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The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,376 Ratings  ·  430 Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author of Woman, a playful, passionate guide to the science all around us

With the singular intelligence and exuberance that made Woman an international sensation, Natalie Angier takes us on a whirligig tour of the scientific canon. She draws on conversations with hundreds of the world's top scientists and on her own work as a
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 8th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Chelsea
Jul 20, 2008 Chelsea rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, science, 2008
Reading The Canon, A Chronology:

Chapter One: "Oh, interesting. I'd never thought about it that way before. Ha ha, clever." *giggles*

Chapter Two: "I had forgotten about that!" *feels superior for remembering the basics of probability* *chuckles at a drawn out word play*

Chapter Three: "Huh, that's neat." (100th bad pun.) *crickets*

Chapter Four: "I can't see the science for all of the terrible 'funny jokes'."

Chapter Five: *feels the need to assault someone*

Chapter Six: "YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE SERIO
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Joe
Aug 29, 2010 Joe rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: My enemies.
Recommended to Joe by: Jenny! Why?!
Shelves: physics
Annoying is the fairest word I could come up to describe The Canon after suffering through it for these past weeks. In fact, this is easily the most annoying book I've ever read, not because the science is poor or the topics contrived. In fact, the subject areas Angier chooses to describe are somewhat intuitive and logically ordered (for the most part).

She just has this writing style that, well... it just makes me want to scream.

"Peppers" isn't even the appropriate word. She sort of... "vomits
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Matthew
Aug 23, 2008 Matthew rated it did not like it
Shelves: real-worldy
I gave up on this one after about 100 pages. I hate not finishing books, but this one was so irritating it started to make me angry. Too often it seemed like the book was less about science than about showcasing Angier's insufferable cleverness. She couldn't seem to decide whether she wanted to be playfully incomprehensible in a Finnegan's Wakean way, or drolly incisive in a kind of Popish verse. The result was a bastard child caught somewhere between the two that had an annoying sing-song quali ...more
Woodge
Feb 24, 2013 Woodge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: learners
Shelves: science
Science is cool. I didn't think so back in high school but I like to think I've matured since then. Back then I evaded chemistry by taking an earth science course (Rocks for Jocks). Seems a shame because now I find that stuff very interesting. What Ms. Angier so ably and entertainingly covers in this slim -- under 300 pages -- volume is the scientific method, probabilities, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. You don't have to be a Ph.D. to understand it either. I only wish some ...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally here.)

The more I learn about the history of science, the more I realize why it has such a precarious, semi-mystical reputation with so much of the general public by now; because when the modern "scientific process" was first formed in the 1600s, the first few generations of "scientists" were starting almost
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Jessica
Dec 17, 2007 Jessica rated it did not like it
Shelves: misc-non-fic
The goal of this book is to recapture science from the nerdy margins of society. Angier does this by bimboizing everything, referring to David Trump's toupee as a force of nature and with a giddy, Tourettes-like prose (at the end of one paragraph anecdote involving the Bronx: "Gee, thonx, said the Bronx. I feel richer already. Do you mind if I give a Bronx cheer?")

If this is the only way to popularize science, let's leave it unpopular.
Kaylee
Oct 26, 2008 Kaylee rated it did not like it
Perhaps I hated this book because I have a science background. Perhaps I despised being talked to like a second grader because I actually know how to "think scientifically". And perhaps I loathed every second of my multiple tries at reading this because I'm no fun.

But really, science background or not, this book is written like a kids book -- except with "witty" phrases every damn sentence instead of illustrations. I might not have had as much of a problem with it had I felt like she intended to
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Marie desJardins
Nov 09, 2010 Marie desJardins rated it it was ok
I was really looking forward to reading this book, which purports to be a layperson's introduction to all things beautiful in science. But I can't imagine any layperson ever actually reading it. It's unbelievably long and dull -- the first chapter is 17 small-type pages about how people should like science more than they do, and makes the same points over and over again. The second chapter is 29 small-type pages about how science is cool. But it just meanders from point to point, with no particu ...more
Aimee
Jul 11, 2012 Aimee rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
I am reading this book slowly. It has some great ideas and I love the premise of laying out in simple, brief terms the basic tenets of science, but the writing style drives me crazy, and not in a good way.

She uses similes and "cleverly" written conversational comments and she doesn't stop, there are 1-5 on every single page. These phrases have no value, they don't help illustrate or clarify a concept; they just comes across as oh-so-clever. That's okay once in a while, and I understand the desir
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Dale
May 31, 2008 Dale rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
The Canon is exactly what its subtitle says: a tour of the basics of science. Natalie Angier is a science writer; that is, a writer who is a knowledgeable observer of science and who is able to get scientists to explain things in terms the rest of us might understand. Her writing style is very light, loaded with enthusiasm, and a bit chatty at times. At first I found the chattiness to be slightly off-putting, but when I got to the chapters on material that I didn't know much about (molecular bio ...more
Shawn
Mar 29, 2015 Shawn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, science
I am torn...
I enjoyed the ideas in this book (though I really didn't learn anything new) and in general I liked that the author worked to make the science approachable. The author obviously loves language and finds ways to bring pop culture references in to help non-scientifically minded readers understanding. I do think that this will in the longer term give the book a "dated" feel and someday make it unreadable by younger audiences.
The problem I had was that at times the author seemed to be
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Genia Lukin
Jun 04, 2011 Genia Lukin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, science
You know the joke that goes "sip, don't gulp"?

It's about this book.

It's only possible to read it without annoyance in very, very small pieces. I found myself reading a half a chapter - a chapter at most - every day, but no more. Go further, and the alcoholic intoxication induced by severe overdose of puns and jokes gave me vertigo.

It's not that the jokes are all bad; no, some of them are moderately clever, many of them made me at least smile. I am quite benevolent towards puns. But when the freq
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Evelyn
Science is beautiful.

Me reading this book was like a fish going to a lecture about why water is important. In other words, Angier is preaching to the converted. But, even if I didn't already consider science fascinating and amazing and completely utterly awesome, I'd soon come around to that point of view. The chapter on physics made my day; the chemistry chapter would have made last year's science class much more interesting; the astronomy chapter was a tad belabored, though no amount of repeti
...more
John Kaufmann
Nov 22, 2015 John Kaufmann rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
It was hard to give this two stars. The author gets the science right, and tells it in an lively, interesting way. But the reason I gave it only two stars was because it beats a dead horse. She gives an example of something, but not to leave anything to the imagination, she gives another example to illustrate her point, then another. All correct. All interesting. But enough already. Move on to the next topic.
Heather Browning
I liked this more than I thought I might, given the reviews. The writing style was occasionally annoying but quite readable and often entertaining. My real issue was the lack of structure - the chapters seemed to wind through an unmarked path and the writing style meant this journey took a lot longer than perhaps it needed to. As someone familiar with science, it wasn't an issue, I could provide my own signposts, but I think it would be a major barrier to someone hoping to learn. Overall, I can' ...more
Gary
Jun 24, 2015 Gary rated it liked it
This book is a fine review of about nine or ten meta-categories of introductory college science concepts. Presented in an easily understood format by Natalie Angier who calls herself, not a scientist, but a science writer.

There are several types of literature. The large bulk of material which does a fine job of presentation on the professional stage, but doesn't have a big wow factor. And then a small group at the very top which knock you over with the beauty of their well crafted work.

Ms. Angie
...more
Al
Feb 08, 2009 Al rated it really liked it
Recommended to Al by: asolomo@emory.edu
Although the froth is voluminous, the beer beneath is definitely worth sampling. Recommended for those who would enjoy a refresher course on the basics of the "hard sciences" long forgotten from high school. The chapter on scientific thinking and the discussion of evolution v. creationism/intelligent design are my favorites. Although I am not a believer in the latter, I might convert so I can utter the term "irreducible complexity" with abandon!
Lisa
Jul 13, 2007 Lisa rated it liked it
Natalie Angier writes wonderful columns which frequently appear in the New York Times. While her style can become a bit draining after a while, it is easy to see how much she loves science. And, perhaps for that reason alone, I enjoyed this book. I should have read this book only one chapter at a time. It would have been more enjoyable that way.
Joseph Muhsen
Apr 01, 2015 Joseph Muhsen added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: المناهج التعلمية العراقية
أقترح أن يكون هذا الكتاب من الكتب الأولى في مكتبات المدارس والجامعات سواء أكانت علمية أم غيرها؛ لأنه كالشعر يصف العلم ويتغزل بزواياه (مبادئه).
اذا كنت من محبي نسبية آينشتاين فقم بجولتك الزمكانية في مبادئ العلم- وإن كنت من معجبي الداروينية فاحزم امتعتك مع التأريخ التطوري للعلم.

Peggie
Jan 07, 2016 Peggie rated it liked it
I started reading this book--well, listening to it on CD, really--over a year ago because I thought that it would be good for me to learn something about the basics of science. It has taken me a long time to finish it because science is not something I read for fun. I have always been an "arts and letters" person, and faked my way through high school chemistry with lots of help (and free answers) from a friend. Truly, I liked what I could understand about chemistry, but never really "got" it, an ...more
أميرة
Aug 06, 2015 أميرة rated it liked it
Shelves: pop-sci
Witty
Dennis Mitton
Jul 03, 2014 Dennis Mitton rated it liked it
Angier has written a useful and expansive book that just does not carry me. I don’t argue – much – with the content: she aptly explains the foundations of modern science from math to physics to biology and things in between. She offers a broad view with a thousand rabbit trails to explore. But as much as I enjoyed the book, her writing simply wears me out. One reviewer calls the book ‘exuberant’: that’s an understatement. She writes with almost religious wonder. Her wide eyed descriptions lead t ...more
Kate
May 31, 2014 Kate rated it did not like it
The subtitle" A whirligig tour of the beautiful basics of science, should have been my first clue, but i translated whirligig as more whirlwind and i bought the book. I assumed we would dash through the basic concepts of science, and through the race it would be a fun read for a topic I long to get my hands into again. But whirligig is actually a more accurate term for the spinning, circular prose, cliched phrases, lists of adjectives, and nonsensical metaphors plucked from thin air without both ...more
Kaitlyn Dennis
Jan 28, 2012 Kaitlyn Dennis rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
Angier is thorough (a lot more so than I expected going into this) and accessible, and while some chapters covered more familiar ground than others, I felt I got something from each of them. Even in the driest sections, the conversational tone was intact and my interest was held. There are a lot of little literary/cultural winks thrown in with the substantive material, some working better than others. For some reason, the only one explained with a footnote was the reference to Rosencrantz & ...more
Joanne
Jun 12, 2013 Joanne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book just annoyed me. I didn't get far, what with the small font and lots of analogies and metaphors that I either didn't understand or were completely unnecessary and actually detrimental to anyone who seriously just picked up this book to get a basic understanding of science.

The entire idea of the book is to teach science and yet I found myself floundering in a rant about how more people should just learn science and go into science and people really need to start valuing science and for
...more
Starry
Sep 19, 2009 Starry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book. The author manages to be entertaining, informative, and at times even lyrical as she gives an overview of the basics in the basic sciences (chemistry, physics, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, geology, astronomy). Sounds dry but she keeps it moving along and funny.

I was especially curious about her writing on molecular biology (I have a PhD in this field and get frustrated with poorly written newspaper articles on mol.bio. research advances). She did a nice j
...more
Ryan
Dec 12, 2012 Ryan rated it it was ok
My compulsion with finishing a text once I've started it us the only reason I made it to the final page of The Canon. Angier gets a C for effort - many interesting topics are considered and there were a number of thought-provoking passages. Two things made The Canon a tough read for me. First, Angier cannot go more than two paragraphs without throwing in some want-to-be-clever non sequitur. I believe Angier was trying to make the book user-friendly for the science-phobes, but these efforts fell ...more
Matthew
Dec 18, 2012 Matthew rated it did not like it
SO bad! In so many ways! The prose is just too annoying; the author seems to think her topic, which she defensively insists is so fascinating, is actually quite boring. At least that's the only explanation I could see for her insistence on inane one-liners and hip, alliterative inside jokes.

Her command of science is also a bit off. She makes many inaccurate statements and gives misleading examples. She is inordinately defensive over the question of evolution vs creation. In fact, it seems to be
...more
Lee
Nov 27, 2015 Lee rated it did not like it
There was some interesting science in here, but for me the book was ruined by her very annoying writing style, which made it a real chore. If you're looking for a concise introduction to general science, with some wit thrown in, then I'd say avoid this book altogether; Bill Bryson did it so much better in A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Frank Jude
May 25, 2009 Frank Jude rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All those interested in science, even if, and especially if, they are a bit scared by it!
Shelves: general-science
Go to the top scientists in the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, geology and astronomy and ask them what principles (not data or factoids) are central to their discipline and what they wish the general public knew and understood and then write a readable, enjoyable book about it. That's what top science writer, Natalie Angier did and the results are fabulous.

If you are a science phile or phobe, this one is for you! At times Angier's wit gets the best of her. It's almost like she feels she
...more
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Natalie Angier is a nonfiction writer and a science journalist for The New York Times.
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