An interesting first look at material science for anyone who hasn't thought much about it before. Also has a few interesting gems for those who do knoAn interesting first look at material science for anyone who hasn't thought much about it before. Also has a few interesting gems for those who do know a bit about the subject. The author's breezy, informal style and decision to structure the book around materials captured in a single photograph makes it a fun, easy read....more
Interesting, though a bit repetitive, and the author is rather prone to tooting his own horn (To be fair, he also credits his students and collaboratoInteresting, though a bit repetitive, and the author is rather prone to tooting his own horn (To be fair, he also credits his students and collaborators.) While the book is strong at showcasing the possibilities of what the author terms 'social physics', it's rather cavalier about privacy concerns. The target audience seems to be managerial types- the author is very much trying to sell the reader on social physics and the benefits it can bring you/your organization. I would rather have had more detail on the work the author has actually carried out, and more of the underlying math to better understand the author's models- only a brief bit is given in the appendix....more
If you want to read about the science, this is not the book for you- this is the history of the science, specifically the development of Heisenberg'sIf you want to read about the science, this is not the book for you- this is the history of the science, specifically the development of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and quantum physics. I liked the beginning, as the author set out the developments in physics that led to the clash between Einstein, who famously had difficulty accepting that randomness and uncertainty might have a place in physics, and the scientists at the forefront of quantum physics who insisted that it did. But as the book went on, I felt like the author lost focus and got a little too metaphysical. (Speculation that science is influenced by the zeitgeist, excursions into literary applications of 'uncertainty' which have really nothing to do with the science.)...more
A good read on the the decades long hunt for life on other planets from the beginning of SETI to the present day in which ever-increasing numbers of eA good read on the the decades long hunt for life on other planets from the beginning of SETI to the present day in which ever-increasing numbers of exoplanet discoveries are being announced. The author interviewed top scientists working in the field, and writes not only about their work and views on the current state and what's next, but also about the history of Earth and what we've learned about our own planet. I was expecting to give the book five stars, but then I hit the last chapter and the sudden shift in tone to it being all about Prof. Sara Seager's personal life rubbed me the wrong way. I would rather have read more about her work on exoplanets than the untimely deaths of her father and husband....more
The author definitely knows his subject and has done his research. I was particularly fascinated by the (either previously undocumented or simply unacThe author definitely knows his subject and has done his research. I was particularly fascinated by the (either previously undocumented or simply unacknowledged) influence of Islamic astronomy on Copernicus and his associates. Unfortunately, I agree with the previous reviewer who said the book was on the dry side. It also assumes a high level of knowledge on the part of the reader, along with fluency in multiple languages. Very much not a beginner text. I feel if I were a specialist in this area, I would probably rate the book higher....more
I came away from this book with a vague feeling of disgruntlement. I know the old saying about not judging books by their covers, but human nature beiI came away from this book with a vague feeling of disgruntlement. I know the old saying about not judging books by their covers, but human nature being what it is, we do- and we judge them by their titles as well. And I believe the title is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with this book. First and foremost, the title itself is somewhat confusing- is it the scientists who changed our understanding, or is it the blunders? After reading the book, I believe Livio intended the second meaning, that blunders were made by scientists who changed our understanding.
This brings me to my second and more serious problem with the title, and indeed the way the premise of the book is explained. To be clear, this is a perfectly good look at some of the history of science and great scientists who have changed our understanding. It does a marvelous job of illustrating that science is a complicated, even messy business, propelled by give and take or even argument,in which even mistakes or failures may yield valuable information if interpreted correctly. What the book is not is a book about blunders.
To me, 'blunder' means a stupid or careless mistake, something obvious and avoidable. Yet many of the situations Livio describes are clearly not stupid or careless, much less obvious and avoidable. Some of what Livio attributes as blunders simply represent failure of imagination or unwillingness to stake out a more radical position. Yes, there are a few true blunders- Pauling's sloppy work on the shape of the DNA molecule- but most incidents Livio chose to write about were not.
For example, I find it quite harsh to chalk it up as a blunder that Darwin, having put forth in his book one revolutionary idea that turned 'what we know' on its head should be chastised for being either unable to make the leap that the prevailing notions of heredity at the time were also wrong, or unwilling to go out on that limb without adequate data to back up his position. (Considering Mr. Darwin took years to amass evidence for his theory before publishing Origin, and might well have not published for several more years were it not for the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, I find the latter explanation more likely, particularly since Livio cites instances where Darwin seemed to fret that current notions of heredity did not fit with observation.)
Similarly, to take Kelvin to task for being unable to conceive of what the interior of the Earth looked like when making his calculations of the age of the Earth, or to chastise him for overconfidence in his assumptions seems unfair. Kelvin was acting according to the best knowledge available at the time, and proceeding as he thought logical. His 'mistake' is quite obvious in hindsight, but that is because the state of knowledge about the Earth (as well as the sun and formation of the solar system) has advanced considerably since Kelvin's day. To criticize him for becoming staid and set in his thinking as he aged is fair, but to claim he blundered seems a bit strong.
In short, I would have found the book much more enjoyable if the premise were slightly altered. If Livio claimed he wanted to illuminate the pitfalls Einstein warned about in the anecdote given late in the book (that a theorist could either be led astray by a false hypothesis and thus deserving of pity, or that his arguments could be erroneous and sloppy thus deserving of censure) I would have found it much more palatable than to shove everything under the catchall of 'blunder'. ...more
Really enjoyed this excellent popular science look at the history of Earth from the perspective of a geologist. Particularly liked that it featured thReally enjoyed this excellent popular science look at the history of Earth from the perspective of a geologist. Particularly liked that it featured the interplay between biology and earth science. I think I want a copy of my own! (It was a library book.)...more
I'll admit to not being a biologist, but as a layperson, this seemed like an excellent primer on prions and prion diseases (kuru, scrapie, BSE, CJD anI'll admit to not being a biologist, but as a layperson, this seemed like an excellent primer on prions and prion diseases (kuru, scrapie, BSE, CJD and vCJD) as well as a few diseases that may not be related to prions but have related mechanisms (Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Lou Gehrig's). I shall be on the lookout for Mr. Ingram's other books, as this one was well written- clear, concise, interesting, and with well-chosen illustrations....more
An informative and mostly brief history of the change in the past ~150 years of our understanding of the cosmos and where we and our planet come from.An informative and mostly brief history of the change in the past ~150 years of our understanding of the cosmos and where we and our planet come from. I found it a bit tedious at first- the author repeats his catchphrase "the stardust revolution" a bit too often, and throws in some anecdotes probably meant to add interest but that just felt like padding. It picked up in the second half, and I'm glad I didn't quit. It also intersected nicely with a few other books I've read lately- several of the folks from Bell Labs popped up- while also introducing me to a few scientists I feel like I should have heard of but hadn't. ...more
A very good read- a clear, understandable explanation of particle physics and why it matters. The author has a gift for mixing interesting anecdotes (A very good read- a clear, understandable explanation of particle physics and why it matters. The author has a gift for mixing interesting anecdotes (the Higgs was dubbed the God particle after two authors realized they wouldn't get away with calling it the goddamn particle) and clear illustrative analogies with the hard science so that even someone who gets headaches trying to keep the particle zoo straight can understand. I read a library copy, but I think this is one I will want for my own bookshelf....more
This is one of those books that caught my eye on a library shelf and got a tryout. Sadly, I wish I had checked the publication date before I started-This is one of those books that caught my eye on a library shelf and got a tryout. Sadly, I wish I had checked the publication date before I started- it was written over 10 years ago, which means not insignificant chunks of the science referenced are already out of date. (It's a bit strange reading about projected NASA and JAXA missions that have already happened.)
The book is basically a collection of essays on different topics relating to dust (or to be more accurate, particulates, because I doubt most people think of what comes out of their car exhaust pipes as dust.) It goes from stardust to household dust and many points in between. While it might be interesting to a person who doesn't read much science, I'm guessing many will find it a bit dry; those who do keep up with the science will have seen most of it elsewhere already....more