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Arrivals: Recent books of note

These five recent releases are all histories of science to the extent that they, in one way or another, take the long view — up to 14 billion years, in fact.

The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People, Neil Shubin

Your Inner Fish, the University of Chicago biologist’s last book, took top honours in 2009 from the National Academy of Sciences. His new book takes up the same theme — a unified cosmological theory — showing that the universe’s 14-billion-year history is writ large on our bodies, from our molecules on up.

Mad Science: Einstein’s Fridge, Dewar’s Flask, Mach’s Speed, and 362 Other Inventions and Discoveries that Made Our World, edited by Randy Alfred

The gang at Wired has assembled this wonderful 365-day compendium of scientific discoveries (Jan. 1, 1583, was the first year of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar; Dec. 31, 1938, marked the adoption of an early version of the breathalyzer by Indianapolis cops). A wonderful browsing book for the bathroom.

Science on American Television: A History, Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette

The emergence of television must have seemed like a natural for science but the author, a science historian who has written a number of books about communicating science, says that a clash of cultures between scientists and television executives has combined to create a lost opportunity for bringing scientific education to the masses. But she has a few ideas about how to change that.

A Little History of Science, William Bynum

This may be a little history, but it skips nimbly over 6,000 years. Bynum, a professor emeritus at University College London, begins with the Babylonians, who were excellent record keepers and canny astronomers, and ends with the computer age, beginning in the 19th century with Charles Babbage’s calculating machine and concluding with a nod to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth, Craig Childs

Childs visited nine “apocalyptic landscapes” — from the world’s “driest non-polar desert” to the “tectonic madhouse of the Tibetan Plateau” to the “severe biotic dearth of central Iowa — all scenarios for what the end of life might look like. Childs is a fine writer and this book looks to be an adventure story with serious underpinnings.

Sarah Murdoch, smurdoch@thestar.ca

thestar.com – entertainment

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