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Science Books

January 11, 2007

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
Neil deGrasse Tyson (2007)
ISBN: 0393062244

The essays of award-winning writer and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson are lively and engrossing at the best of times, so fans and newcomers alike are sure to get a kick out of this latest "best of" collection. Fans of Tyson, who is also the director of the Hayden Planetarium, will already be familiar with his incredibly content rich "Universe" essays in Natural History magazine, where he waxes lyrical about all things celestial. We've all heard various accounts of black holes and what would happen should we ever be unfortunate enough to be dragged into one, but nobody tells it in such a sparkling and dynamic fashion as does Tyson. Other riveting essays examine such things as the fringes of astrobiology and the hunt for ET, musings on the postulated spherical Oort Cloud comprised of a cloud of comets anywhere from 50 - 100,000 AU from the Sun, or tackle common misconceptions such as whether or not the Sun is yellow. Tyson also occasionally touches down on planet Earth, and his essays on the interaction between religion, politics and science are genuinely thought provoking. Tyson's essay entitled "Holy Wars" tackles the long fought war of attrition between science and religion through the ages, while in another essay he presents an intriguing personal view of intelligent design. Tyson's writing shines as a result of his obvious enthusiasm for astrophysics and related fields, and a genuine desire to share his knowledge and wit with others.

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the Anonymous Genius Who Proved Newton Wrong and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Among Other Surprising Feats
Andrew Robinson (2006)
ISBN: 0452288053

The Enlightenment - where human thought shifted from superstition, tradition and tyranny, to reason and rationality - heralded in a period of discovery and invention that many argue we will never see the likes of again. One consequence of this unprecedented outpouring of knowledge and specialization was that it became increasingly difficult for any one person to devote their time to many disciplines - the demise of the polymath. But who was the last polymath? In The Man Who Knew Everything, Andrew Robinson, literary editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement, argues that the last great know-it-all was an individual who went by the name of Thomas Young. Young (1773-1829) indeed had an exceptional mind, and his scientific legacy is truly remarkable. Contrary to the work of Isaac Newton, who died 50 years prior to Young's birth, Young demonstrated through a now famous refraction experiment that light behaved as a wave. And later work on the human eye led him to conceive his three-color theory of vision. Young was also noted for his pioneering work on the Rosetta Stone, which led to the deciphering of the language of the ancient Egyptians. For one individual to make so many discoveries in so many fields is mind-boggling by today's standards, and his 63 articles for Encyclopedia Britannica stand as testament to these staggering feats of genius. But despite Young's contributions to science - perhaps because he was a polymath on the cusp of specialization - his peers ridiculed his work. Now, thanks to this well researched and clearly written work, there is finally an account of Young's exceptional life that gives credit where it is due.

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