Entertaining and elucidating—popular science done right, with enthusiasm and without dumbing-down.

THE ALCHEMY OF US

HOW HUMANS AND MATTER TRANSFORMED ONE ANOTHER

A user-friendly, wide-ranging history of material science.

A self-described “science evangelist,” Ramirez conveys enthusiasm for her field, which lies at the intersection of physics and chemistry and concerns how one can, in the words of an old mentor, “change the way that atoms act to make them do new things.” Timekeeping, for example, altered human behavior irrevocably. Extend Marshall McLuhan’s “extensions of man” theory of media, and you have an example of a technology that changed how we sleep. “Before the Industrial Revolution,” Ramirez writes, “our ancestors slept at night in two separate intervals,” going to bed around 9:00 or 10:00, awakening after midnight, staying up for an hour or so, and then returning to bed. This “segmented sleep” ended with the invention of not just the clock and its demand for regularity and punctuality, but also artificial light that allowed people to stay up later, turning night into day. (She doesn’t hit on it hard, but there was also the demand of factory and office owners that people show up and stay at work.) Material changes behavior, then—and that change evolves. For example, Samuel Morse missed arriving at his ailing wife’s bed as she lay dying, and she was buried without him, spurring the invention of the telegraph. Ramirez communicates gently but with depth of detail and meaning. One of the best moments in this satisfying book concerns how 43-year-old Carl Sagan came to decide what music should be sent into space on the Voyager mission to illustrate earthling sounds, an inventory that started off as European classical music and ended with a broad range of sounds from around the entire planet. Just so, Ramirez takes pains to include examples of innovators and scientists beyond the usual suspects (though Einstein and company do figure), making the text an inspiration to budding scientists of all backgrounds.

Entertaining and elucidating—popular science done right, with enthusiasm and without dumbing-down.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-262-04380-9

Page Count: 328

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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