Tonhis way Science is often taught — as abstract collections of facts and equations — in a very different way than how scientists discover and use their knowledge of the world. Understanding cutting-edge research is messy and full of a series of good and bad choices made by countless people. Acknowledging chaos (and sometimes even revelling in it) is useful for two reasons: it reintroduces important historical and social context to the story of how humans built and shaped the modern world of science; it shows that science is the result of human imagination and creativity An extraordinary product, perhaps the greatest collective achievement of our species. These six books tell the stories of the people, places and issues that drive human understanding of the world.
A brief history of almost everything. by Bill Bryson. Crown; 560 pages; $20.Universal; £10.99
Like its skilled (but non-scientific) author, this is a travelogue about how humans came to know the history of their knowledge of science. From calculating the age of the Earth to understanding the composition of atoms or how natural disasters occur, Mr. Bryson is curious about the world, and as he learns, so are you. Combine that with his trademark wit and ability to unearth fascinating anecdotes about the lives of scientists he writes about, and this book is probably the best primer on science ever written.
on the origin of species. by Charles Darwin. Modern Library; 720 pages; $12.Oxford University Press; £8.99
Scientific texts that introduce the world to ideas that disrupt society are almost always dense and incomprehensible to everyone outside their immediate area of expertise. Fortunately, Darwin described the flora and fauna he encountered on a boat trip to the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s. HMS Beagles Written smartly and with a literary flavor. The naturalist spent decades thinking about what he saw on his expeditions and constructing the thesis that forms the heart of this book: that life forms on Earth have evolved through generations of evolution through a process of natural selection . Biology — not to mention religion and human society in general — has never been the same since.
Henrietta’s immortal life lacks. Via Rebecca Scroot. The Crown; 384 pages; $26.Macmillan; £18.99
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman living in Baltimore, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Before treating her, her doctors took a piece of Lacks’ tumor and, without her permission, gave it to a scientist who has been trying to figure out how to grow human cells in culture for decades . It turned out that Lax’s tumor cells grew like blockbusters and became the basis for one of the most important tools in modern biology, the HeLa cell line. These cells have been used in everything from developing polio vaccines to cloning experiments. However, Ms. Skloot’s book is more than a biological story. It also lists the difficult ways in which ethics, race, and class intersect in the advancement of human knowledge.
The man who mistook his wife for a hat. by Oliver Sachs. Knopf; 320 pages; $16.95.Pan Macmillan; £9.99
In a series of case studies of his patients, neuroscientist Sachs pieced together a picture of how the brain perceives the body and how those perceptions can go awry. It depicts a person who is unable to form new memories (including events that happened minutes ago); a young autistic man who manages to draw in incredible detail despite severe learning difficulties and seizures Objects; and, of course, the singer and music teacher who inspired the saxophone title – this patient can see and describe the individual characteristics of an object, but can’t tell you what the object actually is.
Periodic table of elements. By Primo Levi. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. Knopf; 240 pages; $16.Penguin; £7.99
In this collection of short stories, each named after a different element from the periodic table, Levi uses chemistry as a metaphor for life. Some chapters, like “Argon,” describe the author’s upbringing in the Jewish community of Piedmont, Italy, while others, like “Phosphorus,” are mini-detective stories rooted in Levi’s work as a paint factory chemist. There are also gruesome stories — “Cerium” and “Vanadium” — alluding to his dark days at Auschwitz during World War II. There, chemistry did save Li Wei’s life.
Have fun finding things. by Richard Feynman. Basic book; 288 pages; $17.99 and £11.99
Not only was Feynman one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, he also won a Nobel Prize for his work in developing the Standard Model, the quantum mechanical description of known subatomic particles and forces. He is also a distinguished lecturer and disseminator of complex scientific ideas.In the book, he describes the origins of his scientific thinking – when he was a child he was encouraged to ask many questions on long walks in the forest with his father; he details his role as a committee member Scientific work, the commission’s mission was to find out the reason for the space shuttle challenger tragically exploded minutes after launch in 1986; he also predicted the potential of nanotechnology in a famous article titled “Enough Space at the Bottom.”■
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