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Math and Science - Related Books You Can Read, page 3
Recommended by Mr. Brandenburg

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[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]
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[reference - mathematics]   [reliable, prolific authors on science + math]   [science - general]  

BIOLOGY/LIFE SCIENCE/EVOLUTION

1. Beautiful Swimmers
By William W. Warner
(Little Brown, 304 pp, many editions)
GFBR***** General audience
An amazing natural history of the blue crab in general and of the Chesapeake Bay in particular. 'Beautiful Swimmers' is a translation into English of the Greek/Latin name of the blue crab: Callinectes Sapidus.

2. The Beauty of the Beastly: New Views of the Nature of Life
By Natalie Angier
(Houghton Mifflin, 278 pp, 1995)
GFBR*** HS-Adult
"The beauty of the natural world lies in the details, and most of those details are not the stuff of calendar art. I have made it a kind of hobby, almost a mission, to write about organisms that many people find repugnant: spiders, scorpions, parasites, worms, rattlesnakes, dung beetles, hyenas. I have done so out of a perverse preference for subjects that other writers generally have ignored, and because I hope to inspire in readers and appreciation for diversity, for imagination, for the twisted, webbed, infinite possibility of the natural world."

3. The Biology of Doom: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project
By Ed Regis
(Owl, 259 pp, 2000)
General audience
"Regis ... interested himself in what the U.S. and other countries did during and after World War II to develop methods of biological warfare. With the aid of the Freedom of Information Act, he obtained more than 2,000 pages of formerly secret U.S. government documents on the subject. They form the foundation of this account, which traces the U.S. biological weapons program from its inception in 1942 to its termination by President Richard Nixon in 1969 ... By then, according to Regis, 'the U.S. Army had officially standardized and weaponized two lethal biological agents, Bacillus anthracis and Francisella tularensis, and three incapacitating biological agents, Brucella suis, Coxiella burnetii, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. The Army had also weaponized one lethal toxin, botulinum, and one incapacitating toxin, staphylococcal enterotoxin B.' Notwithstanding all this activity ... nations have so far avoided serious biological warfare. Regis thinks the reason is that biological weapons lack 'the single most important ingredient of any effective weapon, an immediate visual display of overwhelming power and brute strength.'"

4. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design
By Richard Dawkins
(Norton, 331 pp, 1986)
GFBR***** Teen-Adult
This book "is an astonishingly lucid exposition of Darwinism. The obvious design of organisms and other apparent objections to Darwin's theory are met head on, but with such clarity of though and lucid prose that no reader will be thwarted. Dawkins is a born writer with an unmatched gift for the brilliant metaphor, the inspired syntactic switch, and the relevant zoological detail. {it} is entertaining as well as engrossing: Dawkins' most wonderful book!"

5. The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
By Michael Pollan
(Random House, 271 pp, 2001)
GFBR***** Teen-Adult
"Working in his garden one day, Michael Pollan hit pay dirt in the form of an idea: do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them? While the question is not entirely original, the way Pollan examines this complex coevolution by looking at the natural world from the perspective of plants is unique. The result is a fascinating and engaging look at the true nature of domestication. In making his point, Pollan focuses on the relationship between humans and four specific plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. ... he explains how a global desire for consistently perfect French fries contributes to both damaging monoculture and the genetic engineering necessary to support it. Pollan has read widely on the subject and elegantly combines literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific references with engaging anecdotes, giving readers much to ponder while weeding their gardens."

6. Climbing Mount Improbable
By Richard Dawkins
(Norton, 340 pp, 1996)
GFBR**** HS-Adult
Dawkins, an untiring popularizer of Darwinian evolution, shows how creatures that seem miraculously designed for the lives they lead, actually evolved gradually, almost infinitely slowly, up the gentle paths of Mount Improbable, rather than adapting in sudden leaps or by design from an intelligent creator.

7. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
By Daniel Clement Dennett
(Touchstone, 672 pp, 1996)
General audience
"One of the best descriptions of the nature and implications of Darwinian evolution ever written, it is firmly based in biological information and appropriately extrapolated to possible applications to engineering and cultural evolution. Dennett's analyses of the objections to evolutionary theory are unsurpassed. Extremely lucid, wonderfully written, and scientifically and philosophically impeccable. Highest Recommendation!"

8. Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague
By Richard Rhodes
(Simon & Schuster, 259 pp, 1997)
GFBR***** General audience
"The British epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or 'mad cow' disease, is only one in a series of mysterious and often fatal afflictions that have baffled scientists for more than 40 years. Deadly Feasts is a compelling account of decades of research into a family of diseases ranging from kuru in primitive human tribes to scrapie in sheep. Richard Rhodes traces the attempts of scientists to understand these strange diseases, which are now known to be transmitted by ingesting the brain or nervous tissue of infected creatures, even though the pathogen itself is an enigma that seems to be neither bacterial nor viral. Deadly Feasts is packed with historical, anthropological, and epidemiological detail, and is graphic and occasionally even alarming in its speculations."

9. Evolutionary Wars: A Three-Billion-Year Arms Race-the Battle of Species on Land, at Sea, and in the Air
By Charles Kingsley Levy
(Freeman, 300 pp, 1999)
General audience
"Describes how various species of bacteria, fungi, insects, worms, reptiles, birds and mammals have fought each other over hundreds of millions of years to survive. We can see the results of this arms race all around us every day."

10. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It
By Gina Kolata
(Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 330 pp, 1999)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
The 1918 flu epidemic killed tens of millions of people all around the world, (including 2 aunts and an uncle that I never met) -- more than were killed in World War I, but almost nobody who lived through it ever mentioned it again. What happened, and why, and can it happen again?

11. Life On Earth
By David Attenborough
(Little Brown, 319 pp, 1980)
GFBR***** Teen-Adult
"In this unique book, David Attenborough has undertaken nothing less than a history of nature, from the emergence of tiny one-celled organisms in the primeval slime more than 3,000 million years ago to apelike but upright man, equally well adapted to life in the rain forest of New Guinea and the glass canyons of a modern metropolis." Has wonderful pictures, great descriptions, very original.

12. River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
By Richard Dawkins
(Basic Books, 172 pp, 1995)
GFBR**** Teen-Adult
"Nearly a century and a half after Charles Darwin formulated it, the theory of evolution is still the subject of considerable debate. Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins is among Darwin's chief defenders, and an able one indeed-- witty, literate, capable of turning a beautiful phrase. In River Out of Eden he introduces general readers to some fairly abstract problems in evolutionary biology, gently guiding us through the tangles of mitochondrial DNA and the survival-of-the- fittest ethos. (Superheroes need not apply: Dawkins writes, 'The genes that survive . . . will be the ones that are good at surviving in the average environment of the species.') Dawkins argues for the essential unity of humanity, noting that 'we are much closer cousins of one another than we normally realize, and we have many fewer ancestors than simple calculations suggest.'"

13. The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little Things
By Hannah Holmes
(Wiley & Sons, 240 pp, 2001)
GFBR**** General audience
"Despite its ubiquity, dust is not a popular subject among scientists, and lay people tend to brush it off. But Holmes, a science and natural history writer for the Discovery Channel Online, teases many tantalizing facts from this particulate microscopic substance. '[P]olar researchers are drinking water that fell as snow during the crusades,' for instance. 'Hundreds of years' worth of dust has piled up on the well floor,' most of it 'space dust,' as 'only a small amount of windblown Earth dusts' reach Antarctica. Some readers may be turned off or sent on a wild cleaning frenzy by much of the information: 'you breathe about 700,000 of your own skin flakes each day,' for instance, or 'a cup of flour... isn't legally filthy until it contains about 150 insect fragments and a couple of rodent hairs.' And some of her more harrowing facts might inspire minor lifestyle changes: household dust is comprised of all manner of toxic materials, like 'widely produced' chromium and mercury metals, pesticides, and herbicides, and 'the average child eats 15 or 20 milligrams of dust a day, and superslurpers eat 30 to 50 milligrams.' While factoid set-pieces run the show here, Holmes's tours through the science behind them are lucid. Allergy sufferers and other interested parties will relish this book; others may prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of their particulate surroundings."

14. The Secret Life of Germs: Observations and Lessons from a Microbe Hunter
By Philip M. Tierno Jr.
(Pocket Books, 290 pp, 2001)
GFBR**** General audience
"Germs are the seeds of life as well as disease, explains Tierno, the New York University Medical Center doctor who helped solve the mystery of toxic shock syndrome. A germ hunter in the truest sense, Tierno spells out how to survive a world so rife with germs that 'alien observers might conclude that they are the dominant life form on our planet.' His field samplings from high-trafficked New York City locations such as pay phones, taxicabs, public restrooms and even the engagement ring counter at Tiffany's will startle readers, but the author is not an alarmist: his aim is disease prevention, and his method is education. The book opens with a quick history of germ evolution and of human understanding of germs, from biblical injunctions on cleanliness to the modern science of microbiology. It outlines the various ways illness-causing bacteria are transmitted and gives precise instructions for minimizing infection with a bulleted list of 'protective response strategies' at the end of each chapter. On subjects of controversy, Tierno tends to fall on the conservative side. He rejects the recent notion that overcleaning is responsible for deficient immune systems and increased childhood asthma (arguing that even the most vigilant housekeeping wouldn't protect kids from all germs), and his warnings against unpasteurized products will be questioned by some. The last third of the book touches on the unexpected role of germs in illnesses such as ulcers and heart disease; antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains; germ warfare; and bacteria-fighting methods of the future. This germ primer brings the bug into focus while setting even the most jittery hypochondriac's mind at ease."

15. Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
By Richard Dawkins
(Houghton Mifflin, 1998)
GFBR**** General audience
"Dawkins takes to heart his title of Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford in this thoughtful exegesis on the nature of science and why its detractors are all wrong. More with pity than anger, he takes Keats to task for faulting 'cold philosophy' for unweaving the rainbow in the long poem Lamia. On the contrary, Dawkins observes, Newton's use of a prism to split white light into the spectrum not only led to our understanding of how rainbows form in raindrops, but enabled astronomers to read the make-up of stars. Dawkins devotes a few chapters to debunking astrology, magic, and clairvoyance, arguing that, as rational adults, we need to be critical about ideas. This notion serves him handily in chapters on coincidence: He explains the exacting calculations of probabilities to show that coincidences arent so unusual. Yet people have a penchant for finding patterns where there are none, which leads Dawkins also to address superstitions, the class of errors known as false positives and false negatives, and a wealth of cultural practices from rain dances to human sacrifice. He takes to task what he calls bad poetic science, in which he includes the theories of his rival Stephen Jay Gould in relation to what Gould sees as the three perennial questions in paleontology: Does time have a directional arrow? Do internal or external forces drive evolution? And does evolution occur gradually or in jumps? The spleens so heavy here that one can anticipate a debate, if not a duel. Final chapters provide him with a platform for reweaving the rainbow, enlarging on his earlier themes and metaphors in relation to memes, genes, and evolution. The speculative writing here is less rooted in complex gene analysis than in philosophy of the Dennett school. A sharp mind is much in evidence, delighting in exposing fraud, providing instruction, baiting a colleague, and indulging in his own high-wire acts of evolutionary dreaming."

[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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