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Hapax
04-04-2015, 10:41 AM
The distinguished physicist and science write, Steven Weinberg, presents his hit list, along with a little context.


It isn’t always essential in writing about physics that everything should be made clear to the general reader. What is important is to respect readers, not to fool them into thinking that all would be clear if they were not such dolts, or that obscurity is a sign of profundity. In the preface of my book on the big bang, The First Three Minutes, I explained that “When a lawyer writes for the public, he assumes that they do not know Law French or the Rule Against Perpetuities, but he does not think the worse of them for that, and he does not condescend to them … I picture the reader as a smart old attorney, who does not speak my language, but who expects nonetheless to hear some convincing arguments before he makes up his mind.”

When working scientists like myself write for the public we have the opportunity to engage in controversy. The polemic mode of science writing goes back at least as far as the golden age of Muslim science, when it centred on the value of science and on its relation to Islam. One of the most accomplished of Muslim astronomers, the Persian al-Biruni, complained about anti-scientific attitudes among Islamic extremists, while the medical scientist Rhazes, who was admired by al-Biruni, argued that scientists are more useful to mankind than religious leaders and that miracles are mere tricks. In response, the famous physician Avicenna said that Rhazes should have stuck to matters he understood, such as boils and excrement.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/03/steven-weinberg-13-best-science-books-general-reader?CMP=share_btn_tw

And his nominations are:


Philosophical Letters (1733) Voltaire
The Origin of Species (1859) Charles Darwin
On a Piece of Chalk (1868) Thomas Huxley
The Mysterious Universe (1930) James Jeans
The Birth and Death of the Sun (1940) George Gamow
The Character of Physical Law (1965) Richard Feynman
The Elegant Universe (1999) Brian Greene
The Selfish Gene (1976) Richard Dawkins
The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986) Richard Rhodes
The Inflationary Universe (1997) Alan Guth
The Whole Shebang (1997) Timothy Ferris
Hiding in the Mirror (2005) Lawrence Krauss
Warped Passages (2005) Lisa Randall

C. Flower
04-04-2015, 12:45 PM
This is making me think I should read more science books.

I would add the Voyage of the Beagle, for Darwin.

There are a number of good books about Marie Curie's work, the best known by her daughter, but now that her highly radioactive notes have been released to researchers, a spate of new ones. Any recommendations?

Hapax
04-04-2015, 01:00 PM
This is making me think I should read more science books.

I would add the Voyage of the Beagle, for Darwin.

There are a number of good books about Marie Curie's work, the best known by her daughter, but now that her highly radioactive notes have been released to researchers, a spate of new ones. Any recommendations?

I hadn't known about the release of new material. Good stuff! In fact, I now realize that she's a much more interesting woman than I'd given her credit for. A New Scientist review of a recent book on her ("science is not the strength of this book") ends off:


Perhaps the most surprising part of the book, though, is to see how Curie's welcome in the US in 1921 - by universities, companies and public figures including US president Warren Harding - enabled her to shake off her dread of the spotlight. Wisely or not, Marie and Pierre always refused on principle to patent any of their techniques, and so their radium institutes were long deprived of resources. By her 1929 US tour, she used her fame to help raise funds for her institutes' research.

Yet as this latest biography makes clear, it never went to her head. As Einstein once remarked, "Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted."

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528781.900-marie-curie-the-family-woman.html

Hapax
04-04-2015, 01:09 PM
I see there's already a critical response to Weinberg's list, and his whole approach, on the guardian site:


Weinberg’s view of science and its history has led to a fairly narrow understanding of what people might want to - and perhaps ought to - read about it.

As well as being primarily focused on the physical sciences, Weinberg’s list of recommended reading is almost as dominated by men as his history. It is only the baker’s dozen that allows him to include a single female author. There is also little in the list that would help readers understand and navigate the issues that they, as democratic citizens, should have the opportunity to engage with, such as funding, policy and ethics.

I want to crowdsource some alternative suggestions for a list of recommended reading and would love your suggestions in the comments below. This can be writing by scientists, historians, sociologists, journalists and others - female as well as male - and should do more than describe the content of science for the lay reader.

Three to start from me:

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Diane Vaughan, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA (1996)
Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010)

http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2015/apr/04/an-alternative-13-best-books-about-science

It's from Rebekah Higgitt, one of their regular science bloggers, and she's looking for more suggestions.

Sam Lord
04-04-2015, 03:10 PM
An absolute cracker. Difficult to express how much I enjoyed it. (and my knowledge of maths borders on zero)

Fermat's last theorem by Simon Singh

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/aug/02/fermats-last-theorem-simon-singh-review

Donal Og
05-04-2015, 11:08 AM
Ashamed to say I have yet to read Silent Spring. Talk about 'ahead of her time'! A recent discovery of mine is 'Why us?' by James le Fanu. He is a medical doctor who mostly writes on medicine. But this book is a very well argued critique of evolution as we know it. Very challenging, without being a new age apologist or whatever.

Merchants of doubt looks good too, thanks. As does the Fermat Theorem book by Singh - great thread btw!:)

Hapax
05-04-2015, 01:17 PM
I see that Weinberg's list is attracting a good bit of criticism, not least for its gender-bias: http://galileospendulum.org/2015/04/04/science-by-authority-is-a-poor-model-for-communication/

Among the criticisms, I came across mention of "Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything" by Amanda Gefter, which looks worth reading. I hadn't heard of it before, but I think I'll order a copy.

Thinking over the science books I've returned to repeatedly over the years, Stuart Kauffman's "At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity" looms large.

Trow
05-04-2015, 10:26 PM
(and my knowledge of maths borders on zero)

If only you knew the power of zero. http://www.calculatoredge.com/math/mathlogic/logicans4.htm Maths can be fun.

I'd love to get my hands on this.... Naturalis Historia published in 77 AD by Pliny the Elder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_History_(Pliny)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_in_classical_antiquity

Hapax
05-04-2015, 11:09 PM
If only you knew the power of zero. http://www.calculatoredge.com/math/mathlogic/logicans4.htm Maths can be fun.

There's a few decent books available now on zero. This one (http://www.vintage-books.co.uk/books/0099288451/john-d-barrow/the-book-of-nothing/) I've read and like, though it's about more than maths.


I'd love to get my hands on this.... Naturalis Historia published in 77 AD by Pliny the Elder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_History_(Pliny)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_in_classical_antiquity

There's a very good selection available (http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/books/natural-history/9780140444131/) from Penguin.

pluralist
06-04-2015, 01:01 AM
More of a pamphlet than a book, but C.P. Snow's landmark 1959 "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" is still very valid and relevant I feel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Cultures

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_5110/snow_1959.pdf

Donal Og
06-04-2015, 09:55 AM
Veering slightly off topic. I read somewhere that Copernicus delayed publication of De Revolutione out of fear of the Vatican's condemnation. But he needn't have worried - it was being taught in many Universities very soon. It was first condemned by the Protestant clergy as it conflicts with some bible texts. The RCC were on the back foot as far as bible scholarship goes so they quickly followed suit. Bit counterintuitive...anyone have a good book to recommend on this era in science?

Hapax
06-04-2015, 01:09 PM
Arthur Koestler's "The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe" is a great run-through of the history of classical European cosmology and astronomy, including the critical passage of Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo. It's quite old now (1959, I think) but still well worth reading. Galileo's own writings are pretty much all available online in English translation, and they're certainly worth looking at.

If you want something even more 'counterintuitive', you could try Paul Feyerabend's "Against Method". There's a summary of the argument (https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm) on the marxists.com site, though I think Feyerabend regarded himself as an anarchist. In any event, he writes well and very irreverently.

C. Flower
06-04-2015, 02:09 PM
Elaine Morgan "The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis" argues for consideration that many anatomical features of humans are accounted for by prolongued phases of inhabitation of watery environments.
"Aquatic Ape" was written in the 1990s, Her first book on the topic was " The Descent of Woman". Her theories are still controversial, and still debated after 40 years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquatic_ape_hypothesis

Donal Og
06-04-2015, 02:46 PM
Arthur Koestler's "The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe" is a great run-through of the history of classical European cosmology and astronomy, including the critical passage of Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo. It's quite old now (1959, I think) but still well worth reading. Galileo's own writings are pretty much all available online in English translation, and they're certainly worth looking at.

If you want something even more 'counterintuitive', you could try Paul Feyerabend's "Against Method". There's a summary of the argument (https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm) on the marxists.com site, though I think Feyerabend regarded himself as an anarchist. In any event, he writes well and very irreverently.

Thanks, Hapax and C.Flower.
I quite like an alternative take on stuff. When you are thinking 'hmm, I don't want to believe this' then it's ,making your grey cells work harder.

Trow
06-04-2015, 03:20 PM
Veering slightly off topic. I read somewhere that Copernicus delayed publication of De Revolutione out of fear of the Vatican's condemnation. But he needn't have worried - it was being taught in many Universities very soon. It was first condemned by the Protestant clergy as it conflicts with some bible texts. The RCC were on the back foot as far as bible scholarship goes so they quickly followed suit. Bit counterintuitive...anyone have a good book to recommend on this era in science?

Misica Universalis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musica_universalis

There's a link to further reading at the bottom of that page naming two authors,....
Paul Calter.. Pythagoras and music of the sphere's http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/math5.geometry/unit3/unit3.html
David Plant... Johaness Kepler and the music of the sphere's http://www.skyscript.co.uk/kepler.html

Alternatively... [unless you fear the wrath of the Vatican] you could try Codex Cigas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Gigas
It contains amongst other things Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae and medical works of Hippocrates, Theophilus, Philaretus, and Constantinus.

Did you know the Vatican considered naming Isidore of Saville as patron Saint of the internet? [The last scholar of the ancient world] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isidore_of_Seville

Yeah right! :rolleyes:

Hapax
06-04-2015, 05:05 PM
Misica Universalis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musica_universalis

There's a link to further reading at the bottom of that page naming two authors,....
Paul Calter.. Pythagoras and music of the sphere's http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/math5.geometry/unit3/unit3.html
David Plant... Johaness Kepler and the music of the sphere's http://www.skyscript.co.uk/kepler.html

Alternatively... [unless you fear the wrath of the Vatican] you could try Codex Cigas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Gigas
It contains amongst other things Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae and medical works of Hippocrates, Theophilus, Philaretus, and Constantinus.

Did you know the Vatican considered naming Isidore of Saville as patron Saint of the internet? [The last scholar of the ancient world] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isidore_of_Seville

Yeah right! :rolleyes:

My own suggestion for RC Patron of the Internet would be Trithemius, to whom we owe the term 'stenography'. Still, I'd suggest that Isidore is no further removed from the net that is the Codex Gigas (not 'Cigas') from science. :rolleyes:

For anyone who's interested in Isidore, there's a decent modern translation of his great work, the Etymologies, available for download here (http://pot-pourri.fltr.ucl.ac.be/files/AClassftp/TEXTES/ISIDORUS/Etymologie/B1N8PWGetQy.pdf) in pdf. But, though he was a fine scholar for his day, his writings aren't exactly science either, in any modern sense.

Hapax
06-04-2015, 05:38 PM
Neurology has been making great advances in recent decades, due not only to new scanning technologies which may be able to show the firing of individual neurons as specific tasks are performed (a far cry from just dissecting a brain after death), but also to the growth of artificial intelligence, which allow brain functions to be modelled through software.

One book I've read recently which puts a lot of that advance into the form of a biographical narrative is Eric Kandel's "In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind". The case studies of Oliver Sacks ("Awakenings", "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat", etc) are extremely readable and very suggestive. Even some books from the first half of the last century are still well worth checking out; for example, the soviet Aleksandr Luria's "The Mind of a Mnemonist" and "The Man With a Shattered World", which are written in the same style as Sack's books. "Recollections of My Life" by Ramón y Cajal is one of the best scientific autobiographies I've ever come across.

Trow
06-04-2015, 06:12 PM
My own suggestion for RC Patron of the Internet would be Trithemius, to whom we owe the term 'stenography'. Still, I'd suggest that Isidore is no further removed from the net that is the Codex Gigas (not 'Cigas') from science. :rolleyes:

Thanks for the spell check, must file that nail on my middle finger.

Hapax
06-04-2015, 09:19 PM
Thanks for the spell check, must file that nail on my middle finger.

:D

But Homer nodded too: I should have written Steganography (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography) rather than Stenography. I'm surprised you didn't set me straight on that!

Trow
06-04-2015, 10:43 PM
:D

But Homer nodded too: I should have written Steganography (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography) rather than Stenography. I'm surprised you didn't set me straight on that!

:) I dealt with it another way.

Hapax
06-04-2015, 11:40 PM
One of the great popularisers of mathematics must have been Martin Gardner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Gardner). I first got to know his writing via the monthly Mathematical Games column of Scientific American, which ran for twenty-five years. Those articles were collected in many volumes by Penguin and sold by the millions. If you're at all interested in puzzles involving numbers or shapes or patterns, they're really worth looking out for.

He helped bridge the gap between Snow's Two Cultures (in the book mentioned by pluralist above) in his annotated editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, and also his Hunting of the Snark, where he clarified a lot of the private games which underlie the work of Carroll, a fellow logician and mathematician. Similarly, he annotated The Ancient Mariner, and some stuff by G.K. Chesterton, but I don't personally find those as interesting.

One final string to his bow was used in two books, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and Science: Good, Bad and Bogus. These were an attack on the claims of various proponents of new-age mumbo-jumbo, pick 'n' mix hocus-pocus, and general mystificatory jiggery-pokery. Later, he joined up with Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov in disproving and dismissing 'magical' fakeries of various sorts, not least those of Uri Geller. These books of Gardner's are very sharply and wittily written, and always worth pulling down from the shelf when you find someone pushing superstition and abject credulity as a mode of explanation.

Trow
07-04-2015, 01:30 AM
One final string to his bow was used in two books, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and Science: Good, Bad and Bogus. These were an attack on the claims of various proponents of new-age mumbo-jumbo, pick 'n' mix hocus-pocus, and general mystificatory jiggery-pokery. Later, he joined up with Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov in disproving and dismissing 'magical' fakeries of various sorts, not least those of Uri Geller. These books of Gardner's are very sharply and wittily written, and always worth pulling down from the shelf when you find someone pushing superstition and abject credulity as a mode of explanation.

On the night Geller first bent a spoon on television my Father gave me a spoon and i proved friction and not magic was at work. Being made of silver it had a lower melting point. It broke in two eventually. I was a kid then.

There's none of that new-age mumbo-jumbo, pick 'n' mix hocus-pocus, and general mystificatory jiggery-pokery impresses me.

More a Natural Science guy. Big interest in bioelectromagnetics [spell check that] :)
Always visioned electromagnetics becoming a teaching/healing tool.