One of the goals of a course I teach in our Honors College is to provide non-science majors with the tools they need to differentiate authentic science from material that has merely been provided a "scientific" dressing. Physicist Robert Ehrlich has provided nine case studies that are ideal for this purpose. Do more guns in the hands of citizens decrease crime? Is AIDS really caused by HIV?
"Brunelleschi's Dome" is an excellent example of technology in an historical context. The author, Ross King, focuses on one of the great achievements of medieval technology, the construction of the dome of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence, Italy.
The word "Surviving" should probably be underlined in the title of this first-hand account by an American astro/cosmonaut of his experiences aboard Mir. There is precious little science in this book, but a great deal about living at the mercy of technology and Russian bureaucracy.
It has been twenty years since Luis Alvarez suggested that the dinosaurs were extinguished by a meteor impact that killed much of the life on earth. His evidence was in a thin layer of iridium-rich soil that corresponded with the extinction, and the fact that iridium is much more abundant in some meteors than it is on earth.
I find it surprising that this is the first book by Stephen Jay Gould to have been selected as a "Hal's Pick", since I own and have enjoyed reading many of them. I have had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Professor Gould speak several times and I wish I could write as well as he speaks extemporaneously.
Are fingerprints really unique? Or, more importantly, can fraction of a print from the scene of a crime reliably be used to identify a single suspect? I have wondered about this question, and was pleased to find that I'm not alone.
Henry Petroski, Professor of Engineering and Professor of History at Duke University, is a master at "humanizing" engineering by writing about the history and development of familiar objects such as paperclips and pencils. He seems to relish the challenges involved in writing engagingly to non-engineers about some of the most mundane objects in everyday life - things that we take for granted.
Artist David Hockney has a theory that some of the "old master" portrait painters secretly used cameras(!) to help them sketch their subjects. No, he's not saying that they had Polaroids or film. However, the camera obscura was available in the early 18th century, and the more practical camera lucida was invented in 1807. Did the great artists use these devices?
Of course it is unreasonable to put together a list of the 100 most important books of the century. On the other hand, it is a lot of fun for a scientific bibliophile like me to think and argue about what ought to be on such a list.
I bought "Faster" because of talent the author had shown for rendering extremely complicated science for the interested layperson. "Chaos", published in 1987 was a wonderful book, and Gleick's next one, "Genius: The Life and Times of Richard Feynman", also won a National Book Award. (I haven't read that one, however.) "Faster" is a good book, but was nevertheless something of a disappointment.