Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

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Pages: 384 (Trade Paperback)
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company
Date: September 21, 2009

This is the eighth science-themed book I’ve read this year, and while it is one of the least specific, covering a range of topics, it is also quite interesting. Muller’s purpose in writing this book is laid out right in his title: he wants to be able to explain, in layman’s terms, the important scientific questions (or policy decision informed on science) that a new President must face. While the odds that I’ll one day become President are pretty long (seeing as how I’m not American), I still found the book to be both informative and accessible.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson has quietly become the new face of physics and space exploration over the last several years. Back in the 80s, Carl Sagan was far and away the most popular scientist among lay persons, but after his death, it took a long time to find an heir apparent. Michio Kaku has flirted with the idea, and does have some interesting and accessible books out, as well as making numerous appearances on a variety of news programs over the years. But in the last ten years or so, Dr. Tyson has become the undisputed go-to physicist for everyone from CNN to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. He isn’t just another pretty face, however: he’s been on Presidential panels, and is the head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, a prestigious scientific position. He holds four degrees, earning his BA at Harvard, his first MA at UofT Austin, and an MPhil and PhD from Columbia. Beginning in 1995, he wrote a regular column for Natural History magazine; this book is a collection of several of those columns, as well as transcribed keynote speeches given at various conferences and a mixture of other essays, papers, and speeches. To find out how these work together as a book, check after the break for my full review.

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Spook is the second Mary Roach book I’ve read in the last year or so, and I picked it up based on how much I enjoyed the other one, Packing for Mars – you can read my review of it here. This time out, Roach investigates the ultimate question: what happens to us after we die? Her research takes her everywhere from pseudo-scientific cattle scales used at the turn of the last century, to modern university research departments, and lots of places in-between. So where do we end up? Click through after the break to find out.
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Note to Canadian readers: the subtitle “What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything” is not included in domestic versions of the book.

It’s only appropriate that my year of memoirs will end with this excellent volume from arguably the most famous astronaut in years, Canada’s Colonel Chris Hadfield. His series of videos shot while Commander of the Expedition 35 mission on the International Space Station (ISS), culminating in his release of a modified version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity filmed throughout the station, made him something of a celebrity and gave him international fame. While his resume is impressive (test pilot, Top Gun winner, astronaut, ISS Commander), he never comes across as cocky; self-assured, yes, but that’s really a necessary component for the sorts of jobs he’s had. Being the last book I’ll likely finish in 2013, it was nice that it was also one of the best books I’ve read this year.
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I’ve been noticing two trends in my reading habits this year: a lot of memoirs, and a lot of books on climate change. In Mark Hertsgaard’s 2012 book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, I find myself reading both non-fiction genres united within one cover. Hertsgaard is, like me, a relatively new father, and he finds himself wondering at what life for his daughter Chiara will be like in the 21st Century. As this is something near and dear to my own heart, it was with a great deal of anticipation that I sat down to read his book.
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Earlier this year I read and reviewed The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore. While Gore has been one of the great promoters of getting the issue of global warming and climate change into the public eye, he only spent about one sixth of this book looking at the climate, and the rest at other issues that will play a role in the planet’s near future. Here, in Climate Wars Gwynne Dyer focuses less on the direct effects of climate change on the planet, and more on its connotations for human society in general. He does so through a series of Scenarios covering possible events, followed by related chapters that delve into the causes behind these events. It makes for a compelling, and starkly frightening read. I can’t think of a better book to read if you’re hoping to hold onto Halloween’s chills than this.
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I’ve always been massively interested in space travel. I was born within weeks of the first moon landing, grew up through the late years of Apollo, remember late nights and early mornings spent waiting for delayed Space Shuttle launches, and was moved to write one of my favourite early short stories by the Challenger disaster in 1986. I’ve also been a fan of SF since I was young, starting the fantasy route (Burroughs, Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books), and discovering Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, and E.E. “Doc” Smith when I was in my tweens. As my reading tastes have evolved, I still love to go back to a good SF or an epic Fantasy now and again, as there is always for me a comforting coziness to be found therein; however, I find myself reading more and more non-fiction, so why not tie the two together?
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The Future is Al Gore’s latest foray into speculation about where he thinks the world is headed over the next several decades. In this well-written and thought-provoking book, he hasn’t found a lot of reasons to be any more optimistic than he was in An Inconvenient Truth seven years ago, at least with regard to such frightening prospects as massive global climate change, the continued and increasing disproportionate power in the hands of corporations and their lobbyists, and the dangerously sky-rocketing affluence of new middle classes throughout the developing world.
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