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The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Scienceby Natalie Angier
Another winner from one of the best science writers around, The Canon, like Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything, provides a pleasurable understanding of science.
Synopses & Reviews
With the singular intelligence and exuberance that made Woman an international sensation, Natalie Angier takes us on a "guided twirligig through the scientific canon." She draws on conversations with hundreds of the world's top scientists, and her own work as a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the New York Times, to create a thoroughly entertaining guide to scientific literacy. People magazine says, "Angier has that rare dual talent: a true passion for science combined with a poet's linguistic flair." Those gifts are on full display in The Canon, an ebullient celebration of science that stands to become a classic.
The Canon is a joyride through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. It's vital reading for anyone who wants to understand the great issues of our time, from stem cells and bird flu to evolution and global warming. It's also one of those rare books that reignites our childhood delight in figuring out how things work: we learn what's actually happening when our ice cream melts or our coffee gets cold, what our liver cells do when we eat a caramel, how the horse shows evolution at work, and that we really are all made of stardust. It's Lewis Carroll meets Lewis Thomas: a book that will enrapture, inspire, and enlighten.
"Carl Sagan once complained, 'We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.' So it is today. A host of national debates — from stem cell research to climate change — require a baseline of scientific literacy. And yet even Harvard students surveyed at their commencement couldn't correctly explain why the year... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) is divided into seasons, with hotter weather in summer than in winter. (Hint: It's the earth's tilt, not its orbit.) As an antidote to the bad news, New York Times science writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Natalie Angier offers up her own witty, idiosyncratic primer on the sciences — an exuberant Cliffs Notes for grown-ups that highlights core principles of physics, chemistry, evolutionary and molecular biology, geology and astronomy. 'I'm not a pragmatist, and I can't make practical arguments of the broccoli and flossing kind,' she confesses early on. Instead, she argues that delving into the viscera of science is worthwhile because it's enjoyable. 'It's fun the way rich ideas are fun, the way seeing beneath the skin of something is fun.' Angier begins with a lively discussion of what it means to think like a scientist, harvesting fresh commentary from a veritable Who's Who of American science. 'Science is not a body of facts. Science is a state of mind,' she writes, noting that researchers typically recognize the provisional nature of discoveries, revel in skepticism and are spurred by uncertainty (even as they project authority and credibility to the general public). 'Working scientists don't think of science as "the truth,"' Darcy Kelley, a neuroscientist at Columbia, tells her. 'They think of it as a way of approximating the truth.' Nobel Laureate David Baltimore adds, 'As our concepts become more precise, more sophisticated, the absolutes become less absolute.' From the start, Angier makes a friendly anthropologist and good ambassador to planet science. Her tete-a-tetes, which build on years of high-level access and conversation, yield particular gems when she turns to the fundamentals of the natural world. In a discussion on the structure of the atom, with its positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons, for instance, Angier probes what, exactly, charge is. Here's physicist Ramamurti Shankar's delightful response: 'A charge is an attitude; it is not in itself anything. It's like saying a person has charisma.' And when Angier asks Cynthia Wolberger of Johns Hopkins University 'what the cell would look like if it were blown up to the dimension of a desktop accessory,' 'Without a moment's hesitation, (Wolberger) replied gaily, "It would look like snot." '"Snot?" '"Yes, cells are very gooey and viscous."' Angier clearly revels in the tactile. And her fingers-in-the-pie enthusiasm erupts in page after page of metaphor and visceral appreciation. In her telling, the cell is a 'hive in hyperdrive.' Cells are also 'gossips, scolds, eavesdroppers, and sheep,' in that they often take strong cues from neighbors. A virus, on the other hand, is 'a wannabeing, a parasitic paralife as told on Post-it notes'; DNA is a 'long-winded masterpiece' and the cell's 'operating manual and ticket to tomorrow.' Angier's rococo riffs are perhaps best suited to the bounty of biology, her beat at the New York Times. The anthropomorphic imagery and sheer density of wordplay sometimes obscure, rather than illuminate, the scientific reality at hand. An atom of gold, for instance, is hard to comprehend as 'a snaggle-toothed hundred millionth of a centimeter of a beast ... (with) far, far from the dense, thumping heart, 6 cloudy shells, 6 probability pathways along which 79 electrons spin.' Still, the book is worth reading not only as a science lesson, but also as a rhapsodic personal essay from one of the great science writers of our time — an eminence whose love of snotty cells and crazy creatures may be second only to her love of language. Amanda Schaffer is a science and medical columnist for Slate." Reviewed by Amanda Schaffer, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Natalie Angier...has produced another, much-needed book on the basics of science." Los Angeles Times
"Every sentence sparkles with wit and charm...it all adds up to an intoxicating cocktail of fine science writing." Richard Dawkins
"Natalie Angier makes planets and particles sexy....She turns guys with lab coats and pocket protectors into Daniel Craig." Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
"An essential experience....How dare she write so artfully, explain so brilliantly, rendering us scientists simultaneously proud and inarticulate!" Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate
"Natalie Angier provides a masterful, authoritative synthesis of the state of knowledge across the entire scientific landscape." Howard Gardner, Harvard University, author of Five Minds for the Future and Frames of Mind
"Not everything is as easy as pie (or pi) to grasp, and therein lies the excitement and challenge of science, masterfully conveyed here." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[Angier] writes with such verve, humor, and warmth that even readers who may have flunked any of those subjects in high school will still be willing to give them a second chance." Library Journal (Starred Review)
In this exuberant book, the best-selling author Natalie Angier distills the scientific canon to the absolute essentials, delivering an entertaining and inspiring one-stop science education. Angier interviewed a host of scientists, posing the simple question What do you wish everyone knew about your field?” The Canon provides their answers, taking readers on a joyride through the fascinating fundamentals of the incredible world around us and revealing how they are relevant to us every day. Angier proves a rabble-rousing, wisecracking, deeply committed tour guide in her irresistible exploration of the scientific process and the basic concepts of physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, cellular and molecular biology, geology, and astronomy. Even science-phobes will find her passion infectious as she strives "to make the invisible visible, the distant neighborly, the ineffable affable."
From the Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author of Woman, a playful, passionate guide to the science all around us< BR> < BR> 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 Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times to create a thoroughly entertaining guide to scientific literacy. Angier's gifts are on full display in The Canon, an ebullient celebration of science that stands to become a classic.< BR> < BR> The Canon is vital reading for anyone who wants to understand the great issues of our time — from stem cells and bird flu to evolution and global warming. And it's for every parent who has ever panicked when a child asked how the earth was formed or what electricity is. Angier's sparkling prose and memorable metaphors bring the science to life, reigniting our own childhood delight in discovering how the world works. Of course you should know about science, writes Angier, for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun and fun is good.< BR> < BR> The Canon is a joyride through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. Along the way, we learn what is actually happening when our ice cream melts or our coffee gets cold, what our liver cells do when we eat a caramel, why the horse is an example of evolution at work, and how we're all really made of stardust. It's Lewis Carroll meets Lewis Thomas — a book that will enrapture, inspire, and enlighten.
Buckle up for a joy ride through physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy with this ebullient guide to science by a Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author.
About the Author
Natalie Angier is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times and a frequent contributor to many magazines. Her honors include the Lewis Thomas Award and the AAAS Science Journalism Award. She lives near Washington, D.C., with her husband and their daughter.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Sisyphus Sings with a Ying 1
1. Thinking Scientifically: An Out-of-Body Experience 18 2. Probabilities: For Whom the Bell Curves 47 3. Calibration: Playing with Scales 71 4. Physics: And Nothings Plenty for Me 87 5. Chemistry: Fire, Ice, Spies, and Life 121 6. Evolutionary Biology: The Theory of Every Body 147 7. Molecular Biology: Cells and Whistles 183 8. Geology: Imagining World Pieces 212 9. Astronomy: Heavenly Creatures 235
References 267 Acknowledgments 280 Index 282
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