Picks

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.

The Heretic's Daughter

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.

The Sun in the Church

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.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

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).