a bit of explanatory text. Halfway through, the book then zooms inwards, ending at a scale of 1012:1, about the size of an atomic nucleus.

Review

I found the book pretty fascinating, if a bit short and not as detailed as I'd wished it to be. However, I can't hold that against it as it's really a children's book. I can heartily recommend it.

Images Back flap of Cosmic View.Back of Cosmic View.Spine of Cosmic View.Front of Cosmic View.Front flap of Cosmic View.
Full title Cosmos [permalink]
Language English
Author Carl Sagan (author)
Publisher Ballantine Books
Categories Astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics and science
Publication year 1985
Original publication year 1980
ISBN 978-0-345-33135-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 324
Synopsis

Cosmos is, as its title suggests, a book about the Cosmos. It's based upon (and can be considered a companion to) the TV series of the same name. There are thirteen chapters, each corresponding to the thirteen episodes.

The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is setting the tone for the rest of the book. Sagan discusses the Cosmos on its largest scales, putting the Earth in perspective. He then discusses early attempts to measure the size of the Earth.

One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue is about evolution and our own species. It discusses various potential biologies that could be evolved on other worlds and muses on the implication of all this.

In the chapter Harmony of the Worlds, Sagan really shines. This chapter deals with astrology, astronomy, and the histories of both. (Sagan was an astronomer.) He explains Kepler's Laws, goes into the geocentric vs heliocentric models of the Solar System, and the history of planetary observation and theory-making.

Heaven and Hell is all about comets and asteroids. Sagan discusses the Tunguska event and the impact craters on the Moon, among other things.

Blues for a Red Planet is about Mars in fiction and fact. He goes into the canali of Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell, H. G. Well's The War of the Worlds, and the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He then discusses the Mars probes and the potential for terraforming Mars.

Travelers' Tales is about the sailing ships and the discoveries made during the Age of Exploration, with respects to astronomy and the study of the Cosmos.

The Backbone of Night is a discussion of myths from around the world on the creation and system of the Universe, veering into a discussion of the scientific explanations (and the evidence). There's a very charming three pages of imagined inner monolog by a curious and primitive ancestor dealing with his explanation for the stars. The chapter title is a reference to the name for the Milky Way that the !Kung people of the Kalahari desert use for it.

Travels in Space and Time is about the immensity of space and time. It begins with a discussion on constellations and astrology, and has a wonderful illustration of how a constellation (in the example, The Big Dipper) would look from other angles and in other eras. It then launches into an extended explanation of the speed of light and the various paradoxes attending it (such as time dilation).

The Lives of the Stars is about atoms, chemistry, and the lives of the stars (ahem), meaning the fates and types of stars (white dwarfs, neutron stars, supernovas, etc.).

The Edge of Forever lives up to its title. Its subject matter is the beginning of time, the extent of the Cosmos, and a very entertaining discussion on higher dimensions (reminiscent of, even directly referent to, Flatland). It also discusses mythological theories on the nature of time and the Cosmos.

The Persistence of Memory is about information, in the form of DNA and brains.

Encyclopaedia Galactica is really about galactic citizenship. It goes into UFOs, SETI, the Drake equation, and contact with other intelligent beings (what it would look like and what the implications would be). This is one of the more interesting chapters.

The book ends on a somewhat morose note with Who Speaks for Earth? The chapter deals with the planet and its various challenges, most conspicuously nuclear weapons and what to do about the potentiality of our destroying ourselves. After so many chapters of uplifting speculations and explorations of immensity, this chapter is a very sobering read.

Review

Where to start? When I watched the TV series in 2007 I was utterly blown away, and the book is even better. Being a book it's also much more detailed. If you've read anything by Sagan you know what to expect, but this work is simply breath-taking in its breadth and depth. It's personal, uplifting, educational, interesting... If you want to get a (biased, in a good sense) overview of the history of ideas and science, go read it.

Images Back of Cosmos.Spine of Cosmos.Front of Cosmos.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • I The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean
  • II One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue
  • III The Harmony of the Worlds
  • IV Heaven and Hell
  • V Blues for a Red Planet
  • VI Travelers' Tales
  • VII The Backbone of Night
  • VIII Travels in Space and Time
  • IX The Lives of the Stars
  • X The Edge of Forever
  • XI The Persistence of Memory
  • XII Encyclopaedia Galactica
  • XIII Who Speaks for Earth?
  • Appendix 1: Reductio ad Absurdum and the Square Root of Two
  • Appendix 2: The Five Pythagorean Solids
  • Further Reading
  • Index
Full title Counting the Eons [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Categories Anthology, astronomy and science
Publication year 1983
Pages 254
Full title The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark [permalink]
Language English
Author Carl Sagan (author)
Categories Astronomy, philosophy and science
Publication year 1996
Pages 416
Synopsis

The Demon-Haunted World deals with human imagination, science, and scepticism, in a nutshell. In reality it's so much more: It's a defense of scepticism, an advertisement for science, a crash course in wonder, and an explanation of science and what it's all about. My favorite chapters, I think, are The Dragon in My Garage and The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.

Full title Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology [permalink]
Language English
Author Eric K. Drexler (author)
Categories Nanotechnology and science
Publication year 1986
Online version Link
Pages 320
Review

This 1986 Drexler book is a seminal work on molecular nanotechnology. It's very well-written and very well-paced, and charts some of the possibilities and dangers with upcoming technologies such as nano-sized robots and true artificial intelligence. Despite being extremely future-optimistic (which it has every right to be, of course), it's also extremely rational; it gives examples of disagreements and somewhat tries to refute these.

The book describes how tiny robots might build a light-weight and sturdy rocket engine in a vat, how a person might be frozen and then thawed several years later (cryonics), and how tiny robots might act as a tight-fitting and light spacesuit. These are very excellent descriptions, and it's very hard not to imagine these things with awe.

The book is very quotable, too. Check out this one, for instance, which criticizes Jeremy Rifkin's Entropy: A New World View, a controversial book about entropy and how it relates to human activities:

"The entropy threat is an example of blatant nonsense, yet its inventors and promoters aren't laughed off the public stage. Imagine a thousand, a million similar distortions - some subtle, some brazen, but all warping the public's understanding of the world. Now imagine a group of democratic nations suffering from an infestation of such memes while attempting to cope with an era of accelerating technological revolution. We have a real problem."

Or how about this one (describing a limit of molecular technology):

"Trying to change a nucleus by poking at it with a molecule is even more futile than trying to flatten a steel ball bearing by waving a ball of cotton candy at it. Molecular technology can sort and rearrange atoms, but it cannot reach into a nucleus to change an atom's type."

Go read this book now.

Full title The Fifth Essence: The Search for Dark Matter in the Universe [permalink]
Language English
Author Lawrence Krauss (author)
Publisher Hutchinson
Categories Astronomy, physics and science
Publication year 1989
ISBN 0-09-174211-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 342
Synopsis

This book is in large part about particle physics, with the main theme being an exploration of dark matter and its implications. There are very few equations, and those are fairly simple to follow. However, there's a lot of physics jargon, making it a little hard to follow at times for the non-physicist.

Review

As a layman I found this book very interesting, although I feel someone with a deeper knowledge of physics (in particular particle physics) would enjoy it even more. Nonetheless, Krauss makes a valiant effort at explaining a very difficult subject. I especially enjoyed the long section about how we've modeled (and simulated) the formation of large-scale structure. It's really amazing how well gravity can explain large structures. If you're at all interested in dark matter, I heartily recommend this book, even though it's a little dated by now (for instance, it talks about the Superconducting Super Collider).

Images Back flap of The Fifth Essence.Back of The Fifth Essence.Spine of The Fifth Essence.Front of The Fifth Essence.Front flap of The Fifth Essence.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface: A New Copernican Revolution?

Part I

The Stuff of Matter
  • Chapter 1: Making Something Out of Nothing
  • Chapter 2: Filling the Void

Part II

Weighing the Universe... and Coming up Short
  • Chapter 3: First Light on the Darkness
  • Chapter 4: Beyond Our Island in the Night

Part III

Why the Universe is Flat: The Big Bang, Large-Scale Structure, and the Need for Something New
  • Chapter 5: Cooking with Gas
  • Chapter 6: The Tip of the Iceberg

Part IV

The Neutrino Saga and the Birth of Cold Dark Matter
  • Chapter 7: The Obvious Choice?
  • Chapter 8: Cold Gets Hot

Part V

The Candidates
  • Chapter 9: All Roads Lead to Dark Matter
  • Chapter 10: Three Modest Proposals

Part VI

Desperately Seeking Dark Matter
  • Chapter 11: The Music of the Spheres?
  • Chapter 12: Of Thermometers and Radios
  • Epilogue: The Best of Times?
  • Appendix A: Orders of Magnitude and Scale of the Universe
  • Appendix B: A Really Brief History of Time
  • Notes
  • Index
Full title Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything [permalink]
Language English
Authors Stephen J. Dubner (author) and Steven D. Levitt (author)
Categories Science and statistics
Publication year 2005
Pages 336
Synopsis

This is a book about applying statistics to unconventional problems and seeing where that leads you. For instance, the book argues that Roe v. Wade was a more contributing factor to the recent drop in crime rates in the US than any other. The explanation? The people who are most inclined to become criminals (children of poor single-parent blacks) simply aren't there when, had they been born, they would have begun their criminal careers.

Full title Freedom Evolves [permalink]
Language English
Author Daniel Dennett (author)
Publisher Viking Books
Categories Philosophy, psychology and science
Publication year 2003
ISBN 0-670-03186-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 347
Images Back flap of Freedom Evolves.Back of Freedom Evolves.Spine of Freedom Evolves.Front of Freedom Evolves.Front flap of Freedom Evolves.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface

Chapter 1: Natural Freedom

  • Learning What We Are
  • I Am Who I Am
  • The Air We Breathe
  • Dumbo's Magic Feather and the Peril of Paulina

Chapter 2: A Tool for Thinking About Determinism

  • Some Useful Oversimplifications
  • From Physics to Design in conway's Life World
  • Can We Get the Deus ex Machina?
  • From Slow-motion Avoidance to Star Wars
  • The Birth of Evitability

Chapter 3: Thinking About Determinism

  • Possible Worlds
  • Causation
  • Austin's Putt
  • A Computer Chess Marathon
  • Events without Causes in a Deterministic Universe
  • Will the Future Be Like the Past?

Chapter 4: A Hearing for Libertarianism

  • The Appeal of Libertarianism
  • Where Should We Put the Much-needed Gap?
  • Kane's Mode of Indeterministic Decision-making
  • "If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything"
  • Beware of Prime Mammals
  • How Can It Be "Up to Me"?

Chapter 5: Where Does all the Design Come From?

  • Early Days
  • The Prisoner's Dilemma
  • E Pluribus Unum?
  • Digression: The Threat of Genetic Determinism
  • Degrees of Freedom and the Search for Truth

Chapter 6: The Evolution of Open Minds

  • How Cultural Symbionts Turn Primates into Persons
  • The Diversity of Darwinian Explanations
  • Nice Tools, but You Still Have to Use Them

Chapter 7: The Evolution of Moral Agency

  • Benselfishness
  • Being Good in Order to Seem Good
  • Learning to Deal with Yourself
  • Our Costly Merit Badges

Chapter 8: Are You Out of the Loop?

  • Drawing the Wrong Moral
  • Whenever the Spirit Moves You
  • A Mind-writer's View
  • A Self of One's Own

Chapter 9: Bootstrapping Ourselves Free

  • How We Captured Reasons and Made Them Our Own
  • Psychic Engineering and the Arms Race of Rationality
  • With a Little Help from My Friends
  • Autonomy, Brainwashing, and Education

Chapter 10: The Future of Human Freedom

  • Holding the Line against Creeping Exculpation
  • "Thanks, I Needed That!"
  • Are We Freer Than We Want to Be?
  • Human Freedom Is Fragile
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Fremtiden [permalink]
Translated title The Future
Language Norwegian
Author Eirik Newth (author)
Category Science
Publication year 1999
Pages 254
Synopsis

This is a book about the immediate human future; its perils, its hopes, its possible solutions, its possible unfoldings.

Review

Like Asimov's Counting the Eons, this is an excellent book about the future of the world, but unlike Counting the Eons, the meat of Fremtiden limits itself to only a few millennia into the future; the beginning and ultimate fate of the Universe are discussed, but with far less detail than Counting the Eons and with far more emphasis put on the future of the human species and how it can survive (or become extinct). Especially eerie, I think, is the chapter discussing space lifts to geostationary space stations 36 000 kilometers above the Earth's surface. Reading about that gave me the same fuzzy feelings as seeing the space walk between the spaceships Alexei Leonov and the Discovery over Jupiter in 2010: The Year We Made Contact did. I mean, just imagine that! The book unfortunately contains a lot of typos, but I actually forgive him for that; the book is too interesting to dismiss on that ground.

Full title The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? [permalink]
Language English
Authors Leon Lederman (author) and Dick Teresi (co-author)
Publisher Mariner Books
Categories Physics and science
Publication year 2006
Original publication year 1993
ISBN 978-0-618-71168-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 434
Synopsis

Details the history of physics from Thales in antiquity up to the present.

Review

The title of the book refers to the Higgs boson, a particle now (at the time of writing, September 2009) being sought by the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) particle accelerator in Geneva. The book does a good job of explaining particle physics, and it's funny, too. The book is a little out-dated in that it refers to the now-cancelled SSC (Superconducting Super Collider) accelerator. There are some very entertaining passages in the book where Leon talks physics with an imaginary Democritus (Democritus of Abdera was the first Greek to suggest that the world was made of atoms), which I immensely enjoyed.

I heartily recommend this book if you want to learn a little bit of particle physics.

Images Back of The God Particle.Spine of The God Particle.Front of The God Particle.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • Dramatis Personae
  • 1 The Invisible Soccer Ball
  • 2 The First Particle Physicist
  • Interlude A: A Tale of Two Cities
  • 3 Looking for the Atom: The Mechanics
  • 4 Still Looking for the Atom: Chemists and Electricians
  • 5 The Naked Atom
  • Interlude B: The Dancing Moo-Shu Masters
  • 6 Accelerators: They Smash Atoms, Don't They?
  • Interlude C: How We Violated Parity in a Weekend ... and Discovered God
  • 7 A-tom!
  • 8 The God Particle at Last
  • 9 Inner Space, Outer Space, and the Time Before Time
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on History and Sources
  • Index
Full title The Grand Design [permalink]
Language English
Authors Leonard Mlodinow (author) and Stephen Hawking (author)
Publisher Bantam Books
Categories Astronomy, physics and science
Publication year 2010
ISBN 978-0-593-05829-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 200
Synopsis

The Grand Design is a book about how the universe can come from nothing. It explores and explains M-theory and speculates about the elusive Theory of Everything.

"One can't prove that God doesn't exist, but science makes God unnecessary."

Images Back flap of The Grand Design.Back of The Grand Design.Spine of The Grand Design.Front of The Grand Design.Front flap of The Grand Design.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  1. The Mystery of Being
  2. The Rule of Law
  3. What Is Reality?
  4. Alternative Histories
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. Choosing Our Universe
  7. The Apparent Miracle
  8. The Grand Design
  • Glossary
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index
Full title The Great Scientists: From Euclid to Stephen Hawking [permalink]
Language English
Authors John Farndon (author), Alex Woolf (co-author), Anne Rooney (co-author) and Liz Gogerly (co-author)
Publisher Eagle Editions
Categories History and science
Publication year 2006
ISBN 978-1-84193-300-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 158
Synopsis

A book about scientists from Euclid, Archimedes, and Ptolemy to Faraday, Darwin, and Hawking, and the science they invented or practiced.

Images Back flap of The Great Scientists.Back of The Great Scientists.Spine of The Great Scientists.Front of The Great Scientists.Front flap of The Great Scientists.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • The Ancients
    • Euclid
    • Archimedes
    • Hipparchus & Claudius Ptolemy
  • The Middle Ages
    • The Medieval Arab Scientists
  • The Renaissance
    • Leonardo da Vinci
    • Nicolas Copernicus
    • Andreas Vesalius
    • Galileo Galilei
  • The Seventeenth Century
    • Christiaan Huygens
    • Anton van Leeuwenhoek
    • Robert Hooke
    • Sir Isaac Newton
  • The Eighteenth Century
    • Carolus Linnaeus
    • James Hutton
    • Antoine Lavoisier
    • John Dalton
  • The Nineteenth Century
    • Michael Faraday
    • Charles Babbage
    • Charles Darwin
    • Louis Pasteur
    • Gregor Mendel
    • Dmitri Mendeleyev
    • James Clerk Maxwell
  • The Twentieth Century
    • Max Planck
    • Marie Curie
    • Ernest Rutherford
    • Albert Einstein
    • Alfred Wegener
    • Niels Bohr
    • Edwin Hubble
    • Werner Heisenberg
    • Linus Pauling
    • The DNA Team: Francis Crick, James Watson, and Rosalind Franklin
    • Stephen Hawking
  • Index
Full title The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Bantam Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2009
ISBN 978-0-593-06173-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 470
Synopsis

A book about the evidence for evolution.

The first chapter begins by inviting the reader to imagine that they're a teacher of Roman history, and that they have to waste their time with a rearguard defense against people who try to persuade your pupils that there never was a Roman empire (which is akin to how biologists today have to spend their time).

The rest of the book is devoted to laying out the actual evidence for evolution, while debunking some claims against it (for instance, that there are missing links, which is simply based on a Victorian misunderstanding). I found the chapters dealing with radiometric dating and dendrochronology especially enlightening.

The last chapter takes the last paragraph of Darwin's On the Origin of Species and unpacks and explains it, with each sentence being a sub-heading.

Review

Dawkins says in the book that he wrote this book, a book about the evidence for evolution, because none of his other books explicitly lay this out (they only assume evolution is true). In contrast, this book lays it all out, in meticulous detail.

It's a relatively light read, but as with most books of this kind, you have to pay close attention when reading, or you might miss important points. I definitely recommend it.

Images Back flap of The Greatest Show on Earth.Back of The Greatest Show on Earth.Spine of The Greatest Show on Earth.Front of The Greatest Show on Earth.Front flap of The Greatest Show on Earth.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 Only a theory?
  • Chapter 2 Dogs, cows and cabbages
  • Chapter 3 The primrose path to macro-evolution
  • Chapter 4 Silence and slow time
  • Chapter 5 Before our very eyes
  • Chapter 6 Missing link? What do you mean, 'missing'?
  • Chapter 7 Missing persons? Missing no longer
  • Chapter 8 You did it yourself in nine months
  • Chapter 9 The ark of the continents
  • Chapter 10 The tree of cousinship
  • Chapter 11 History written all over us
  • Chapter 12 Arms races and 'evolutionary theodicy'
  • Chapter 13 There is grandeur in this view of life
  • Appendix: The history-deniers
  • Notes
  • Bibliography and further reading
  • Picture acknowledgements
  • Index
Full title Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age [permalink]
Language English
Author Paul Graham (author)
Publisher O'Reilly
Categories Computing and science
Publication year 2004
ISBN 0-596-00662-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 271
Synopsis

This book is a collection of essays from Paul Graham, most of which can be found on his web site (with the exceptions of Good Bad Attitude, Mind the Gap, Programming Languages Explained, and The Dream Language). The essays deal with the hacker culture, startups, and how to make good things.

Images Back flap of Hackers & Painters.Back of Hackers & Painters.Spine of Hackers & Painters.Front of Hackers & Painters.Front flap of Hackers & Painters.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • 1. Why Nerds Are Unpopular
    Their minds are not on the game.
  • 2. Hackers and Painters
    Hackers are makers, like painters or architects or writers.
  • 3. What You Can't Say
    How to think heretical thoughts and what to do with them.
  • 4. Good Bad Attitude
    Like Americans, hackers win by breaking rules.
  • 5. The Other Road Ahead
    Web-based software offers the biggest opportunity since the arrival of the microcomputer.
  • 6. How to Make Wealth
    The best way to get rich is to create wealth. And startups are the best way to do that.
  • 7. Mind the Gap
    Could "unequal income distribution" be less of a problem than we thing?
  • 8. A Plan for Spam
    Till recently most experts thought spam filtering wouldn't work. This proposal changed their minds.
  • 9. Taste for Makers
    How do you make great things?
  • 10. Programming Languages Explained
    What a programming language is and why they are a hot topic now.
  • 11. The Hundred-Year Language
    How will we program in a hundred years? Why not start now?
  • 12. Beating the Averages
    For web-based applications you can use whatever language you want. So can your competitors.
  • 13. Revenge of the Nerds
    In technology, "industry best practice" is a recipe for losing.
  • 14. The Dream Language
    A good programming language is one that lets hackers have their way with it.
  • 15. Design and Research
    Research has to be original. Design has to be good.
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Image Credits
  • Glossary
  • Index
Full title The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation [permalink]
Language English
Authors Isaac Asimov (author) and Anthony Ravielli (illustrator)
Publisher Signet Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1963
ISBN 978-0451617743 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 309
Synopsis

Goes through the human body, from head to torso, muscles to blood, skin to genitalia, explaining in good detail how it all works.

Review

As always, it's written in clear prose, and is easily accessible. If you have a moderate interest in human anatomy, this is the book for you.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • 1 Our Place
    • Distinctions
    • The Phyla
    • The Development of Phyla
    • The Chordates
    • The Vertebrates
  • 2 Our Head and Torso
    • The Vertebral Column
    • The Vertebrae and Ribs
    • The Skull
    • The Teeth
  • 3 Our Limbs and Joints
    • The Arms
    • The Legs
    • Cells
    • Bone Structure
    • Tooth Structure
    • Bone Movement
  • 4 Our Muscles
    • Living Motion
    • Muscle Contraction
    • Striated Muscle
    • Tendons
    • Muscles in Action
    • Some Individual Muscles
  • 5 Our Lungs
    • The Entrance of Oxygen
    • The Nose and Throat
    • The Voice
    • The Bronchial Tree
    • Breathing
  • 6 Our Heart and Arteries
    • The Inner Fluid
    • The Circulation
    • The Heartbeat
    • Blood Pressure
  • 7 Our Blood
    • The Liquid Tissue
    • The Erythrocyte
    • Anemia
    • Leukocytes and Thrombocytes
    • Lymph
  • 8 Our Intestines
    • Food
    • The Mouth
    • The Stomach
    • The Pancreas and Liver
    • Absorption
    • The Colon
  • 9 Our Kidneys
    • Carbon Dioxide and Water
    • The Excretory System
    • Urine
  • 10 Our Skin
    • Scales and Epidermis
    • Perspiration
    • Hair
  • 11 Our Genitals
    • Reproduction
    • The Egg
    • The Placenta
    • The Human Female
    • The Human Male
  • Postscript: Our Longevity
  • Index
Full title Kunstformen der Natur [permalink]
Translated title Art Forms of Nature
Language English
Author Ernst Haeckel (author)
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1904
Online version Link
Synopsis

A beautifully illustrated book about the various life forms found on our planet.

Review

I wish I could read the original German, but I can't claim to have read the book. Maybe I'll someday find a good translation, but in the mean time, if you too don't read German, enjoy the wondrous images! See Kurt Stüber's wonderful 300 DPI scans, which are simply amazing.

Full title Letters to a Young Mathematician [permalink]
Language English
Author Ian Stewart (author)
Publisher Basic Books
Categories Mathematics and science
Publisher series Art of Mentoring (1/15)
Publication year 2007
Original publication year 2006
ISBN 978-0-465-08232-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 203
Synopsis

Letters to a Young Mathematician is written as an update on G. H. Hardy's classic A Mathematician's Apology, but the book is not an exercise in apologetics.

"Attitudes change. No longer do mathematicians believe that they owe the world an apology."

It follows an imaginary girl, Meg, from her school years through her ensuing career, and each chapter is a letter to her at crucial steps in her career. Some parts are musings on math (pure vs applied) while others are specific career tips (solitary work vs collaboration). The book is virtually devoid of any actual math, so I think it's safe for mathophobes. In fact, for this very reason, it might even help to partially cure the phobia of those unfortunately inflicted.

Review

I really liked the light-hearted way the book is written. Perhaps someone who is planning on embarking on a mathematical career would enjoy it even more.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • 1 Why Do Math?
  • 2 How I Almost Became a Lawyer
  • 3 The Breadth of Mathematics
  • 4 Hasn't It All Been Done?
  • 5 Surrounded by Math
  • 6 How Mathematicians Think
  • 7 How to Learn Math
  • 8 Fear of Proofs
  • 9 Can't Computers Solve Everything?
  • 10 Mathematical Storytelling
  • 11 Going for the Jugular
  • 12 Blockbusters
  • 13 Impossible Problems
  • 14 The Career Ladder
  • 15 Pure or Applied?
  • 16 Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?
  • 17 How to Teach Math
  • 18 The Mathematical Community
  • 19 Pigs and Pickup Trucks
  • 20 Pleasures and Perils of Collaboration
  • 21 Is God a Mathematician?
  • Notes and References
Full title The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True [permalink]
Language English
Authors Richard Dawkins (author) and Dave McKean (illustrator)
Categories Children's and science
Publication year 2011
Images Back flap of The Magic of Reality.Back of The Magic of Reality.Spine of The Magic of Reality.Front of The Magic of Reality.Front flap of The Magic of Reality.
Full title The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values [permalink]
Language English
Author Sam Harris (author)
Publisher Black Swan
Categories Philosophy and science
Publication year 2012
Original publication year 2010
ISBN 978-0-552-77638-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 380
Images Back of The Moral Landscape.Spine of The Moral Landscape.Front of The Moral Landscape.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction: The Moral Landscape
  • Chapter 1: Moral Truth
  • Chapter 2: Good and Evil
  • Chapter 3: Belief
  • Chapter 4: Religion
  • Chapter 5: The Future of Happiness
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
Full title The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Anthology and science
Publication year 2008
Pages 395
Synopsis

This is an anthology book of post-1900 science writings (essays, anecdotes, poetry) written by working scientists, as opposed to written by non-scientists, and it is supremely excellent. Richard Dawkins has collected them, sorted them, and written introductions to each of them, which put them in context.

Review

I liked this book so much that I transcribed a few of these and put them on my Essays page ("On Being the Right Size", "One Self", an extract from Man in the Universe, "Seven Wonders", and an extract from The Periodic Table); you could read those if you want a short taste of what the book is about. I strongly recommend this book.

Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Featured Writers and Extracts
  • Introduction

PART I
What Scientists Study

  • James Jeans from The Mysterious Universe
  • Martin Rees from Just Six Numbers
  • Peter Atkins from Creation Revisited
  • Helena Cronin from The Ant and the Peacock
  • R. A. Fisher from The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
  • Theodosius Dobzhansky from Mankind Evolving
  • G. C. Williams from Adaptation and Natural Selection
  • Francis Crick from Life Itself
  • Matt Ridley from Genome
  • Sydney Brenner Theoretical Biology in the Third Millennium
  • Steve Jones from The Language of the Genes
  • J. B. S. Haldane from On Being the Right Size
  • Mark Ridley from The Explanation of Organic Diversity
  • John Maynard Smith The Importance of the Nervous System in the Evolution of Animal Flight
  • Fred Hoyle from Man in the Universe
  • D'Arcy Thompson from On Growth and Form
  • G. G. Simpson from The Meaning of Evolution
  • Richard Fortey from Trilobite!
  • Colin Blakemore from The Mind Machine
  • Richard Gregory from Mirrors In Mind
  • Nicholas Humphrey One Self: A Meditation on the Unity of Consciousness
  • Steven Pinker from The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works
  • Jared Diamond from The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee
  • David Lack from The Life of the Robin
  • Niko Tinbergen from Curious Naturalists
  • Robert Trivers from Social Evolution
  • Alister Hardy from The Open Sea
  • Rachel Carson from The Sea Around Us
  • Loren Eiseley from How Flowers Changed the World
  • Edward O. Wilson from The Diversity of Life

PART II
Who Scientists Are

  • Arthur Eddington from The Expanding Universe
  • C. P. Snow from the Foreword to G. H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology
  • Freeman Dyson from Disturbing the Universe
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer from War and the Nations
  • Max F. Perutz A Passion for Crystals
  • Barbara and George Gamow Said Ryle to Hoyle
  • J. B. S. Haldane Cancer's a Funny Thing
  • Jacob Bronowski from The Identity of Man
  • Peter Medawar from Science and Literature, Darwin's Illness, The Phenomenon of Man, the postscript to Lucky Jim, and D'Arcy Thompson and Growth and Form
  • Jonathan Kingdon from Self-Made Man
  • Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin from Origins Reconsidered
  • Donald C. Johanson and Maitland A. Edey from Lucy
  • Stephen Jay Gould Worm for a Century, and all Seasons
  • John Tyler Bonner from Life Cycles
  • Oliver Sacks from Uncle Tungsten
  • Lewis Thomas Seven Wonders
  • James Watson from Avoid Boring People
  • Francis Crick from What Mad Pursuit
  • Lewis Wolpert from The Unnatural Nature of Science
  • Julian Huxley from Essays of a Biologist
  • Albert Einstein Religion and Science
  • Carl Sagan from The Demon-Haunted World

PART III
What Scientists Think

  • Richard Feynman from The Character of Physical Law
  • Erwin Schrödinger from What is Life?
  • Daniel Dennett from Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained
  • Ernst Mayr from The Growth of Biological Thought
  • Garrett Hardin from The Tragedy of the Commons
  • W. D. Hamilton from Geometry For the Selfish Herd and Narrow Roads of Geneland
  • Per Bak from How Nature Works
  • Martin Gardner The Fantastic Combinations of John Conway's New Solitaire Game 'Life'
  • Lancelot Hogben from Mathematics for the Million
  • Ian Stewart from The Miraculous Jar
  • Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver from The Mathematical Theory of Communication
  • Alan Turing from Computing Machinery and Intelligence
  • Albert Einstein from What is the Theory of Relativity?
  • George Gamow from Mr. Tompkins
  • Paul Davies from The Goldilocks Enigma
  • Russell Stannard from The Time and Space of Uncle Albert
  • Brian Greene from The Elegant Universe
  • Stephen Hawking from A Brief History of Time

PART IV
What Scientists Delight In

  • S. Chandrasekhar from Truth and Beauty
  • G. H. Hardy from A Mathematician's Apology
  • Steven Weinberg from Dreams of a Final Theory
  • Lee Smolin from The Life of the Cosmos
  • Roger Penrose from The Emperor's New Mind
  • Douglas Hofstadter from Gödel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid
  • John Archibald Wheeler with Kenneth Ford from Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam
  • David Deutsch from The Fabric of Reality
  • Primo Levi from The Periodic Table
  • Richard Fortey from Life: An Unauthorized Biography
  • George Gaylord Simpson from The Meaning of Evolution
  • Loren Eiseley from Little Men and Flying Saucers
  • Carl Sagan from Pale Blue Dot
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index
Full title Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space [permalink]
Language English
Author Carl Sagan (author)
Categories Astronomy and science
Publication year 1994
Pages 188
Synopsis

Pale Blue Dot is about the Earth, humans, our place in the Cosmos, and the Solar System and our exploration of it. The title comes from the eponymous image taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. It tries to convey a sense of how small and fragile the Earth really is (if you want to get a real sense of it, I recommend Celestia), how the Universe really isn't made for us (sulfuric acid on Venus, for instance, or the black vacuum that covers most of the Universe), and how we've traditionally viewed the Universe. A large chunk of the book goes into explaining the exploration of our solar system and the findings we've made. It also advocates that we use the other planets as warnings for what may happen to our own if we spoil it (after all, so far this is the only place we've got).

Review

This is a very engagingly-written account of the history of space flight, as well as a beautifully arranged advocacy of prudence when it comes to dealing with our planet.

Full title QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter [permalink]
Language English
Authors Richard Feynman (author), Leonard Mautner (foreword) and Ralph Leighton (preface)
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Physics and science
Publication year 1990
Original publication year 1985
ISBN 978-0-140-12505-4 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 158
Images Back of QED.Spine of QED.Front of QED.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Foreword by Leonard Mautner
  • Preface by Ralph Leighton
  • Acknowledgment
  1. Introduction
  2. Photons: Particles of Light
  3. Electrons and Their Interactions
  4. Loose Ends
  • Index
Full title Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Wiseman (author)
Publisher Macmillan
Categories Psychology and science
Publication year 2007
ISBN 978-0-330-44811-6 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 299
Synopsis

Quirkology is a word coined by the author, and is the study of the more quirky side of human activity. The book draws a number of conclusions, such as that women van drivers are more likely to take more than ten items through the express line at supermarkets, that words containing the letter K are funny, and that women's personal ads would garner more replies if written by a man (the opposite is not true).

Richard Wiseman has spent twenty years studying these matters, but the book also briefly mentions other seminal studies in psychology (such as Milgram's obedience study and studies concerning memory and the manipulation thereof).

Review

I can thoroughly recommend the book, although as the title suggests, it's mostly about quirky little things about human behavior. The book wasn't all that interesting, but it's definitely entertaining.

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Full title The Relativity of Wrong: Essays on the Solar System and Beyond [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Anthology, astronomy, physics and science
Publication year 1988
Pages 225
Synopsis

Explains atoms and isotopes, planets and satellites, novas and supernovas. It also contains a title essay, which is available online. In it, he explains that there is a continuum from right to wrong, and that it's possible to be righter and wronger. For instance, if you think the Earth is flat you are wronger than if you think the Earth is a sphere. You're still wrong, because the Earth is more like an oblate spheroid, but even that is wrong. And so on.

Images Back of The Relativity of Wrong.Spine of The Relativity of Wrong.Front of The Relativity of Wrong.
Full title River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life [permalink]
Language English
Authors Richard Dawkins (author) and Lalla Ward (illustrator)
Publisher Basic Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1995
ISBN 978-0-465-06990-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 161
Synopsis

This is only partly a book about evolution. In the last chapter (The Replication Bomb) Dawkins speculates on ten thresholds that life goes through on its way to interstellar emigration. (The analogy is to a supernova. Just as a star can go supernova, a planet might explode with life.)

The book also goes through some very neat experiments on bees and the evolution of a bee dance that codes for location of food.

Images Back of River Out of Eden.Spine of River Out of Eden.Front of River Out of Eden.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • 1 The Digital River
  • 2 All Africa and Her Progenies
  • 3 Do Good by Stealth
  • 4 God's Utility Function
  • 5 The Replication Bomb
  • Bibliography and Further Reading
  • Index
Full title Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life [permalink]
Language English
Author Stephen Jay Gould (author)
Publisher Vintage Books
Categories Religion and science
Publication year 2002
Original publication year 1999
ISBN 978-0-099-28452-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 241
Synopsis

This is the book in which Gould lays out in full detail his concept of NOMA, Non-Overlapping Magisteria, the idea that science and religion are masters over different (and mutually incommunicable) realms. It's an attempt to reconcile the recent intellectual hostilities between scientists and people of faith by appealing to NOMA, saying that there doesn't have to be a conflict.

Review

I'm not sure if this book is winning me over to Gould's way of thinking, but it's extremely well written, interesting, and full of siren arguments and pretty poetry. I can definitely recommend it if you're interested in the history of the conflict between science and religion.

Images Back of Rocks of Ages.Spine of Rocks of Ages.Front of Rocks of Ages.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  1. The Problem Stated
    • Preamble
    • A Tale of Two Thomases
    • The Fate of Two Fathers
  2. The Problem Resolved in Principle
    • NOMA Defined and Defended
    • NOMA Illustrated
    • Coda and Segue
  3. Historical Reasons for Conflict
    • The Contingent Basis for Intensity
    • Columbus and the Flat Earth: An Example of the Fallacy of Warfare Between Science and Religion
    • Defending NOMA from Both Sides Now: The Struggle Against Modern Creationism
  4. Psychological Reasons for Conflict
    • Can Nature Nurture Our Hopes?
    • Nature's Cold Bath and Darwin's Defense of NOMA
    • The Two False Paths of Irenics
Full title The Selfish Gene [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2006
Original publication year 1976
ISBN 978-0-19-929115-1 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 360
Synopsis

A pretty comprehensive guide to evolution, and the second book that introduced the gene-centric view of evolution (namely, that genes use bodies — survival machines — to pass themselves on, rather than organisms using genes to pass their traits on). The main goal of the book is to explain altruistic behavior and to dispel the myth that just because genes are selfish, we must (or should) be selfish, and I think it succeeds. The book also introduced the concept of memes (supposed to rhyme with genes), which are units of culture (like a catchy tune or a piece of trivia or a certain way of walking) that are capable of being copied from mind to mind.

Images Back of The Selfish Gene.Spine of The Selfish Gene.Front of The Selfish Gene.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction to 30th anniversary edition
  • Preface to second edition
  • Foreword to first edition
  • Preface to first edition
  1. Why are people?
  2. The replicators
  3. Immortal coils
  4. The gene machine
  5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine
  6. Genesmanship
  7. Family planning
  8. Battle of the generations
  9. Battle of the sexes
  10. You scratch my back, I'll ride on yours
  11. Memes: the new replicators
  12. Nice guys finish first
  13. The long reach of the gene
  • Endnotes
  • Updated bibliography
  • Index and key to bibliography
  • Extracts from reviews
Full title A Short History of Nearly Everything [permalink]
Language English
Authors Bill Bryson (author) and Neil Gower (illustrator)
Publisher Black Swan
Category Science
Publication year 2004
Original publication year 2003
ISBN 978-0-552-15174-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 687
Images Back of A Short History of Nearly Everything.Spine of A Short History of Nearly Everything.Front of A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction

I: Lost in the Cosmos

  • 1 How to Build a Universe
  • 2 Welcome to the Solar System
  • 3 The Reverend Evans's Universe

II: The Size of the Earth

  • 4 The Measure of Things
  • 5 The Stone-Breakers
  • 6 Science Red in Tooth and Claw
  • 7 Elemental Matters

III: A New Age Dawns

  • 8 Einstein's Universe
  • 9 The Mighty Atom
  • 10 Getting the Lead Out
  • 11 Muster Mark's Quarks
  • 12 The Earth Moves

IV: Dangerous Planet

  • 13 Bang!
  • 14 The Fire Below
  • 15 Dangerous Beauty

V: Life Itself

  • 16 Lonely Planet
  • 17 Into the Troposphere
  • 18 The Bounding Main
  • 19 The Rise of Life
  • 20 Small World
  • 21 Life Goes On
  • 22 Goodbye to All That
  • 23 The Richness of Being
  • 24 Cells
  • 25 Darwin's Singular Notion
  • 26 The Stuff of Life

VI: The Road to Us

  • 27 Ice Time
  • 28 The Mysterious Biped
  • 29 The Restless Ape
  • 30 Goodbye
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title The Sun Shines Bright [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Grafton
Categories Anthology, astronomy, chemistry, essay and science
Publication year 1987
Original publication year 1984
ISBN 0-586-05841-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 268
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Structure [Toggle visibility]

INTRODUCTION

THE SUN

  • 1 Out, Damned Spot!
  • 2 The Sun Shines Bright
  • 3 The Noblest Metal of Them All

THE STARS

  • 4 How Little?
  • 5 Siriusly Speaking
  • 6 Below the Horizon

THE PLANETS

  • 7 Just Thirty Years

THE MOON

  • 8 A Long Day's Journey
  • 9 The Inconstant Moon

THE ELEMENTS

  • 10 The Useless Metal
  • 11 Neutrality!
  • 12 The Finger of God

THE CELL

  • 13 Clone, Clone of My Own

THE SCIENTISTS

  • 14 Alas, All Human

THE PEOPLE

  • 15 The Unsecret Weapon
  • 16 More Crowded!
  • 17 Nice Guys Finish First!
Full title The Tragedy of the Moon [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Coronet Books
Categories Anthology, astronomy, chemistry, essay and science
Publication year 1975
Original publication year 1972
ISBN 0-340-19879-6 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 222
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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • A—About the Moon
    • 1—The Tragedy of the Moon
    • 2—The Triumph of the Moon
    • 3—Moon Over Babylon
    • 4—The Week Excuse
  • B—About Other Small Worlds
    • 5—The World Ceres
    • 6—The Clock in the Sky
  • C—About Carbon
    • 7—The One and Only
    • 8—The Unlikely Twin
  • D—About Micro-organisms
    • 9—Through The Microglass
    • 10—Down From The Amoeba
    • 11—The Cinderella Compound
  • E—About the Thyroid Gland
    • 12—Doctor, Doctor, Cut My Throat
  • F—About Society
    • 13—Lost in Non-Translation
    • 14—The Ancient and the Ultimate
    • 15—By The Numbers
  • G—And (You Guessed It!) About Me
    • 16—The Cruise And I
    • 17—Academe And I
Full title The Tyrannosaurus Prescription: And 100 Other Essays [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Prometheus Books
Categories Anthology, astronomy and science
Publication year 1989
ISBN 0-87957-540-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 323
Synopsis

A collection of 101 essays divided into seven sections: The Future, Space, Science, SciQuest, "Foreword by Isaac Asimov", Science Fiction, and Personal.

Review

Almost all Asimov essays are excellent and when you pick up an anthology of them you're almost bound not to be disappointed, and this book is no exception except for the section "Foreword by Isaac Asimov", which is simply a collection of forewords to various books. This isn't too bad in itself (in fact, they are all rather well-written), but I, at least, when reading positive forewords and blurbs and reviews, positively want to get the book being foreworded/blurbed/reviewed. Other than that section, I can thoroughly recommend the book. (For a taste of the book, read What Is the Universe?)

In the introduction Asimov says that the title of the eponymous essay (The Tyrannosaurus Prescription) is whimsical, but I disagree. It is actually a prescription for an ill, and it's not at all whimsical. Read the essay if you want to find out why I think so.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction

THE FUTURE

  • 1 Our Future in Education
  • 2 Filling the Brain Gap
  • 3 The Global Computerized Library
  • 4 What Computers Won't Do
  • 5 The Future of Handicraft
  • 6 The Future of Chemical Engineering
  • 7 Men and Marriage

SPACE

  • 8 The Lure of Exploration
  • 9 Our Second World
  • 10 All Aboard for Phobos
  • 11 What Do We Do Next in Space?
  • 12 Adventure in Space
  • 13 The Distant Flights
  • 14 The Telephone in Space
  • 15 The Average Person as Astronaut
  • 16 Other Intelligent Life?

SCIENCE

  • 17 Giant Jupiter
  • 18 Pluto, the Constant Surprise
  • 19 A Hole in the Sky
  • 20 Our Changing Perception of the Universe
  • 21 What is the Universe?
  • 22 The One-Man Revolution
  • 23 The Fifth Force
  • 24 Two at a Time
  • 25 Ozone
  • 26 The Ravages of Nature
  • 27 The Double Discovery of Evolution
  • 28 Master Lizard, the King
  • 29 The Hot-Blooded Giants

SCIQUEST

  • 30 The Absent-Minded Professor
  • 31 Playing It Safe
  • 32 The First Scientist
  • 33 Tough Luck
  • 34 To See Is Not Enough
  • 35 The Race for Honor
  • 36 Thoughts in Prison
  • 37 Getting Started
  • 38 The Moon Hoax
  • 39 Scientific Heretics
  • 40 Gold from the Sun
  • 41 The Joys of the Unexpected
  • 42 Facing the Giant
  • 43 Scientists Are Human
  • 44 Sometimes It Takes Time
  • 45 Learning Science
  • 46 Self-Correcting
  • 47 The Knowledge of Good and Evil
  • 48 Science and Technology
  • 49 Missed Opportunities

"FOREWORD BY ISAAC ASIMOV"

  • 50 Shuttle
  • 51 The Good Deed of Voyager 2
  • 52 The Longest Voyage
  • 53 Spreading Through Space
  • 54 First Contact
  • 55 Welcome, Stranger!
  • 56 The Lost City
  • 57 The Bitter End
  • 58 The Tail Wags the Dog
  • 59 The Ifs of History
  • 60 The Sorry Record
  • 61 Cleverness
  • 62 In Days of Old
  • 63 Nonviolence
  • 64 Empires
  • 65 The Last Man on Earth
  • 66 Image of One's Self
  • 67 Psychology
  • 68 Show Business
  • 69 Super
  • 70 Larger Than Life
  • 71 Science Fiction Mysteries
  • 72 The Science Writer
  • 73 The Scribbling Scientists
  • 74 Neanderthal Man
  • 75 The Nonhuman Brains
  • 76 Computer Envy
  • 77 Dogs
  • 78 Dragons!
  • 79 The New Beginning
  • 80 Valentine's Day
  • 81 Hobgoblins
  • 82 All the Ways Things Can't Happen
  • 83 Is Fantasy Forever?
  • 84 Wishing Will Make it So
  • 85 Wizards
  • 86 Witches
  • 87 Curses!
  • 88 The Forces of Evil
  • 89 Monsters
  • 90 The Power of Evil
  • 91 The Devil

SCIENCE FICTION

  • 92 Science Fiction Finds its Voice
  • 93 The Five Greats of Science Fiction
  • 94 The Success of Science Fiction
  • 95 Science Fiction Today
  • 96 The Feminization of Science Fiction
  • 97 Back Through Time

PERSONAL

  • 98 Our Shangri-La (with Janet Asimov)
  • 99 The Tyrannosaurus Prescription (with Janet Asimov)
  • 100 Ellis Island and I
  • 101 Seven Steps to Grand Master
Full title Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Astronomy, biology and science
Publication year 1999
Original publication year 1998
ISBN 0-14-026408-6 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 336
Synopsis

This book is a celebration of science, and an explanation of its beauty.

Dawkins discusses the probability of your birth (it turns out to be very low), the notion that knowing things about the universe diminishes its beauty (like Feynman before him), sound waves, DNA fingerprinting, astrology (always witty to condemn), genes, brains, and, finally, memes.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  1. The Anaesthetic of Familiarity
  2. Drawing Room of Dukes
  3. Barcodes in the Stars
  4. Barcodes on the Air
  5. Barcodes at the Bar
  6. Hoodwink'd with Faery Fancy
  7. Unweaving the Uncanny
  8. Huge Cloudy Symbols of a High Romance
  9. The Selfish Cooperator
  10. The Genetic Book of the Dead
  11. Reweaving the World
  12. The Balloon of the Mind
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
Full title View From a Height [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Avon Books
Categories Anthology, biology, chemistry, physics and science
Publication year 1975
Original publication year 1963
ISBN 0-380-00356-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 224
Synopsis

This is an essay collection broken into four parts: Biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. As the subtitle says, it's a brilliant overview of the exciting realms of science. The title invokes the image of viewing science from above, to get an overview of it, and in the introduction Asimov likens science before 1800 to a well-managed orchard. After 1800, it's overgrown and even though there's still an underlying order to it, each wanderer through the orchard only gets to see a small part of it.

"So I have here a collection of essays with little internal unity. They are glimpses, here and there, of the orchard of science, as viewed from a height."

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • INTRODUCTION
  • PART I BIOLOGY
    • 1 That's About the Size of It
    • 2 The Egg and Wee
    • 3 That's Life!
    • 4 Not as We Know It
  • PART II CHEMISTRY
    • 5 The Element of Perfection
    • 6 The Weighting Game
    • 7 The Evens Have It
  • PART III PHYSICS
    • 8 Now Hear This!
    • 9 The Ultimate Split of the Second
    • 10 Order! Order!
    • 11 The Modern Demonology
    • 12 The Height of Up
  • PART IV ASTRONOMY
    • 13 Hot Stuff
    • 14 Recipe for a Planet
    • 15 The Trojan Hearse
    • 16 By Jove!
    • 17 Superficially Speaking
Full title Why Evolution is True [permalink]
Language English
Author Jerry Coyne (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2010
Original publication year 2009
ISBN 978-0-19-923085-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 309
Synopsis

This book lays out in a systematic way the evidence for evolution. The first chapter, What Is Evolution?, lays out the basics tenets of the theory. The second, Written in the Rocks, are about (as you might guess) fossils and how they give good evidence of evolution (which wasn't available in Darwin's time). The third chapter goes into vestigial organs and functions, and the various bad designs we find in nature. The rest of the book lays out evidence from the geobiography of life, sexual selection, and so on.

The book is a response to the (on-going) anti-evolution tendency, and directly answers criticisms from that wing, in a detailed and interesting way.

Review

One of the better books on evolution I've read. If you're looking for an explanation of exactly why scientists believe the theory of evolution best explains the adaptations in life (as opposed to intelligent design), then this book is for you.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  1. What Is Evolution?
  2. Written in the Rocks
  3. Remnants: Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Design
  4. The Geography of Life
  5. The Engine of Evolution
  6. How Sex Drives Evolution
  7. The Origin of Species
  8. What About Us?
  9. Evolution Redux
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Suggestions for Further Reading
  • References
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index
Full title Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time [permalink]
Language English
Authors Michael Shermer (author) and Stephen Jay Gould (foreword)
Publisher W. H. Freeman and Company
Categories Philosophy, science and skepticism
Publication year 1997
ISBN 0-7167-3387-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 306
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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Foreword: The Positive Power of Skepticism by Stephen Jay Gould
  • Introduction to the Paperback Edition: Magical Mystery Tour: The Whys and Wherefores of Weird Things
  • Prologue: Next on Oprah

Part 1: Science and Skepticism

  • 1. I Am Therefore I Think: A Skeptic's Manifesto
  • 2. The Most Precious Thing We Have: The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience
  • 3. How Thinking Goes Wrong: Twenty-five Fallacies That Lead Us to Believe Weird Things

Part 2: Pseudoscience and Superstition

  • 4. Deviations: The Normal, the Paranormal, and Edgar Cayce
  • 5. Through the Invisible: Near-Death Experiences and the Quest for Immortality
  • 6. Abducted!: Encounters with Aliens
  • 7. Epidemics of Accusations: Medieval and Modern Witch Crazes
  • 8. The Unlikeliest Cult: Ayn Rand, Objectivism, and the Cult of Personality

Part 3: Evolution and Creationism

  • 9. In the Beginning: An Evening with Duane T. Gush
  • 10. Confronting Creationists: Twenty-five Creationist Arguments, Twenty-five Evolutionist Answers
  • 11. Science Defended, Science Defined: Evolution and Creationism at the Supreme Court

Part 4: History and Pseudohistory

  • 12. Doing Donahue: History, Censorship, and Free Speech
  • 13. Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened, and Why Do They Say It?: An Overview of a Movement
  • 14. How We Know the Holocaust Happened: Debunking the Deniers
  • 15. Pigeonholes and Continuums: An African-Greek-German-American Looks at Race

Part 5: Hope Springs Eternal

  • 16. Dr. Tipler Meets Dr. Pangloss: Can Science Find the Best of All Possible Worlds?
  • 17. Why Do People Believe Weird Things?
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Words in Genesis [permalink]
Language English
Authors Isaac Asimov (author) and William Barss (illustrator)
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Categories History, religion and science
Publication year 1962
Pages 233
Synopsis

Asimov explains, as the book is titled, the words in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Review

This is actually more than simply a list and explanation of the words used in Genesis. It goes into great detail into important verses in Genesis, explaining the history behind the verses as well as the etymologies of the words used (Asimov was Jewish by descent and spoke Yiddish, which helps). There are even appendices with maps of the relevant areas of the time, and genealogies of antediluvian (pre-Flood) and postdiluvian patriarchs.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Author's Note
  • Introduction — The Bible
  • 1 In the Beginning
  • 2 The Garden of Eden
  • 3 The Descendants of Adam
  • 4 The Flood
  • 5 Abraham
  • 6 Isaac
  • 7 Jacob
  • 8 Joseph
  • Appendices
  • Index
Full title Words of Science and the History behind Them [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Categories Encyclopedia and science
Publication year 1959
Pages 266
Synopsis

An alphabetical listing of common words in science, with one page of explanation for each of them.

Review

Asimov explains a whole bunch of common scientific words, from abacus to zodiac, in great detail and with particular care to their etymologies (it should be no surprise that many of today's English words are derived from either Latin or Greek, and this book makes that point more than clear). The book is in a sense an encyclopedia, and it can be read straight through or used as, well, an encyclopedia.

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