August 30, 2012

Present at the Creation

Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron ColliderPresent at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider by Amir D. Aczel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful overview of the science behind and the science being tested at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The book describes the collaboration and building of the greatest machine in history and in the process introduces many of the people responsible for its creation and the many theories that scientists hope to test as it reaches ever larger energy levels. At times the shear breadth of material can be a little overwhelming if you are not well versed in topics such as particle physics, quantum theories, and the standard model. I'm sure I would gain a better understanding reading it again. The science is interleaved with vignettes of the author interviews or stories about many of the scientists mentioned throughout the book. I now I have a much greater appreciation for the LHC itself and what it is helping to accomplish.

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Tags: books science

February 13, 2011

Plastic Fantastic

Plastic FantasticPlastic Fantastic by Eugenie Samuel Reich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book chronicles the multiple year fraud perpetrated by Jan Hendrik Schon in the scientific community concerning his research around various new materials for transistors and nanotechnology. Unfortunately I found the bias of the author that the scientific method doesn't work as stated in the introduction tainted the rest of the material. Instead of laying out the facts and letting the reader draw their own conclusions about the scope and validity of the scientific method the book at times feels like a rant against it. The mixed chronological order that some of the material is presented in makes the timeline hard to follow. While I found the overall story interesting I suspect I'd appreciate another authors take on it more.

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Tags: books mos science

January 31, 2011

How to Catch a Robot Rat

How to Catch a Robot Rat: When Biology Inspires InnovationHow to Catch a Robot Rat: When Biology Inspires Innovation by Agn├Ęs Guillot

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While full of examples of biology inspiring innovation, the book overviews the entire history and field without delving into depth on any particular topic or application. Along the way the book poses interesting ethical questions about the fusion of machines with man and animal parts with machines but shies away from exploration of the topic. The book is best suited for an academic or research setting versus being enjoyable by the layperson.

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Tags: books science

September 21, 2010

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An engaging exploration of the history and stories behind the periodic table. Each chapter focuses on different groups of elements that share a common theme, such as the scientists behind their discovery or some unique property. The notes and errata are a must read and offer a wealth of references to other books and articles if there is a particular element you want to learn more about. At times the science explanation is a little light instead favoring the telling a good story about the element. Overall one of the most enjoyable science books I've read.

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Tags: books science

September 22, 2008

Critical Mass

Philip Ball's "Critical Mass" is an exploration of how one thing leads to another. I found the book to be a laborious read and overall wouldn't recommend it. While it touches on interesting topics such as phase transitions, power laws, self-organizing patterns, collective motions, and scale-free networks, the book isn't cohesive. It is bookended with the thought of using the laws of nature to guide and predict human nature. While there maybe corollary between the two, I didn't find any of the law applications that persuasive.

The use of modeling, particularly the chapter on traffic has merit, but again didn't feel like it derived from natural laws, it was more simplistic rules producing complex emergent behavior. Other models explored, such as the axis versus allies assignment, felt like the model was tweaked to get the desired result bringing into question the validity of the entire exercise. Some models, like predicting market crashes, clearly have an observer effect as noted on page 236.

When the book is talking strictly about natural phenomena (meta-stable states, one way flows), and not trying to relate it to human behavior and affairs, it makes for okay reading. The problem is that between the good scientific bits, the author's diversions into politics, policy, and people feel preachy and self-righteous. Given the length of the book I'm sure everyone is bound to find some nugget of usefulness in it, but slogging through the rest to find that bit doesn't seem worth it.

Tags: book science

June 28, 2007


It has been some time since I've finished a book. I attribute it to my phase nature. In any case I recently read "Thunderstuck" by Erik Larson. I really enjoyed the last book of his that I read. Overall I liked "The Devil in the White City" better. "Thunderstruck" is an enjoyable read and it does a great job of capturing the race for wireless communication set against the scientific bickering of London and intertwines the mysterious murder committed by Dr. Crippen. What it didn't do is draw me into both stories.

It might be my scientific nature but the Marconi story line had a richer feel to it and I felt fully engrossed in the drive to communicate without wires. The story of Crippen, while told well, didn't have the depth that the killer did in White City. The additional background on Crippen helped flesh out the character but it felt more like back filling the story from the incredible chase across the Atlantic which tied the two stories together.

The descriptions of London around the 1900s are neat, but feel more like digressions then central to the story. Likewise the author even asks "to forgive my passion for digression." [ix]. I believe that such comments can add flavor and context to the main story, but in this case the digressions feel like they are the story and the main characters the digression. Overall it is a fun and quick read, but for reasons very different then the last book of his I read.

Tags: books london science

June 30, 2006

A Sense of the Mysterious

A sense of the Mysterious by Alan Lightman is primarily a collection of his essays that have previously appeared in various other magazines and publications. The essays cover a wide range of topics and range from his personal observations about being a scientist to short biographies about other scientists. Overall I didn't find the book that engaging. While the essays were organized well, I didn't find themes that followed through all of them to really tie the book together. They felt just like a collection that had been repackaged together.

In many of the essays I found the author's frequent digressions to be distracting and superfluous as they didn't offer any support of the main topic. With all of that said there are nuggets of reflection buried throughout the book that I found myself agreeing with and broadening my own perceptions. The concept of the "creative moment" isn't something I have felt to the same degree as Mr. Lightman I have briefly touched its outer edge and agree with his description. His "Prisoner of the Wired World" reflects many of the same feelings as the ceaseless society talk. Overall the book's short essay format makes for quick reading with one or two small nuggets to be gleamed from each piece.

Tags: books science