25 Books to Read Before You Die
 
 

Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity



Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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Powell's Books Bldg. 2

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  2. Powell's Books Bldg. 2
    40 NW 10th Ave.
    Portland, OR 97209 (map/directions) United States of America Work 503 228 4651 45.523427687852305, -122.68149375915527 Powell's Technical Books is now Powell's Books Bldg. 2, on the corner of 10th and Couch, across the street from Powell's City of Books. The new space brings our mathematics, sciences, computing, engineering, construction, and transportation sections closer to our flagship store.


    Phone
    503-228-4651

    Hours
    Daily : 9:00 a.m. - 10:45 p.m.

Powell's Technical Books is now Powell's Books Bldg. 2, on the corner of 10th and Couch, across the street from Powell's City of Books. The new space brings our mathematics, sciences, computing, engineering, construction, and transportation sections closer to our flagship store.


 

Here are just some of the books we're talking about at Powell's.

  1. Farming with Native Beneficial Insects

    Looking to increase your organic harvest? This is one of the most exciting farming books I've seen! It's not just bugs (although there are plenty); it's also cover crops, grassed waterways, and brush piles. Farming with Native Beneficial Insects has a wealth of information on introducing and restoring biodiversity for the backyard farmer as well as for the farmer with actual acreage. It's from Storey, so you can count on lots of color pictures.

    Recommended by Tracey T. August 5, 2014


  2. The End of Night (staff pick)

    Remarkably, estimates are that eight out of every ten children born in America today will never know "what it means." That is, 80 percent will never know a night dark enough that they can see the Milky Way.

    Remarkable and depressing. The End of Night follows author Paul Bogard as he travels the world to discover the pernicious effects of our overdependence on artificial lighting. Our compulsive need to illuminate the night has had many unintended and deleterious consequences for both our own well-being and that of our nonhuman neighbors. Despite there being "no statistically significant evidence that street lighting impacts the level of crime," we persist in our need to eradicate not only the perceived (but nearly nonexistent) threat of post-dusk violence, but also the latent fear that underlies our dis-ease with the darkness and mystery of the evening and early morning hours in general.

    Bogard visits foreign and domestic cities, national parks, observatories, workplaces, suburbs, and rural areas to interview a host of both experts and laypeople on light pollution and related subjects. Much of the information he uncovers is rather disturbing, especially the effects on wildlife and personal health (including a possible causal link with cancer). As places throughout the world free from an excess of artificial light continue to dwindle, our connection with the natural world — and our inherent wonder and awe of the night sky's beauty — becomes increasingly threatened.

    There is considerable intrigue to be found throughout The End of Night, both scientific and philosophical. A chapter on darkness, melancholia, and death is particularly poignant and moving; however, some portions of the book rely too heavily on anecdote that trends close to tedium. Nonetheless, Bogard's book is, overall, a fascinating probe into an overlit new age of human existence and the ramifications thereof. The End of Night makes clear that it's more than a mere view of the stars above that we've forsaken when we overlight (and improperly light) cities, streets, roads, parking lots, landmarks, and homes.

    Recommended by Jeremy May 29, 2014


  3. The Knowledge

    What happens after the apocalypse? Dartnell provides concise explanations of agriculture, medicine, transportation, energy, and the scientific method. Not a how-to book but rather a framework for rebuilding our current technology. If the world ends, this isn't the only book you'll want, but it certainly would be useful.

    Recommended by Mary Jo April 28, 2014


  4. Cascadia's Fault: The Coming Earthquake and Tsunami That Could Devastate North America

    This book contains fascinating scientific research, brilliant historical detection, and inspiring tales of prior tsunami and earthquake survivors. It may not happen in our lifetime, but in geological terms, the rupture of this fault is imminent. Knowledge is power. Be ready.

    Recommended by Kathleen H. March 6, 2014


  5. The Future of the Mind

    Illuminating and full of surprises, this insightful read offers a survey of what scientists are learning about the remarkable powers of the brain and the latest advances that point to what the future might hold. It will change the way you think — about the way you think.

    Recommended by Ted February 21, 2014


  6. The Life of Super-Earths (staff pick)

    A brief, yet informative primer on the search for exoplanets, The Life of Super-Earths outlines the accelerating quest to discover potentially habitable planets outside of our solar system. Dimitar Sasselov, a Harvard astronomy professor, offers the intriguing back story of the scientific developments that have led to the discovery of over 600 extrasolar planets. Sasselov goes into considerable detail in conveying the methods utilized to determine whether a particular star does, in fact, have orbiting planets (including astrometry, the Doppler effect, gravitational lensing, spectroscopy, and the detection of transiting planets). He writes about the formations of super-earths, presumptive requirements for life thereon, and the myriad reasons why some planets may well be more conducive and supportive of life than our own.

    While the entire book is rather fascinating, the sparse portions dealing with Perovskite (a mineral found within the Earth's mantle which composes some 40 percent of our planet's mass), high-pressure ices (VII, X, and XI) that can exist at 1,000 degrees Kelvin, and the future of synthetic biology are of particular note. Of the 200 billion stars in just our own galaxy, there are an estimated 100 million orbiting planets with habitable potential — making the prospects for life outside of our solar system quite intriguing. Considering that "there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand in all the beaches on earth" truly boggles one's mind and makes the possibility of there being life on any number of exoplanets seem a mere as-yet unproven certainty. The Life of Super-Earths is an eminently readable work, easily accessible to even those with but the faintest scientific education. Sasselov does a remarkable job of balancing some of the more heady scholarship with coherent prose and lucid illustrations. Sasselov's enthusiasm for his field is rather evident and helps compel the reader to a more fully realized comprehension of a truly exhilarating subject.

    Recommended by Jeremy February 19, 2014


  7. Cat Sense

    Do cats only purr when they're happy? Can they develop special languages with their owners? Is getting them a companion a bad idea? This fascinating book uses behavioral science, genetics, and archeological findings to explore these questions and more.

    Recommended by Abby October 31, 2013


  8. A Universe from Nothing

    Lawrence Krauss's new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, summarizes the continuing developments in the field of cosmology. In addition to championing these new insights in the study of modern physics, Krauss also frames these advances in the appropriate context of their resulting implications for theologians and deists. Adapted from a lecture he delivered at the 2009 Atheist Alliance international annual convention (and made popular on YouTube), A Universe from Nothing explores the history of the universe from the big bang through inflation to its theoretical endpoint using the most current (and widely accepted) science.

    Krauss is marvelously adept at conveying his broad scientific knowledge in as succinct and lucid a manner as is perhaps possible, making it relatively easy for a nontheoretical physicist to grasp the concepts he is attempting to illustrate. Among the more notable and recent advancements that Krauss examines in the book are the discoveries that the universe is now accelerating following the so-called "cosmic jerk" that took place some five billion years ago (see also the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics), the abundance of dark energy that appears to account for nearly three-quarters of the universe's total mass (that resides mostly in "empty space"), and the uniform flatness that characterizes our universe.  The majority of the book is spent assembling and explaining the related pieces that together form a picture of the universe which, according to the latest scientific data, seems to have evolved from nothing — in fact, it may have only been able to evolve precisely because there was nothing.

    The ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one's a priori beliefs, not the beauty and elegance one ascribes to one's theoretical models. The results of experiments that I will describe here are not only timely, they are also unexpected. The tapestry that science weaves in describing the evolution of our universe is far richer and far more fascinating than any revelatory images or imaginative stories that humans have concocted.

    As our understanding of the nearly 14-billion-year-old universe is constantly evolving, there is clearly much to be learned about cosmology. Krauss is enthusiastic in his dissemination of the accumulated knowledge and seems eager to welcome whatever conceptual refinements future advancements will inevitably bring. A Universe from Nothing is not simply a scientific treatise, however, as Krauss considers what ramifications these new insights have on age-old theological arguments.

    For more than two thousand years, the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has been presented as a challenge to the proposition that our universe — which contains the vast complex of stars, galaxies, humans, and who knows what else — might have arisen without design, intent, or purpose. While this is usually framed as a philosophical or religious question, it is first and foremost a question about the natural world, and so the appropriate place to try and resolve it, first and foremost, is with science.

    Richard Dawkins, in the book's afterword, characterizes Krauss's book as "the knockout blow" to the theologian's remaining arguments in favor of a creator. With a few hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe and a modern physics that seems to indicate that our universe could have only arose from nothing, Krauss's assertion that a god is "unnecessary — or at best redundant" is as compelling as the science he uses to arrive at said claim. A Universe from Nothing, like most books of reason and evidence, will do little to dissuade those who ardently profess their belief in a deity, but as cosmology clarifies our place in the universe with greater precision, the arguments in favor of a creator seem ever less defensible. Krauss, in this eminently readable (and often funny!) book, has ventured further down the road of rationality and empiricism, allowing us a guided tour on the never-ending quest to truly understand the nature of life in this brilliant universe we call home.

    If we wish to draw philosophical conclusions about our own existence, our significance, and the significance of the universe itself, our conclusions should be based on empirical knowledge. A truly open mind means forcing our imaginations to conform to the evidence of reality and not vice versa, whether or not we like the implications.

    Recommended by Jeremy September 4, 2012


  9. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

    If you've ever said to yourself (or your significant other), "as soon as I finish this level, I'll go to bed," you have to read Extra Lives. It's not so much a defense of video games as a willingness to explore the impact they have, for good and ill, in the author's (and by extension the reader's) life. Gamers and non-gamers alike will be engrossed by Bissell's self-deprecating sense of humor, as well as his compelling narrative skills.

    Recommended by Gerry July 13, 2011


  10. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

    If you've ever said to yourself (or your significant other), "as soon as I finish this level, I'll go to bed," you have to read Extra Lives. It's not so much a defense of video games as a willingness to explore the impact they have, for good and ill, in the author's (and by extension the reader's) life. Gamers and non-gamers alike will be engrossed by Bissell's self-deprecating sense of humor, as well as his compelling narrative skills.

    Recommended by Gerry July 13, 2011


  11. Decoding the Heavens

    Decoding the Heavens recounts the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism, arguably the most remarkable archaeological find in human history. A mechanical computer dating from the second century BCE, it was recovered from an ancient Mediterranean shipwreck by Greek sponge divers in 1900 (after nearly 2,000 years of submersion). Its function, however, would elude academics, researchers, computer scientists, and archaeologists for still another century. continue »

    Recommended by Jeremy June 22, 2011


  12. The Disappearing Spoon

    Sam Kean proves that chemistry makes for great storytelling with this entertaining look at the human stories behind the elements found in the periodic table. A delightful history of science, The Disappearing Spoon makes for both an engaging and enlightening read.

    Recommended by Michal D. June 16, 2011


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