Picks

Sport: Extreme Stargazing

For anyone who has tried unsuccessfully (like me) to find familiar stars in well-known constellations through a telescope, the competition that David Freedman describes sounds impossible. The "sport" is to see how many of the 110 celestial objects in the Messier catalog you can locate and identify during a single night of observation.

Medicine on Mars

I'm not a big fan of science fiction. I find "real" science to be generally more interesting; the fictionalized kind usually requires me to pretend that the universe is far different than what I believe to be the case. In fiction, travel between planets (or even solar systems) is accomplished quite easily, by suspension of the speed limit imposed by relativity.

World Records in Chemistry

These authors address a few of the same questions as do Karukstis and Van Hecke, but they take aim at a somewhat more technically sophisticated audience; instead of trying to enhance chemical education near the introductory level, they are speaking to practicing chemists, some of whom may also be teachers.

Chemistry Connections: The Chemical Basis of Everyday Phenomena

Kerry Karukstis and Gerry Van Hecke teach undergraduate chemistry at Harvey Mudd College (my alma mater), and Gerry was a student there at the same time I was (sometime in the previous millennium). They have collaborated on a very useful and engaging supplementary book for introductory and organic chemistry.

The Looking Glass

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?

Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem

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.

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything

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.