I first wrote about the controversial thesis of this book back in January of 2000, when my "Pick" was an article about David Hockney by Lawrence Wechler in the New Yorker. With the publication of this very attractive, large-format book, you can look for yourself at the evidence that he argues shows that many of the great master painters secretly used optical devices to help produce their work.
I've been reading a lot lately about alchemy, and was therefore delighted to find a new book on the history of chemistry (that includes some on alchemy), just published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Trevor Levere takes on the impossible task of chronicling the developments in chemistry from its beginning to the present, in only a little over 200 pages.
I have to admit that I haven't finished reading this book. With over six hundred, large-format pages and relatively small type, it would probably not have made "Hal's Picks" until next year if I had waited until I had completed it. However, it is entirely possible to dip in for a chapter here and a chapter there.
A year or so ago, I greatly enjoyed reading another book by Lisa Jardine, "Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance", but I couldn't justify it for "Hal's Picks" because it didn't have much scientific content. When I heard about "Ingenious Pursuits", I bought it from a book club and read it right away.
In about 1637, a French mathematical genius named Pierre de Fermat wrote in the margin of his copy of Arithmetica by Pythagorus, that he could prove that there were no solutions to the simple variation on Pythagorus' Theorem, az + bz = czwhen a, b, and c are integers and z is larger than two.
Dava Sobel describes the correspondence to Galileo Galilei from his daughter, Virginia, who was a nun in the Convent of San Matteo, near Florence. Virginia, who took the religious name Maria Celeste, was a kind of apothecary in her convent, and she did her best to provide elixirs and pills to protect Galileo from the plague, along with weekly letters of news and encouragement.
In "The Sun in the Church", J. L. Heilbron describes the practical problem that faced the Church, in determining when Easter should be celebrated (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox) and how it supported research to resolve that matter (and also the problem of a church year that didn't match the solar one) without quite conceding that the earth orbits the sun.
This year's exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History of artifacts from the 1915 scientific expedition to Antarctica led by Sir Ernest Shackleton has been accompanied by the publication of Caroline Alexander's book, which includes the documenting photographs of Frank Hurley (some of which could be seen on the Museum's Web site).
An excellent argument can be made, that G. N. Lewis is the most outstanding American scientist not to have won a Nobel Prize. In fact, the "American" adjective could be removed from that statement.
Some of the most incendiary minds of science have also verged on pathology; a few of them clearly have been mentally ill. Cliff Pickover describes the quirks and eccentric behaviors of some of these people, including Nikola Tesla (Chapter 1!), Oliver Heaviside, Richard Kirwan, Henry Cavendish, Francis Galton, and Theodore Kaczynski, among others.