25 Women to Read Before You Die


American Scientist


What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Getting Better All the Time?

A review by David E. Nye

Whether it's intended to be so or not, the title of Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants is a provocation to most historians of technology, who would reply almost unanimously that technology has no wants or desires. Each tool or machine has latent uses, but each is only an inert object until human beings decide whether and how to use it. In contrast, Kelly talks about technology as a composite whole that emerged before human beings existed and that facilitated their rapid domination of the planet. For him, technology has intentions, and it is radically accelerating evolution.

Kelly has been thinking about technology for most of his life, first as a backpacker wandering the Third World, later as one of the pioneers of what became the Internet, and finally as one of the founders and editors of Wired magazine. He overcame his early suspicion of Western technology largely as a result of his encounter with interactive computer technologies. He was one of several in the counterculture to...

Previously Reviewed by American Scientist
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The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture by Evelyn Fox Keller

Is there anything new to say about how we should understand the nature-nurture problem? The answer is yes, and it is not because there are conceptual matters still unresolved. It is because no one has offered a way to think about the problem that is simple and grabs the imagination. Absent a...

The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania (Origins of Human Behavior and Culture) by Frank Marlowe

The few societies that still live by foraging for wild food are of great interest to researchers curious about how our ancestors might have lived before the introduction of agriculture thousands of years ago. Two groups that have been intensively studied are the Hadza people of Tanzania and the...

The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future by Andrew Pickering

In 1948 the British neurologist W. Grey Walter began work on a pair of robotic "tortoises" -- three-wheeled creatures named Elmer and Elsie that crawled around on the floor seeking light, avoiding obstacles and even engaging in a kind of mating dance. Elmer and Elsie were a big hit at public...

Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb by David C. Cassidy

Unless you happen to be a historian of physics, probably the only thing you know about the life of Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) is that in September 1941 he took a trip to Copenhagen to have a conversation with Niels Bohr, the wise man of quantum theory. Thanks to Michael Frayn's popular and award-...

A Tear at the Edge of Creation: A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe by Marcelo Gleiser

We live in an era of the personal: Fiction is often structured as a character's journey of discovery, memoirs are hugely popular, and in the wake of the "new journalism" of Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Truman Capote and others, it is not unusual for the author of a work of nonfiction to include...

Image and Reality: Kekul, Kopp, and the Scientific Imagination (Synthesis) by Alan J. Rocke

The theory of chemical structure, although it rarely receives the kind of attention accorded the theory of evolution or even the periodic table, is nevertheless a landmark achievement of 19th-century science. As Alan J. Rocke notes in Image and Reality, it was "the first truly successful entry by...

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

In 1884, the English minister, headmaster, and biblical and Shakespearean scholar Edwin Abbott Abbott produced a thin volume titled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. It was both an introduction to the notion of higher dimensions and a satire of Victorian society and norms. At that time, there ...

Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (Animals, History, Culture) by Erika Lorraine Milam

Erika Milam's Looking for a Few Good Males is a timely and welcome history of female choice and sexual selection. Sexual selection is the part of evolutionary biology that explains why male peacocks have fancy tails and male deer have large antlers; it also offers an evolutionary rationale for...

What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

In November of 1859, when Charles Darwin excitedly held in his hands the first published copy of On the Origin of Species, virtually no reputable naturalist in England, on the Continent or in America accepted the proposition that species had altered over vast periods of time. The conception itself...

Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly by Michael D. Gordin

At a time when the world is reluctantly learning to live with North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons and is trying to keep Iran from joining the club, it is useful to be reminded of how it felt to be waiting for nuclear proliferation the first time around. In Red Cloud at Dawn, Michael D...

A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming by Paul N. Edwards

A Grand and Bold Thing: An Extraordinary New Map of the Universe Ushering in a New Era of Discovery by Ann K. Finkbeiner

When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects by Adriana Petryna

The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal

Predicting the Unpredictable: The Tumultuous Science of Earthquake Prediction by Susan Hough

Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life by Warren Allmon and Robert Ross and Patricia Kelley

Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner

Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females by Martin N. Muller

Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius (UK Edition) by Graham Farmelo

Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World (MacMillan Science) by Eugenie Samuel Reich

On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Brian Boyd

The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor by Colin Tudge and Josh Young

Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution (09 Edition) by Adrian Desmond

The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life by Alison Gopnik

The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson

The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies by Nicolas Wey-Gomez

What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect by James R. Flynn

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul by Fredrik Hiebert

Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World by Sharon Waxman

Structure and Randomness: Pages from Year One of a Mathematical Blog by Terence Tao

The Art and Politics of Science by Harold Varmus

The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage by Jamie Benidickson

Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years by Vaclav Smil

The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle Over Evolutionary Thought by Robert J. Richards

Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture by Peter L. Galison and Gerald Holton and Silvan S. Schweber

Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture by Alan Sokal

The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster

A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry by Nathan Hodge

The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation by Steven Shapin

Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison

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