The Sciences

The Best of Science Culture

Yoda on tour, plants using humans, perfect devastation, and more

By Jennifer Barone and Lindsey KonkelNov 19, 2009 6:00 AM


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Star Wars In Concert

With two trilogies behind it, you might think the Star Wars saga had run its course. But the Force is with us once again, this time as a concert tour. After performances in London that garnered raves, Star Wars: In Concert is criss-crossing North America on a 50-city tour. The performance, hosted by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), combines John Williams’s famous scores—rearranged by the composer and played by a live symphony orchestra conducted by Dirk Brossé—with montages from all six films on a three-story high-definition LED screen. Original props, costumes, and production art will be on exhibit; highlights include a never-before-shown Naboo speeder, garments worn by Chancellor Palpatine, and the cast of Han Solo frozen in car­bonite.


A World Without Ice by Henry N. Pollack

The author, a geophysicist and member of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, explores ice’s crucial role on earth: reflecting sunlight, influencing winds, and providing freshwater for a quarter of the world’s population. He documents the threat to ice posed by climate change but focuses on practical solutions that will help us mitigate the damage and adapt to a warmer world.

The Faith Instinct by Nicholas Wade

New York Times science reporter Wade presents a fascinating synthesis of research on how, why, and when religion emerged. The concept of religion as a product of evolution is not new, but Wade’s measured approach should please those interested in a scientific discussion of the topic that nevertheless remains respectful of people’s personal beliefs.

Jacques Cousteau by Brad Matsen

Matsen, an environmental journalist, pays tribute to the man who pioneered modern scuba diving and inspired millions with his infectious love of the sea. A dozen years after Cousteau’s death, this engrossing biography reveals both a savvy showman and a dedicated conservationist.

WEB: Human Genre Project

If genetics strikes you as inherently impersonal, check out this online collection of poetry and short prose inspired by the human genome. Launched in July at the University of Edinburgh, its catalog of writings includes poignant words addressed to a renal stone sufferer, a rhyming tribute to telomeres, and practical advice for a couple who cannot afford to create a healthy baby under the patent laws of 2056. For those with a hankering to share their reflections on junk DNA or point mutations with the world, the site continues to accept submissions. Visit

DVD: The Botany of Desire

In this gorgeous documentary, Michael Pollan posits that if reproduction represents the ultimate biological goal, then plants such as the apple and the potato that induce humans to cultivate them worldwide are the true victors. The film travels from Andean mountain­sides to high-tech hothouses for medical marijuana, tracing how plants have threaded their roots into human history.

MOVIE: 2012

Filmmaker Roland Emmerich has wrought his share of destruction in movies like Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow. Still, he decided to revisit the genre one more time to cowrite and direct a movie about the greatest disaster of them all: 2012. This new apocalypse flick shows off buckling roads, burning cities, toppling buildings, and engulfing waves, all rendered in hypnotically beautiful computer graphics. Emmerich and his team have cranked up the visual effects like never before. “When we gave the script out, people said it was unfilmable,” he recalls. But working digitally, the crew was able to tweak the shattering glass and panicking crowds until perfect devastation was achieved. Emmerich does not believe in the widely repeated (and highly disputed) Mayan prophecy of impending global doom, but he saw the fun in playing along with it. “I always wanted to make a new retelling of the Noah’s ark story,” he says, “and doing Internet research, we found that a lot of people believe that the world will end in 2012. It makes the movie feel more real because it’s based on this modern myth.”

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