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Math and Science - Related Books You Can Read, page 2
Recommended by Mr. Brandenburg

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1. At the Fringes of Science
By Michael W. Friedlander
(Westview, 216 pp, 1999)
General audience
"Where does science end and fruitcakery begin? How can you tell the difference between the cutting edge, the speculative, and the wacky? Physicist Michael Friedlander looks all around the fringes of science and gives a helpful guide to drawing the lines. He is particularly good at showing science as a communal endeavor, with the strengths and weaknesses that implies, and he gives a more truthful account than is usual of how scientific journals and conferences actually work. Friedlander frankly admits that scientists have sometimes manufactured their own social problems, usually through arrogance. He is a 'modified realist;' he provides checklists so you can tell the difference between a Galileo and a Velikovsky, but he also shows how scientists like Alfred Wegner (who thought up continental drift) can be essentially correct and yet not be believed. He even reveals one of the open secrets of science: that a theory can be incorrect or widely doubted, like the idea of a 'fifth force' in physics, and still be a fruitful source of new research."

2. Mathematical Cranks
By Underwood Dudley
(MAA, 384 pp, 1992.)
GFBR**** General audience
About the strange people who become convinced that they have proved mathematical results that just aren't so. "On the one hand, mathematics is the great leveler of the sciences. Anyone can do mathematical research, with no equipment but pencil and paper. On the other hand, mathematics is the only science where something can be proven, irrefutably and for all time, to be impossible. These two ingredients make mathematics one of the most fertile grounds for inspiring crankery. This book is not only entertaining, the broadness of its examples provides a fascinating insight into the mind of cranks. I couldn't put it down."

3. Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
By Robert Park
(Oxford U Press, 230 pp, 1999)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"Scientific error, says Robert Park, 'has a way of evolving ... from self-delusion to fraud. I use the term voodoo science to cover them all: pathological science, junk science, pseudoscience, and fraudulent science.' In pathological science, scientists fool themselves. Junk science refers to scientists who use their expertise to befuddle and mislead others (usually juries or lawmakers). Pseudoscience has the trappings of science without any evidence. Fraudulent science is, well, fraud--old-fashioned lying. Park is well-acquainted with voodoo science in all its forms. Since 1982, he has headed the Washington, D.C., office of the American Physical Society, and he has carried the flag for scientific rationality through cold fusion, homeopathy, 'Star Wars,' quantum healing, and sundry attempts to repeal the laws of thermodynamics. Park shows why a 'disproportionate share of the science seen by the public is flawed' (because shaky science is more likely to skip past peer review and head straight for the media), and he gives a good tour of recent highlights in Voodoo. He has a rare ability to poke holes compassionately, without excoriating those taken in by their fondest wishes. Park is less forgiving of scientists (especially Edward Teller) when he thinks they've fallen down on the job, a job that should include helping the public separate the scientific wheat from the voodoo chaff."

4. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences
By Edward Tenner
(Vintage Books, 431 pp, 1996)
GFBR*** General audience
"If computers really eliminate paperwork, why is the office recycling bin always overflowing? From football padding that makes football more dangerous than rugby, to 'low tar' cigarettes that compel smokers to smoke more, from antibiotics that breed new, resistant strains of bacteria to computer software that requires faster processors and more support staff, Edward Tenner offers a virtual encyclopedia of innovation's unintended consequences. And he shows us what we have to do to survive in a word where 'reality is always gaining on us.'"

5. Yes, We Have No Neutrons: An Eye-Opening Tour throught the Twists and Turns of Bad Science
By A. K. Dewdney
(Wiley, 180 pp, 1997)
GFBR*** Teen-Adult
"In this lively excursion, the author takes a fun-filled, in-depth look at eight infamous cases of bad science: highly touted discoveries or projects that are astonishing examples of serious scientific slipups."


1. A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr.
By Silvia Nasar
(Simon & Schuster, 459 pp, 1998)
General audience
This is the book on which the movie was based. John Nash was one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the 1940s and 1950s, but he suffered from schizophrenia, which devastated not only him, but his work, and his family (or families). Eventually he got well enough to earn a Nobel Prize for game theory. "...a story about the mystery of the human mind, in three acts: genius, madness, reawakening."

2. Benjamin Banneker: Surveyor, Astronomer, Publisher, Patriot
By Charles A. Cerami, Robert M. Silverstein
(Wiley, 288 pp, 2002)
"Herein breathes the universal genius Benjamin Banneker - mathematician, astronomer, diarist, and sage.... Captured completely is the flowering genius of a largely home-schooled boy wonder, exhibiting mathematical wizardry while devouring the Bible, Plato, Epictetus, and virtually every other extant tome. We understand how the pragmatic farmer who was imbued with Quaker ideology endured decades of ignominious racism with overt equanimity while haunted by incessant night terrors. We comprehend the heroism of the man whose very existence refuted Thomas Jefferson's notorious public denial of black intellect in Notes on Virginia when, speaking truth to power, Banneker launched an anti-slavery epistle at the ambivalent and duplicitous Jefferson. We are enraged at the account of arsonists setting fire on the day of Banneker's funeral to the small, rustic log cabin where the genius had labored in solitude among his instruments, papers, and books...." I don't know whether this volume repeats the many [untrue] myths that have grown up around its subject.

3. Ex-Prodigy: My Childhood and Youth
By Norbert Wiener
(or other similar titles by him - not easy to find!)
General audience
Norbert Wiener was one of the greatest applied mathematicians of this century, and had a great impact on the invention and uses of robots and computers. His writing is clear and elegant. The last book mentioned does not have a single equation. Anything by him that you can find in a library would be good, if you can understand it. I read Cybernetics when I was in high school and thought it was great.

4. Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
by Dava Sobel
(Walker, 420 pp, 1999)
GFBR**** HS-Adult
Details the life of Galileo Galilei, the inventor of the astronomical telescope, and his daughter, a nun, and how he was condemned and sentenced by the Catholic Inquisition for his views on whether the earth revolved around the sun, or vice versa, even though Galileo always considered himself to be a good Catholic. By the way, you also find out that Galileo wasn't always right about everything.

5. The Life of Benjamin Banneker: The First African-American Man of Science
By Silvio A. Bedini
(Md. Historical Society, 448 pp, 1999)
GFBR**** HS-Adult
"Bedini's authoritative biography of Banneker will be welcomed by those interested in the history of American science as well as students of black history. Well written and exhaustively researched, it is more than simply a recounting of the life and deeds of the black astronomer and almanac maker. Bedini's work deals with the economy of 18th-centrury Maryland, the important contributions of the Ellicott family to the area and the new nation, the surveying of the District of Columbia, and the methods used by early almanac makers in their computations." This well-researched accurate book lays to rest several popular myths about Banneker and shows what he really accomplished.

6. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth
By Paul Hoffman
(Little, Brown, 317 pp, 1999)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"Paul Erdös was an amazing and prolific mathematician whose life as a world-wandering numerical nomad was legendary. He published almost 1500 scholarly papers before his death in 1996, and he probably thought more about math problems than anyone in history. Like a traveling salesman offering his thoughts as wares, Erdös would show up on the doorstep of one mathematician or another and announce, 'My brain is open.' After working through a problem, he'd move on to the next place, the next solution." He never learned to drive, cook, or tie his shoes, and never had a home or an apartment, but he gave away priceless mathematical knowledge and all the money he earned from his published articles.

7. A Mathematician's Apology
By G. H. Hardy
(Cambridge, 142 pp, reprinted from 1940 edition)
"This is a profoundly sad book, the memoir of a man who has reached the end of his ambition, who can no longer effectively practice the art that has consumed him since he was a boy. But at the same time, it is a joyful celebration of the subject--and a stern lecture to those who would sully it by dilettantism or attempts to make it merely useful. 'The mathematician's patterns,' G.H. Hardy declares, 'like the painter's or the poet's, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.'"

8. The Meaning of it all: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist
By Richard P. Feynman
(Helix Books, 1998)
"In this series of lectures originally given in 1963, which remained unpublished during Richard Feynman's lifetime, the Nobel-winning physicist thinks aloud on several 'meta'--questions of science. What is the nature of the tension between science and religious faith? Why does uncertainty play such a crucial role in the scientific imagination? Is this really a scientific age? Marked by Feynman's characteristic combination of rationality and humor, these lectures provide an intimate glimpse at the man behind the legend. 'In case you are beginning to believe,' he says at the start of his final lecture, 'that some of the things I said before are true because I am a scientist and according to the brochure that you get I won some awards and so forth, instead of your looking at the ideas themselves and judging them directly...I will get rid of that tonight. I dedicate this lecture to showing what ridiculous conclusions and rare statements such a man as myself can make.' Rare, perhaps. Irreverent, sure. But ridiculous? Not even close."

9. Men of Mathematics
By Eric Temple Bell
(Touchstone, 590 pp, many editions)
GFBR** HS-Adult
"Here is the classic, much-read introduction to the craft and history of mathematics by E.T. Bell, a leading figure in mathematics in America for half a century. Men of Mathematics accessibly explains the major mathematics, from the geometry of the Greeks through Newton's calculus and on to the laws of probability, symbolic logic, and the fourth dimension. In addition, the book goes beyond pure mathematics to present a series of engrossing biographies of the great mathematicians -- an extraordinary number of whom lived bizarre or unusual lives. Finally, Men of Mathematics is also a history of ideas, tracing the majestic development of mathematical thought from ancient times to the twentieth century. This enduring work's clear, often humorous way of dealing with complex ideas makes it an ideal book for the non-mathematician." On the other hand, he totally omits the women of mathematics, and his stories are not always 100% accurate.

10. Microbe Hunters
By Paul de Kuif
(many editions, 357 pp)
GFBR**** General audience
The book "charts the amazing shift in medical knowledge from both the historical and philosophical viewpoints. Dr. de Kruif's genius lies in the fact that he can transform the highly technical jargon of medicine into a compelling story of men versus nature. It is very readable! He maps the course that men such as [van Leeuwenhook,] Pasteur and Koch blazed into the realm of scientific methodology that is still revered today. You will feel the heat of the battle as the individuals depicted herein challenged the conventional wisdom of their day and transformed medicine from superstition to a healing art. I was first introduced to the book in a class on microbiology, but obtained a true education in how curiosity, dedication and perseverance on the part of a few pioneers changed our view of nature forever. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand human nature or the strange and wonderful word of pathogens. As a college professor I recommend this book to anyone who wants to find the inspiration for education in one book." This was first published in 1926, and, hence, some of the sentiments are quite dated.

11. The Monk In the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics
By Robin Marantz Henig
(Houghton Mifflin, 292 pp, 2000)
GFBR** General audience
Gregor Mendel, a monk in what is now the Czech Republic, is the person who, by conducting various experiments on cross-breeding different strains of peas, discovered the basic principles of modern genetic transmission. "This breezily written biography portrays not only Mendel but also his 'rediscoverers' (Hugo de Vries, Karl Correns) and the scientists (Raphael Weldon, T. H. Morgan, and especially William Bateson) who, two decades after his death, quarreled over the applicability of his now-famous findings. Readers looking for an introduction to the science itself will be disappointed, however, since the book offers only a cursory introduction. The biography is lean, because very little is known about Mendel himself. The author resorts to imagining probable scenes from his life: 'In a corner of the monastery garden, Mendel huddled myopically over rows of greening plants.' 'His curly brown hair thinning around his widening face, Mendel sat at the oak writing table in the orangery, where the air was warm and lushly fragrant.' You either enjoy this sort of thing, or you don't--but I can report that at least Henig does not invent dialogue. By far the more interesting part of the book is the second half, which conveys the quarrels and intrigues by which Mendel and his publications were rediscovered and illuminated by a gaggle of ego-driven scientists bent on proving each other wrong. It's fun reading, if a little disheartening, but it's nice to know that the dead man wins. Overall, The Monk in the Garden is a decent historical introduction to the founding of genetics, but not much more."

12. My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdös
By Bruce Schechter
(Touchstone, 224 pages, 2000)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"Physicist and science writer Bruce Schechter's biography of legendary Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös is an engaging portrait, warm and intimate, bringing this strange, happy man to life. Schechter's focus is quite a bit tighter, and more traditionally biographical, than in Paul Hoffman's The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Here, we get to see Erdös's brief childhood transform quickly into a carefree adolescence of solving difficult math problems with his circle of brilliant friends-uniquely encouraged by a country that valued the contributions of mathematics in a way that has never been equaled."

13. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA
By Brenda Maddox
(HarperCollins, 2002)
Rosalind Franklin made one of the most important discoveries in 20th - century science, but has received almost no recognition at all. It was her X-ray crystallography studies that revealed that DNA, the genetic messenger in all cells, had the form of a helix. James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, who worked close by Franklin in Cambridge, England, and who used her work without her authorization, later won the Nobel Prize for their work in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, based in a very important way on Ms. Franklin's extremely careful work. She, however, died of cancer a few years later, and it was those three men who were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. Watson later wrote a book called The Double Helix and dismissed Franklin as a dowdy and bad-tempered person. This book attempts to set the record straight.

14. The Search for E. T. Bell
By Constance Reid
(MAA, 384pp, 1993)
"An account of one of the century's most colorful mathematicians. Bell's Men of Mathematics (1937) presented mathematics and mathematicians in a way that had never been done before, fascinating many of his colleagues, irritating others, and inspiring young people to become mathematicians. Bell was also widely known as the science fiction writer John Taine. As a result of biographer Reid's discoveries about his early life, almost every statement now in print about Bell's family background and early life will have to be revised, and a new look taken at his extensive mathematical work and his science fiction."

15. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
By Richard Feynman
(Norton, 350 pp, reprints)
GFBR**** General audience
"A series of anecdotes shouldn't by rights add up to an autobiography, but that's just one of the many pieces of received wisdom that Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) cheerfully ignores in his engagingly eccentric book, a bestseller ever since its initial publication in 1985. Fiercely independent (read the chapter entitled 'Judging Books by Their Covers'), intolerant of stupidity even when it comes packaged as high intellectualism (check out 'Is Electricity Fire?'), unafraid to offend (see 'You Just Ask Them?'), Feynman informs by entertaining. It's possible to enjoy Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman simply as a bunch of hilarious yarns with the smart-alecky author as know-it-all hero. At some point, however, attentive readers realize that underneath all the merriment simmers a running commentary on what constitutes authentic knowledge: learning by understanding, not by rote; refusal to give up on seemingly insoluble problems; and total disrespect for fancy ideas that have no grounding in the real world. Feynman himself had all these qualities in spades, and they come through with vigor and verve in his no-bull prose. No wonder his students--and readers around the world--adored him."

16. What Do You Care What Other People Think? Further Adventures of a Curious Character
By Richard Feynman
(Norton, 256 pp, 2001)
GFBR**** General audience
A Nobel-Prize Winning physicist tells stories about his own life and experiences. Both books are permeated by his inquisitive nature, and describe ways of applying math and science to everyday life situations in a common-sense manner. This second book details his involvement in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster; Feynman is the one who figured out that it was an O-ring failure.

[astronomy]   [bad science]   [biography: mathematicians + scientists]
[biology/life science/evolution]   [chaos theory]   [codes and code-breaking]
[computer science/robotics/game theory]   [earth science/geology]
[history of mathematics]   [how-to: mathematics]   [how-to: science]
[mathematics - general]   [novels + short stories]   [number theory]
[physical chemistry]   [physics]   [probability + statistics]   [puzzles + problems]
[reference - mathematics]   [reliable, prolific authors on science + math]   [science - general]  

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