August 2013 Archives

New Science Books

| No Comments

Categories:

Enough slacking. It's time to get back to school. Put down those tawdry magazines and beach reads, elevate your mind and read a new science book or two.


Click for availability and more information Brilliant Blunders : from Darwin to Einstein--colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe., by Mario Livio
 
Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field--but each also stumbled badly. Darwin's theory of natural selection shouldn't have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel's work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain's leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the earth. Linus Pauling, the world's premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a "Big Bang" origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium--and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps. These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on earth, the evolution of the earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress. Read Carl Zimmer's review in the New York Times to learn more about the book.


Click for availability and more information Bug Music: how insects gave us rhythm and noise, by David Rothenberg
 
In the spring of 2013 the cicadas in the Northeastern United States will yet again emerge from their seventeen-year cycle--the longest gestation period of any animal. Those who experience this great sonic invasion compare their sense of wonder to the arrival of a comet or a solar eclipse. This unending rhythmic cycle is just one unique example of how the pulse and noise of insects has taught humans the meaning of rhythm, from the whirr of a cricket's wings to this unfathomable and exact seventeen-year beat. In listening to cicadas, as well as other humming, clicking, and thrumming insects, Bug Music is the first book to consider the radical notion that we humans got our idea of rhythm, synchronization, and dance from the world of insect sounds that surrounded our species over the millions of years over which we evolved. Completing the trilogy he began with Why Birds Sing and Thousand Mile Song, David Rothenberg explores a unique part of our relationship with nature and sound--the music of insects that has provided a soundtrack for humanity throughout the history of our species. Bug Music continues Rothenberg's in-depth research and spirited writing on the relationship between human and animal music, and it follows him as he explores insect influences in classical and modern music, plays his saxophone with crickets and other insects, and confers with researchers and scientists nationwide. 


Click for availability and more information Full-Rip 9.0: the next big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, by Sandi Doughton
 
Potential bad news for those folks in the Pacfific Northwest, Scientists have identified Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver as the urban centers of what will be the biggest earthquake, also called a mega-quake, in the continental United States. A quake will happen--in fact it's actually overdue. The Cascadia subduction zone is 750 miles long, running along the Pacific coast from Northern California up to southern British Columbia. In this fascinating book, The Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton introduces readers to the scientists who are dedicated to understanding the way the earth moves and describes what patterns can be identified and how prepared (or not) people are. With a 100% chance of a mega-quake hitting the Pacific Northwest, this fascinating book reports on the scientists who are trying to understand when, where, and just how big the big one will be.

Click for availability and more information Heart of Darkness: unraveling the mysteries of the invisible universe, by Jeremiah P. Ostriker & Simon Mitton
 
Heart of Darkness describes the incredible saga of humankind's quest to unravel the deepest secrets of the universe. Over the past thirty years, scientists have learned that two little-understood components--dark matter and dark energy--comprise most of the known cosmos, explain the growth of all cosmic structure, and hold the key to the universe's fate. The story of how evidence for the so-called "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter" model of cosmology has been gathered by generations of scientists throughout the world is told here by one of the pioneers of the field, Jeremiah Ostriker, and his coauthor Simon Mitton. The story is far from complete, however, as scientists confront the mysteries of the ultimate causes of cosmic structure formation and the real nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy.

Click for availability and more information Heat: adventures in the world's fiery places , by Bill Streever
 
Bill Streever sets off to find out what heat really means. Let him be your guide and you'll firewalk across hot coals and sweat it out in Death Valley, experience intense fever and fire, learn about the invention of matches and the chemistry of cooking, drink crude oil, and explore thermonuclear weapons and the hottest moment of all time-the big bang. Melting glaciers, warming oceans, forest fires, droughts-it's clear that today's world is getting hotter. But while we know the agony of a sunburn or the comfort of our winter heaters, do we really understand heat? Read this alongside Streever's earlier book Cold: adventures in the world's frozen places to get get the full story. 


Click for availability and more information Imperial Dreams: tracking the imperial woodpecker through the wild Sierra Madre , by Tim Gallagher
 
Explorer and naturalist Tim Gallagher is obsessed with rare birds. A decade ago, Gallagher was one of the re-discoverers of the legendary ivory-billed woodpecker, which most scientists believed had been extinct for more than half a century--an event that caused an international stir. Now, in Imperial Dreams, Gallagher once again hits the trail, journeying deep into Mexico's savagely beautiful Sierra Madre Occidental, home to rich wildlife, as well as to Mexican drug cartels, in a perilous quest to locate the most elusive bird in the world--the imperial woodpecker, a giant among its clan.


Click for availability and more information Life's Ratchet: how molecular machines extract order from chaos , by Peter M. Hoffmann
 
Below the calm, ordered exterior of a living organism lies microscopic chaos, or what Peter Hoffmann calls the "molecular storm", specialized molecules immersed in a whirlwind of colliding water molecules. Our cells are filled with molecular machines, which, like tiny ratchets, transform random motion into ordered activity, and create the "purpose" that is the hallmark of life. Tiny electrical motors turn electrical voltage into motion, nanoscale factories custom-build other molecular machines, and mechanical machines twist, untwist, separate and package strands of DNA. The cell is like a city, an unfathomable, complex collection of molecular workers working together to create something greater than themselves. Life, Hoffman argues, emerges from the random motions of atoms filtered through these sophisticated structures of our evolved machinery. 


Click for availability and more information Red Rover: inside the story of robotic space exploration, from Genesis to the Curiosity rover, by Roger Wiens
 
In its eerie likeness to Earth, Mars has long captured our imaginations, both as a destination for humankind and as a possible home to extraterrestrial life. It is our 21st century New World; its explorers robots, shipped 350 million miles from Earth to uncover the distant planet's secrets. Its most recent scout is Curiosity, a one-ton, Jeep-sized nuclear-powered space laboratory, which is now roving the Martian surface to determine whether the red planet has ever been physically capable of supporting life. In Red Rover, geochemist Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for the ChemCam laser instrument on the rover and veteran of numerous robotic NASA missions, tells the unlikely story of his involvement in sending sophisticated hardware into space, culminating in the Curiosity rover's amazing journey to Mars. 


Click for availability and more information The Right Chemistry: 108 enlightening, nutritious, health-conscious and occasionally bizarre inquiries into the science of everyday life, by Joe Schwarcz
 
A big part of Dr. Joe Schwarcz's job as director of McGill University's Office of Science and Society is persuading people that the pursuit of science knowledge is a potential source of wonder, enlightenment and well-being for everyone. And as a chemist, he's particularly keen to rescue chemistry from the bad rep it's developed over recent decades. There is more to chemistry than toxins, pollution, and "Don't drink that soda--it's full of chemicals." The evangelic zeal Schwarcz brings to his day job is also the driving force behind his work as an author. Once again, here he is to tell that everything is full of chemicals, and that chemistry means health, nutrition, beauty products, cleaning products, DNA, and the means by which Lady Gaga's meat dress was held together. In the style established with the bestselling Brain Fuel, each section here is themed and contains a mixture of short, pithy items and slightly longer mini-essays. You will learn whether to put broccoli on a pizza before or after baking, whether beauty pills are worth taking, and whether the baby shampoo you're using is poisonous. You will discover but not use, please, the recipe for a Molotov cocktail. You will be enabled to enthrall fellow dinner guests with the derivation of the name Persil, and the definition of a kangarian (it's someone who only eats kangaroo meat). 


Click for availability and more information The Way of Science: finding truth and meaning in a scientific worldview, by Dennis R. Trumble
 
Most people appreciate science on an obvious level. Modern medicine, electric lighting, rapid transportation, and long-distance communication are among the many benefits of science that have made life today healthier and more comfortable than people in earlier eras could have imagined. This book is about a deeper benefit of science, one that, while less obvious, may prove to be far more important in the long run: namely, the ability to look beyond our preconceptions and see the world and ourselves in a truer light. The author makes a compelling case that now more than ever the public at large needs to appreciate the critical-thinking tools that science has to offer and be educated in basic science literacy. Trumble emphasizes that the methods and facts of science are accessible to everyone, and that, contrary to popular belief, understanding science does not require extraordinary intelligence. He also notes that scientific rationality and critical thinking are not only good for our physical well-being but also are fully in sync with our highest moral codes. He illustrates the many ways in which the scientific worldview offers a profound sense of wonder, connectedness, and optimism about the human condition, an inspiring perspective that satisfies age-old spiritual aspirations. At a time of daunting environmental challenges and rampant misinformation, this provides a welcome corrective and reason to hope for the future.

New Memoirs

| No Comments

Categories:

It seems like most everyone has something to share these days. The serious and lengthy autobiography used to be the traditional venue for sharing your life story. For many folks, the memoir is the new method. Less daunting and often less intimidating, memoirs are rather popular here at Greenwich Library. Here's a list of some of the newest additions to our collection.


Click for availability and more information Country Girl: a memoir, by Edna O'Brien
 
In 1960, Edna O'Brien published The Country Girls, her first novel, which so scandalized the O'Briens' local parish that the book was burned by its priest. O'Brien, married with two sons, was undeterred and has since created a body of work that bears comparison with the best writing of the twentieth century. Country Girl brings the reader face to face with a life of high drama and contemplation. Dwight Garner, in his New York Times review says "Country Girl" is "like Ms. O'Brien's best fiction, plain-spoken and poetic in equal measure."

Click for availability and more information Her, by Christa Parravani
 
Christa Parravani and her identical twin, Cara, were linked by a bond that went beyond siblinghood, beyond sisterhood, beyond friendship. Raised up from poverty by a determined single mother, the gifted and beautiful twins were able to create a private haven of splendor and merriment between themselves and then earn their way to a prestigious college and to careers as artists (a photographer and a writer, respectively) and to young marriages. But, haunted by childhood experiences with father figures and further damaged by being raped as a young adult, Cara veered off the path to robust work and life and in to depression, drugs and a shocking early death. A few years after Cara was gone, Christa read that when an identical twin dies, regardless of the cause, 50 percent of the time the surviving twin dies within two years; and this shocking statistic rang true to her. "Flip a coin," she thought," those were my chances of survival." First, Christa fought to stop her sister's downward spiral; suddenly, she was struggling to keep herself alive. Parravani spoke with NPR about the book. You can hear the interview from All Things Considered right here


Click for availability and more information It Runs in the Family: a memoir, by Richard Manning
 
From a Michigan farm to the fire-ravaged wilderness of Montana, and finally to a remote village in Panama, Manning links his own life with the larger story of his family, the land they inhabited, and the right-wing fundamentalist politics gaining ground in America. Here's more on the book from Publisher's Weekly.


Click for availability and more information Looking for Palestine: Growing up Confused in an Arab-American family , by Najla Said
 
The daughter of a prominent Palestinian father and a sophisticated Lebanese mother, Najla Said grew up in New York City, confused and conflicted about her cultural background and identity. Said knew that her parents identified deeply with their homelands, but growing up in a Manhattan world that was defined largely by class and conformity, she felt unsure about who she was supposed to be, and was often in denial of the differences she sensed between her family and those around her. The fact that her father was the famous intellectual and outspoken Palestinian advocate Edward Said only made things more complicated. She may have been born a Palestinian Lebanese American, but in Said's mind she grew up first as a WASP, having been baptized Episcopalian in Boston and attending the wealthy Upper East Side girls' school Chapin, then as a teenage Jew, essentially denying her true roots, even to herself?until, ultimately, the psychological toll of all this self-hatred began to threaten her health. As she grew older, making increased visits to Palestine and Beirut, Said's worldview shifted. The attacks on the World Trade Center, and some of the ways in which Americans responded, finally made it impossible for Said to continue to pick and choose her identity, forcing her to see herself and her passions more clearly. Today, she has become an important voice for second-generation Arab Americans nationwide. 


Click for availability and more information A Million Years With You: a memoir of life observed, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
 
Thomas looks back on her life and offers an anthropological and deeply personal account of some of the most formative experiences, from her early years in 1950s South-West Africa and her family expedition to the Kalahari Desert to the births of her children and her witness to Idi Amin's revolution in Uganda. Popmatters, in their positive review, calls the book "honest and chaotic." 


Click for availability and more information Mumbai New York Scranton, by Tamara Shopsin
 
Best known for her witty illustrations, and as a cook beside her mischievous father in her family's legendary Manhattan restaurant, in Mumbai New York Scranton, Ms. Shopsin offers a brilliantly inventive, spare, and elegant chronicle of a year in her life characterized by impermanence. In a voice alternating between tender and brazen, Shopsin recounts a trip to the Far East with her sidekick husband and the harrowing adventure that unfolds when she comes home. Entire worlds, deep relationships, and indelible experiences are portrayed in Shopsin's deceptively simple and sparse language and drawings.

You can read more about Shopsin's "dire year" here in an interview with Los Angeles Review of Books.


Click for availability and more information Once Upon a Gypsy Moon: an improbable voyage and one man's yearning for redemption, by Michael Hurley
 
Michael Hurley watched his world unravel in the wake of infidelity, divorce and failure. In August 2009, he was short of money, out of a job, and seeking to salvage a life that had foundered. Deeply in need of perspective, he took to the open seas in a 32-foot sailboat, Gypsy Moon. This is the story of his 2-year odyssey. Hurley talks about the events that lead up to the writing of the book as well as his journey on WUNC, North Carolina public radio. Listen to it here.


Click for availability and more information Son of a Gun: a memoir , by Justin St. Germain
 
In Tombstone Arizona, Debbie St. Germain's death, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. "A real-life old West murder mystery," the local TV announcers intone, while barroom gossips snicker cruelly. But for her twenty-year-old son, Justin St. Germain, the tragedy marks the line that separates his world into before and after. Distancing himself from the legendary town of his childhood, Justin makes another life a world away in San Francisco and achieves all the surface successes that would have filled his mother with pride. Yet years later he's still sleeping with a loaded rifle under his bed. Ultimately, he is pulled back to the desert landscape of his childhood on a search to make sense of the unfathomable. What made his mother, a onetime army paratrooper, the type of woman who would stand up to any man except the men she was in love with? What led her to move from place to place, man to man, job to job, until finally she found herself in a desperate and deteriorating situation, living on an isolated patch of desert with an unstable ex-cop? Justin's journey takes him back to the ghost town of Wyatt Earp, to the trailers he and Debbie shared, to the string of stepfathers who were a constant, sometimes threatening presence in his life, to a harsh world on the margins full of men and women all struggling to define what family means. He decides to confront people from his past and delve into the police records in an attempt to make sense of his mother's life and death. I am sensing this one might catch on with book groups and the public in general. Alexandra Fuller reviews it here in the New York Times Book Review. 


Click for availability and more information Story of a Secret State: my report to the world , by Jan Karski
 
Jan Karski, who was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, served as a liaison officer and courier of the Polish Underground during WWII and brought the first eyewitness accounts of the Nazi death camps to the outside world. Full of alternate identities, daring escapes, and heroism, his memoir details the operations of the Polish government in exile as part of a larger network of clandestine resistance organizations. The book was a bestseller when it was first published in 1944. This reprint of the 2010 edition follows the text of the original 1944 US edition, supplemented with translations of additional material provided by the author in 1999 for the Polish edition. This edition includes previously unpublished b&w historical photos, documents, and letters, plus a glossary. This edition also includes a foreword by Madeleine Albright, a biographical essay by a Yale historian, and an afterword by Zbigniew Brzezinski. Albright and Brzezinski helped pay tribute to Karski at a recent event at Georgetown University that celebrated the republication of this seminal work. Watch it here.


Click for availability and more information Stuck in the Middle With You: parenthood in three genders a memoir , by Jennifer Finney Boylan
 
A father for ten years, a mother for eight, and for a time in between, neither, Jennifer Finney Boylan has seen parenthood from both sides of the gender divide. When her two children were young, Boylan came out as transgender, and as Jenny transitioned from a man to a woman and from a father to a mother, her family faced unique challenges and questions. Through both her own story and incredibly insightful interviews with others, including Richard Russo, Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Augusten Burroughs, Susan Minot, Trey Ellis, Timothy Kreider, and more, Jenny examines relationships with fathers and mothers, people's memories of the children they were and the parents they became, and the many different ways a family can be. Followed by an Afterword by Anna Quindlen that includes Jenny and her wife discussing the challenges they've faced. Boylan recently spoke about the book on the Today show. You can see the video here.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

July 2013 is the previous archive.

September 2013 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.