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Book Reviews: January 2003

Discover Magazine reviews the hottest scence books for January 2003.

Jan 1, 2003 6:00 AMApr 27, 2023 4:15 PM


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Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World, Oliver Morton (Picador USA, $30) Scientists studying the surface of Mars have mapped volcanoes twice as high as Mount Everest and a meteor crater so vast you could place all of Western Europe inside it. Morton takes the measure of Mars research and envisions a future in which Earthlings may one day colonize the Red Planet.

The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World, Ken Alder (Free Press, $27) In the late 18th century, two intrepid French astronomers set out to create a new measure—the meter—that was supposed to equal 1/10,000,000 the length of the quarter meridian from the North Pole to the equator. Their calculations were a bit off the mark but are embedded forever in the measure that now signifies scientific exactitude.

A New Kind of Science, Stephen Wolfram (Wolfram Media, $44.95) A leading mathematician proposes that the complexity and chaos encompassing the universe and the web of life can be understood and modeled using simple computer algorithms. (For a closer look at this publishing phenomenon, see "The Wolfram Controversy," page 48.)

Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, the Dinosaur That Changed Science, the Law, and My Life, Peter Larson & Kristin Donnan (Invisible Cities Press, $26.95) A paleontologist becomes embroiled in a lengthy legal scuffle over ownership of one of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever unearthed—and even ends up serving jail time.

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, by Brenda Maddox (HarperCollins, $29.95) Franklin's X-ray images of the DNA molecule led directly to the discovery of its double-helix structure, but she died in relative obscurity. Maddox's biography sheds new light on the pioneering woman scientist whom Nobel Prize-winner James Watson maligned posthumously as a repressed spinster who didn't recognize the importance of her findings.

Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth From Interplanetary Peril, Timothy Ferris (Simon & Schuster, $26) The best-selling author reveals how affordable high-powered telescopes have given backyard stargazers a surprisingly significant role in astronomical research and discovery.

Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II, Jennet Conant (Simon & Schuster, $26) During World War II, Alfred Lee Loomis, an amateur physicist, financed a lab where Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, and other legendary physicists hatched ideas about atomic fusion and radar that contributed to the Allied victory over the Nazis.

Unlocking the Sky: Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the Race to Invent the Airplane, Seth Shulman (HarperCollins, $25.95) Rivalry between Curtiss and the Wright brothers changed aviation. But Shulman reveals what the historical record often neglects: the Wright brothers' greed and secrecy and Curtiss's generous spirit and pioneering contributions. Maia Weinstock

Treasures from Friends of Discover

Noteworthy books that showcase the work of writers who are Discover contributors.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002, Natalie Angier and Tim Folger (Mariner Books, $13) Folger, a Discover contributing editor, and Angier, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The New York Times, offer an enticing anthology of articles by America's best science writers, including articles from seven Discover contributors.

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Steven Pinker (Viking, $27.95) Pinker, a cognitive scientist, makes the controversial claim that personality is more a matter of hardwiring in the brain—and thus independent of environment—than many behaviorists acknowledge.

God in the Equation: How Einstein Became the Prophet of the New Religious Era, Corey S. Powell (Free Press, $24) The mystical ideas hidden within Albert Einstein's theory of relativity are explored by Powell, a Discover senior editor.

The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin, Ellen Ruppel Shell (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25) Shell examines the role that genes and psychology play in obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in America.

The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide, Richard Conniff (W. W. Norton, $26.95) This witty and solidly researched book examines how the evolutionary fitness and behavior of society's ultrarich mimics that of the alpha males—and females—in the animal kingdom.

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science, John Fleischman (Houghton Mifflin, $16) The astonishing recovery of Gage, a 19th-century railroad-construction foreman, after a work-site explosion shot an iron rod through his skull, yielded insights into the workings of the brain that helped launch the field of neuroscience. Fleischman's book targets young readers ages 10 and up.

Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Science and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species, Sy Montgomery (Simon & Schuster, $26) In a riveting blend of storytelling and scientific discovery, Montgomery chronicles her journey through the forests and villages of Southeast Asia in search of a rare and legendary golden-furred bear. Maia Weinstock

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