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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 intelligence and exuberance that rocketed Woman to international acclaim, best-selling science writer Natalie Angier distills the scientific canon to the absolute essentials in a work that is both entertaining and inspiring. Angier interviewed hosts of scientists, posing the simple question: What do you wish everyone knew about science?
The Canon provides their answers, covering the fundamentals of the hard sciences: scientific process, probability, calibration, physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, cellular and molecular biology, geology, and astronomy. Angier proves a rabble-rousing, wisecracking, deeply committed tour guide to the basic concepts of each discipline, describing how they are relevant to us every day and striving to make the invisible visible, the distant neighborly, the ineffable affable. Even the most science-phobic reader will find Angier's passion infectious as she delivers a one-stop education to rival Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.
"'Science is underappreciated and undervalued in a world that thrives on it. Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter Angier sets out to bring the basics of hard science (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) into listeners' everyday lives. Rather than returning to the doldrums of a high school science class, she shows listeners where and how science is happening in everything we do. Through her discussions with scientists and her use of analogies, she makes the complex accessible. Doukas delivers her performance in an energetic, soft and welcoming voice. She emphasizes and paces so as not to overload her listeners as well as to bring home Angier's points. Doukas's tone hints of excitement but also sympathy for those listeners who may appreciate science but who have a bit of angst for learning about it. With over 13 hours of listening, though, this audiobook is best processed in small chunks. Angier covers a lot in each chapter, but trying to grasp it all may take repeated listening. Simultaneous release with the Houghton Mifflin hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 8). (May)'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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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"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)
"Natalie Angier...has produced another, much-needed book on the basics of science." Los Angeles Times
"Some readers may find Angier's wordplay excessively indulgent, but her core audience will delight in her ecstatic exuberance for all things scientific." Booklist
"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
"[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)
"An astonishingly literary science book....Angier's gift for metaphor lights up the dustiest corner....If any book can help the public learn to love science, this is it." Nature
"An essential experience....How dare she write so artfully, explain so brilliantly, rendering us scientists simultaneously proud and inarticulate!" Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate
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.
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."
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.
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