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Science Books

June 21, 2007

The Lives of the Planets: A Natural History of the Solar System
Richard Corfield (2007)
ISBN: 0465014038

Another book about the solar system? Well, yes, but don't let that fool you into believing that it is not a very good launch pad for the lay-reader who wants to get to grips with their celestial environment. Corfield, a researcher at the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research at the Open University, does a most admirable job as galactic tour guide; systematically pointing out details of known planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and a whole lot more. Corfield also addresses what our early ancestors thought of all that bright, twinkly stuff in the sky. It really is amazing that from these early, predominantly superstitious, ideas on the solar system, we have made the advances that we have. Corfield documents some of the remarkable generalist space explorations of the last forty years and waxes lyrical about more recent missions, such as the Saturn and Titan-bound Cassini project. Given this enthusiasm, it should come as no surprise that Corfield considers the billions spent on space travel a worthwhile endeavor. Corfield is a very capable writer, and The Lives Of Planets is an informative and easy to read guide to the solar system.

Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance
Mariana Gosnell (2007)
ISBN: 0226304965

Ice, as you may have gathered, looks at the wondrous phenomenon of frozen water. Are you excited yet? Well, it's a tough topic to make sound interesting, but Gosnell, a former Newsweek science reporter, makes a damn fine job of it in the end. Gosnell says that she is what is known in the ice business as a "pagophile," or lover of ice. Skipping any detail about what these so-called pagophiles do with ice in the privacy of their own homes, Gosnell eloquently explains why she has such a thing for ice - it's everywhere! Sea ice, river ice, lake ice, hail, winter sports, space ice, and medicine; and to demonstrate the latter Gosnell raises the gory story of Mr. John Wayne Bobbit. One aspect of Ice, where Gosnell is surely, er, skating on thin ice, is in regard to the abundance of unnecessary (though beautifully written) verbiage, which doesn't always gel with the main themes. That said, in an age where climate change could lead to a dramatic melting of the polar icecaps, Gosnell succeeds marvelously in showing us the significance of ice. Ice is proof that science can make the seemingly trivial look positively fascinating when taken into proper consideration.

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