Saturday, July 29, 2006

Five fascinating science books

The physicist Russell Seitz named five books for Opinion Journal about the quest for scientific knowledge. I have not read any of them but Seitz's descriptions make me want to do so.

Here is a sample from his list:

Bedrock, edited by Lauret E. Savoy, Eldridge M. Moores and Judith E. Moores

How can you comprehend the immensity of the Earth's past? Pick up this inch-thick book. In sections covering everything from "Faults, Earthquakes and Tsunamis" to "The Work of Ice," its six-dozen narratives of action and endurance, stasis and change, convey the wonders of deep time. Some of the geology writing is great, all of it absorbing, taken from the works of a marvelous array of writers. It fast-forwards two millennia from Pliny the Younger's description of his uncle's death in the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 to Ursula K. Le Guin's front-porch view of Mount St. Helens blowing sky high in 1980. No less riveting is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's account of landing his plane on a sandy Saharan plateau so remote that his are the first footprints there and the only rocks are fallen stars.

Longitude by Dava Sobel

It's hard to know where you are in a universe where all is change. Once Newton's laws connected the heavens to the Earth, and mariners mastered the art of finding latitude, getting to the New World and back was transformed from an astrolabe-directed dice game into a comparatively routine enterprise. But ocean travel was still by no means simple or safe; determining one's east-west position remained a mystery. Dava Sobel recounts the human drama of a provincial British tinkerer named John Harrison racing for an 18th-century government prize. His invention of the chronometer touched off a second industrial revolution, in precision instruments, that propelled the world from the use of sextants to electronics and the satellite-driven navigation we know today.

Click here to read about the other books.

Fascinating as Mr. Seitz's descriptions read, I suspect he may overestimate my capacity to fully grasp the charms of these books. If you share that sentiment, you might be more comfortable beginning with Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. It's wonderful stuff. Click here to read a brief description of the book, some praise it garnered, and an excerpt.

--Marshal Zeringue