Anyone who grew up during the race to the moon era can identify with the mystery and mystique of the astronauts. This nonfiction account from the perspective of their wives may disenchant some, but readers will have a whole new respect and admiration for these great American women. In The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel does a good job of presenting the facts and opinions through extensive research and interviews in a story-like format. The epilogue ties everything up in a neat package explaining what happened after the space race was won and life returned to normal.
Shrouded in secrecy, Oak Ridge didn’t officially exist despite its population of over 70,000 residents at its peak in 1945. Denise Kiernan unveils the amazing true story of the government’s efforts to harvest fuel for the atomic bomb by building industrial factories – and an entire town – from scratch in rural Tennessee. As a history major with an avid interest in World War II, I had never heard of this – so I’m guessing many others are unaware of this aspect of the Manhattan Project.
The Girls of Atomic City traces the lives of several women working in Oak Ridge for the war effort – which is about all they knew: that their job would help end the war, but no more. Workers were given just enough information to properly complete their jobs. Part military base (guards patrolled entrances), part small town America, Oak Ridge housed military and medical personnel, scientists, and skilled and unskilled laborers from all walks of life from across the United States.
Read this book – it provides a fascinating glimpse into a little known part of American history and effortlessly weaves history, science, biography, and ethics through vignettes about several strong women.
For those like me who have been confused and fascinated by modern physics, these two books are an awakening to the subject. Not only does Lisa Randall give a bit of history as to how modern theories came about, she also gives examples, allegories, and stories to help in understanding. She contrasts theories and models showing what each can do in making a connection between abstract ideas (often mathematical or multidimensional) and the real world we experience.
Randall clearly prefers Switzerland (CERN) to northern Illinois (Fermilab) which she regards as boring notwithstanding the buffalo herd and colorful buildings. I recommend both of these books but Knocking on Heaven’s Door is the more current and tells a great deal about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. These books are quite readable even by those with little technical education. Check out Warped Passages today.
And in a bit of serendipity, a superconducting particle storage ring is being transported from New York to Illinois this summer. Join us on July 25 at 7pm as a representative from Fermilab shares more about future experiments and big science.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (2005)
Interesting look at how the mind works or doesn’t work. I especially liked learning that often instinct and experience have value over details and facts when people make decisions. Malcolm Gladwell seems to select topics to write about which are of interest to him so he can delve into them for answers. The current science on the way the mind works is very interesting. Fast, enjoyable read.
Watch the YouTube interview with the author.
Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King by Bradford Matsen (2009)
Fast reading and informative book about Jacques Costeau’s 20th century inventions and discoveries. It is startling to learn that the undersea explorations and diving equipment inventions were due to Cousteau’s desire to dive deeper and search the world’s oceans.
There is enough information in this book to learn about ocean explorations in the 20th century without getting too detailed. Every person should read this book to understand that ocean exploration and space exploration are equally important and that space was done by countries’ funding and ocean was done by a few good, curious adventurers! Very interesting insight into the personal life and personality of Jacques.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
An engaging and thought-provoking read, this book tells the complicated story of a poor black woman who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s, her cells, and the scientific revolution they spawned. Henrietta Lacks was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors removed some of her cancerous cells without her knowledge.
Known as HeLa (pronounced hee lah), Henrietta’s cells were the first “immortal” human cells. They keep growing – today, 60 years after her death, scientists still perform experiments on HeLa cells. Henrietta’s family had no knowledge of her impact on science until more than 20 years later; and even then, did not fully comprehend.
Skloot skillfully weaves the tragic story of generations of Lackses with understandable scientific information. Check out the author’s website for more on her journey and the book. Named the best book of 2010 by Amazon.com, it’s also a top ten pick of Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.
Attention 20-30somethings! We’re discussing this book at GenLit on Tuesday, January 18 at 6:30. We meet for dinner and discussion at Cooper’s Hawk in the Burr Ridge Village Center. Find us on Facebook to learn more.
Remarkable Creatures: epic adventures in the search for the origins of species by Sean Carroll (2009)
This book is as much about the scientists as their discoveries. It is a chronicle of the greatest adventures in natural history in the last 200 years from Darwin’s trip around the world to Charles Walcott’s discovery of pre-Cambrian life in the Grand Canyon; from Louis and Mary Leakey’s investigation of our deepest past in East Africa to the trailblazers in modern laboratories.
The author Sean Carroll, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, takes a look at the lives of these remarkable people whose one purpose was (and still is) to find evidence of evolution. Carroll has a gift for storytelling and this tale makes a very entertaining book.
The Pluto Files: the rise and fall of America’s favorite planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2009)
Noted astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Tyson gives a fascinating and humorous account of America’s love affair with Pluto. Using illustrations to entertain and to educate, the book provides an enticing mixture of scientific fact and funny anecdotes.
Learn about the history of Pluto, when it became a planet (and how that coincided with a famous Disney dog), and when Pluto (the planet) was demoted.
Read an interview with Tyson in TIME Magazine or listen to an interview on NPR. Visit the author’s website to watch video clips from appearances on Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and PBS; read an excerpt; and learn more about the topic.
Final Theory by Mark Alpert (2008)
Albert Einstein’s colleagues are being killed by someone trying to discover his long-hidden theory. A science historian receives a key from one of the dying men. To unlock the key, he encounters one puzzle, which leads him to another puzzle. He’s trying to solve the mystery while running for his life. This suspenseful novel is a good read-alike for people who like The Da Vinci Code.
The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil (2005)
The Singularity is Near is a book about future technology and how it will affect mankind. The author is a well-known inventor and futurist. The “Singularity” refers to a time when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, like a supercomputer. Kurzweil believes that time is coming very soon. Advances in several fields — computer technology, genetics, robotics, biomedicine and nanotechnology — will all advance and merge to become the next evolutionary step of mankind. Kurzweil sees the elimination of all disease and pollution, and believes our lifespans will increase dramatically. He believes these advances will happen in our lifetime. His ideas are interesting and even frightening at times. The book was technical and difficult to read at times, but well-organized and very thought-provoking.
Visit the author’s website for more about the book and other resources. Learn more about technological singularity. Preview the book before you come to the library. Check out the site dedicated to the Singularity Summit at Stanford University. Watch this YouTube video on the concept of Singularity.