Picks

The Martian Chronicles: New Discoveries on the Red Planet, by Burkhard Bilger

One could argue that the technological triumphs embodied in our robotic explorations of Mars far exceed those that put men on the moon.  Missing, however, is the drama of putting human life at risk, and the ease with which our imagination can put us in the shoes of the explorer. That is not to say that there is not a human element.

Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order From Chaos

Peter Hoffman is a physicist and materials scientist, and he brings those perspectives and sensibilities to the description of how life converts chemical energy into order and motion.  The "Ratchet" in the title is Feynman's Ratchet, a gedanken experiment described in Feynman's "Lectures on Physics" and reminiscent of Maxwell's Demon.

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know has an Expiration Date

Samuel Arbesman, a mathematician and network scientist, uses the idea a half-life as an analogy for the changes in human knowledge that science brings. He discusses both the changing rate at which new science is done and the speed at which old results are replaced by newer ones. The analogy is far from perfect, but it emphasizes some critically important aspects of the processes of science.

Public Defender: Diane Ravitch Takes on a Movement

The respected education reformer Diane Ravitch, previously one of the major architects and proponents of No Child Left Behind, has not only taken a new tack, but reversed course. With her 2011 book, she became a leading voice critical of the Obama-Duncan version, Race to the Top. This essay by David Denby describes her evolution.