Tag Archives: Science Book Reviews

Books: ‘The Biggest Ideas in the Universe – Space, Time, And Motion’ (2022)

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

Vol. 1: SPACE, TIME, AND MOTION

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

Vol. 1: SPACE, TIME, AND MOTION

Book cover for Sean Carroll's "The Biggest Ideas in the Universe"

Dutton Books, 20 September 2022

The goal of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe is to bridge the gap between popular-science treatments of modern physics and true expert knowledge. This is the real stuff — equations and all — presented in a way that presumes no prior knowledge other than high-school algebra. Readers will come up to speed about exactly what professional physicists are talking about, with an emphasis on established knowledge rather than speculation.

Volume One, Space, Time, and Motion, covers the domain of classical physics, from Newton to Einstein. We get introduced to Spherical Cow Philosophy, in which complications are stripped away to reveal the essence of a system, and the Laplacian Paradigm, in which the laws of physics take us from initial conditions into the future by marching through time. We learn the basic ideas of calculus, where we can calculate rates of change and how much of a quantity has accumulated. We think about the nature of space and time, separately and together. Finally we are introduced to the mysteries of non-Riemannian geometry and Einstein’s theory of curved spacetime, culminating into a dive into black holes.

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Reviews: Top New Science Books – June 10, 2022

Control

Adam Rutherford Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2022)

When Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, coined the word eugenics in 1883, he called it the study of the conditions under which “men of a high type are produced”. This gross idea led to the gates of Auschwitz, reminds broadcaster Adam Rutherford (an alumnus of the Galton Laboratory, former name of University College London’s human‑genetics centre). It hasn’t gone away, he explains in his timely salvo on the politics and history of notions that dog genetics, events up to and after the ‘CRISPR twins’ and the resurgence of white supremacy.

Dark and Magical Places

Christopher Kemp Profile/Wellcome Collection (2022)

“I have no sense of direction,” confesses molecular biologist Christopher Kemp — unlike his wife, “an effortless and intuitive navigator”. Once, in a mirror maze, he was transfixed with alarm, and had to be pulled out by his seven-year-old son. Many others experience similar disorientation, sometimes with disastrous results, as when hikers get lost. Their stories vitalize this compelling study of the brain, memory and navigation, in which one psychologist compares our understanding of parts of the brain with knowledge of black holes.

When the World Runs Dry

Nancy F. Castaldo Algonquin (2022)

Globally, millions of people must walk up to 6 kilometres daily to get clean water, says environmental writer Nancy Castaldo. Moreover, each year, more children die as a result of water contamination than from violence, including war, said the United Nations in 2019. Castaldo’s alarming book discusses many examples of shortages and tainting, ranging from drought in Cape Town, South Africa, to lead pollution in Flint, Michigan. She concludes with realistic steps to reduce domestic consumption and contamination.

Making Numbers Count

Chip Heath and Karla Starr Avid Reader (2022)

Business scholar Chip Heath and science journalist Karla Starr are familiar with the need to “translate numbers into instinctive human experience”, informatively and memorably. Unable to find a book on the subject, they decided to write their own. Their diverse guide bubbles with translated statistics. For example, there are about 400 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States — that translates into one for every adult and child, with around 70 million left over.

Genetically Modified Democracy

Aniket Aga Yale Univ. Press (2021)

India’s 1960s Green Revolution began without much deliberation. The government promoted high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, and guaranteed purchase prices. This helped “already well-off, landed farmers”, notes environmentalist Aniket Aga, but led to huge debts for the struggling majority. When genetically modified crops reached India in 2002, they cultivated much more scrutiny, involving scientists, seed companies, farmers, consumers and the state. Aga describes the debate, without claiming to provid

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Science Books: Top New Picks – Nature Magazine

Andrew Robinson reviews five of the week’s best science picks.

Spark

Timothy J. Jorgensen Princeton Univ. Press (2022)

The use of electricity in medicine has long been controversial, notes health physicist Timothy Jorgensen. Eighteenth-century polymath Benjamin Franklin applied shocks to paralysed muscles with temporary success. In the 1930s, neurologist Ugo Cerletti pioneered painful but effective electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia and depression. Yet even today, “no one is sure exactly how ECT works”, says Jorgensen in his brilliant book. Now, business magnate Elon Musk plans to implant computer chips to treat brain disorders.

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The New Fire

Ben Buchanan & Andrew Imbrie MIT Press (2022)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not like electricity, but like fire, say Ben Buchanan and Andrew Imbrie — academic specialists in emerging technology — in their authoritative, coruscating analysis of its current and future significance. Its potential impact ranges from illuminating to catastrophic, according to three rival and sometimes overlapping views from observers whom they label “evangelists, warriors and Cassandras”. “Three sparks ignite the new fire,” say the authors: data, algorithms and computing power.

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Tomorrow’s People

Paul Morland Picador (2022)

“To most of us, the influence of demography on our future is far from obvious,” writes demographer Paul Morland. City dwellers tend to have low fertility, thereby creating an older population and eventually population decline, which could prompt migration and ethnic change, as in today’s United Kingdom — or might not, as in Japan. Morland’s careful book discusses ten indicators, one per chapter: infant mortality, population growth, urbanization, fertility, ageing, old age, population decline, ethnic change, education and food.

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Restarting the Future

Jonathan Haskel & Stian Westlake Princeton Univ. Press (2022)

In the past few decades, growth has stagnated in advanced economies. This is odd, given low interest rates, high business profits and a wide belief that we live with “dizzying technological progress”, write economists Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake. They argue that the old economic model based on material production fails when it comes to intangible assets — such as software, data, design and business processes — that hinge on ideas, knowledge and relationships. Financial and state institutions must update to cope.

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Inequality

Carles Lalueza-Fox MIT Press (2022)

Inequality and its origins will always preoccupy humans. In 2014, biologist Carles Lalueza-Fox led the retrieval of a genome from a European forager’s skeleton more than 7,000 years old; his later studies revealed genetic evidence of “inequality and discrimination in different times and periods”, as he describes in this significant book, written during the pandemic. He concludes by observing that COVID‑19 has had an enhanced impact on poor people, which he anticipates will feature in future genetic studies.