Picks

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Meet Flavia de Luce. You are going to like her. It is 1950 and Flavia, a very precocious eleven year old, lives in a small village in England in a deteriorating grand mansion with her father and two older sisters. Her passion is chemistry, which she has learned on her own by reading a textbook owned by her deceased mother and practiced in a laboratory inherited from her uncle.

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

When I saw this new book on the subject of evolution, I thought it would probably be one side or the other of the very tired evolution/creationism-"intelligent" design debate. I was delighted to find instead a very smart discussion of the status of our understanding of the origins of life, how life has changed over the millennia, and how we have learned about those things. Mr.

Science Teaching as a Profession: Why it Isn't How it Could Be

The shortage of well-trained science teachers is widely recognized, but the solution to the problem requires first an appreciation of its causes. This little book, which is available free online, addresses the tangible and intangible reasons why fewer talented people choose science teaching as a career or choose not to stay in teaching.

Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World

Jan Hendrik Schön published some of the most exciting and ground-breaking physics of the past decade. He published it in the most prestigious specialty journals such as Physical Review Letters, Nature and Science. He won several important prizes and was being nominated for more of them when a problem came to light. The problem was that Schön had no data to substantiate his discoveries .

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

What good is music? Oliver Sacks (author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, The Island of the Colorblind, and especially - for chemists - Uncle Tungsten) concludes in the Preface to Musicophilia that there is no apparent evolutionary advantage associated with human appreciation for certain combinations of sounds and rhythm.

The Symmetries of Things

This beautiful book could certainly enhance your coffee table, but don't buy it just for its looks. Be prepared to spend some time with it, and join the wonder that mathematicians are expressing at the brilliance of this new way of describing and inventing symmetries.

Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions

I am an enthusiastic fan of Brian Hayes' "Computing Science" column in the Sigma Xi publication, American Scientist, which is the source of most of the essays in this book. Before that, I read his articles in The Sciences, a now-defunct but beautiful little magazine once published by the New York Academy of Sciences.