Picks

Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence'

Robert Bryce is a respected commentator on the energy industry. He writes for Atlantic Monthly, the Guardian and The Nation, and he has written books about Enron and about the oil industry in Texas. In "Gusher of Lies", he confronts politicians and entrepeneurs who claim that the United States should/could become "energy independent" at any time in the forseeable future.

Numbers Guy: Are our brains wired for math?

I have noticed a significant decline over the years in the ability of my students to estimate quantities, and have attributed it to an increased reliance on calculators and computers, but it may be a consequence of more subtle differences in brain development.

Spectacular Chemical Experiments

This is the second book of chemical demonstrations by Herbert Roesky that I have purchased. The first, "Chemical Curiosities: Spectacular Experiments and Inspired Quotes" should have been a Hal's Pick when it was published in 1996.

The Copernican Myths

When asked by one of our students about the significance of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and his revolutionary (pun intended) theory of the solar system, most of us would recite the folkloric tale. A brilliant astronomer, dissatisfied with the inaccuracies of Ptolemy, devised a completely new model for the solar system.

None of the Above: What I.Q. doesn't tell you about race

The whole idea of IQ as a measure of intelligence has been roundly criticized by scientists such as the late Stephen J. Gould ("The Mismeasure of Man"), but tests continue to be given, and scores recorded in "permanent records". Do they have any significance and, if so, what is it?

Special Issue: Water, The Wellspring of Life

"Whiskey is for drinkin', water is for fightin'" goes the old saying. The current (November, 2007) issue of Natural History has nine articles about what we will be fighting over. "A Special Brew", by Christopher Mundy, Shawn Kathmann, and Gregory Schenter is the one that is most "chemical", but the others describe some environmental aspects of water resources.

Germ Stories

Arthur Kornberg won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1959, and just recently passed away (October, 2007). When his three sons were small, he used to tell them stories and poems about the "germs" he was studying. The subsequent generation of grandchildren came along, catalyzing a whole new batch of poetry and tales.

Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution

There is supposedly a Chinese curse, "May he live in interesting times". While the origin of this phrase is apparently not really in China, it certainly applies to the life of one of the first modern chemists. Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier was a French nobleman who lived from 1743 until he was beheaded in 1794.

Four Laws That Drive the Universe

This little book is a gem. I have to admit that most of the students who have completed my first physical chemistry semester, which is all about thermodynamics, would benefit from reading this wonderful explanation of the central place that these topics play in every aspect of life.