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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in Ingenuity--From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven by Rodney Carlisle (Wiley) All the milestones in human ingenuity—from the discovery of fire to the invention of the microwave oven.
This Scientific American reference book is essential for anyone who wants to get a handle on the history of technology. More than 400 engagingly written entries explain the details and significance of each breakthrough, and numerous primary source sidebars add depth and immediacy. Divided into six chronological sections from early human history to the present and featuring scores of illustrations, this is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in history or technology.

Rodney Carlisle, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University, is the author of Encyclopedia of the Atomic Age and several works on the history of technology. Scientific American is the world's most prestigious science and technology magazine and has more than 3 million readers worldwide. Its books include Scientific American Science Desk Reference  

This fact-filled compendium will delight students with a passion for science and technology, no matter what their age. Covering the history of humanity in five parts, from the ancient world to the present, Carlisle, a professor emeritus at Rutgers and an authority on the history of technology, explains the origins of objects as common as the ballpoint pen and as complex as the periodic table of elements. There are surprises to be found: for instance, while we associate the invention of the arch with the Romans, Carlisle says pre-Roman arches have been found in Egypt. On a less serious note, while the origin of the word "whisky" is Gaelic ("uisge"), distilled liquors probably existed as far back as 800 B.C. in China. Illustrations, summary tables (such as chronologies) and sidebars with pungent quotes from historical sources enrich the readable text. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved


Many Skies: Alternative Histories Of The Sun, Moon, Planets, And Stars by Arthur R. Upgren (Rutgers University Press) What if Earth had several moons or massive rings like Saturn? What if the Sun were but one star in a double-star or triple-star system? What if Earth were the only planet circling the Sun?

These and other imaginative scenarios are the subject of Arthur Upgren’s inventive book Many Skies: Alternative Histories of the Sun, Moon, Planets, and Stars. Although the night sky as we know it seems eternal and inevitable, Upgren reminds us that, just as easily, it could have been very different.

Had the solar system happened to be in the midst of a star cluster, we might have many more bright stars in the sky. Yet had it been located beyond the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, we might have no stars at all. If Venus or Mars had a moon as large as ours, we would be able to view it easily with the unaided eye. Given these or other alternative skies, what might Ptolemy or Copernicus have concluded about the center of the solar system and the Sun?

This book not only examines the changes in science that these alternative solar, stellar, and galactic arrangements would have brought, it also explores the different theologies, astrologies, and methods of tracking time that would have developed to reflect them. Our perception of our surroundings, the number of gods we worship, the symbols we use in art and literature, even the way we form nations and empires are all closely tied to our particular (and accidental) placement in the universe.

Many Skies, however, is not merely a fanciful play on what might have been. Upgren also explores the actual ways that human interferences such as light pollution are changing the night sky. Our atmosphere, he warns, will appear very different if we have a belt of debris circling the globe and blotting out the stars, as will happen if advertisers one day pollute space with brilliant satellites displaying their products.

From fanciful to foreboding, the scenarios in Many Skies will both delight and inspire reflection, reminding us that ours is but one of many worldviews based on our experience of a universe that is as much a product of accident as it is of intention.


The Illustrated on the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy by Stephen Hawking (Running Press Book Publishers) What natural laws rule the heavens? How do the planets move? What keeps them in orbit? These are questions humans have attempted to answer for thousands of years. It has taken scientists of bold vision and daring to bring forth the answers. In The Illustrated On the Shoulders of Giants, you will encounter five such visionaries: Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. What makes this book truly groundbreaking is that it includes the most relevant excerpts from the master works of each—giving you the opportunity to peer into the minds of genius and read exactly what these men thought. In this single volume, you will find excerpts from original papers from Albert Einstein, first published in The Principle of Relativity, plus abridged versions of On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus, Dialogues Concerning '[h o New Sciences by Galileo Galilei, Harmonies of the World (Book Five) by Johannes Kepler, and Principia by Isaac Newton.

These are the works that changed the course of science, ushering astronomy and physics out of the Middle Ages and into the modern world. As you read them, you will be able to trace the evolution of science from the revolutionary claim of Nicolaus Copernicus that the Earth orbits around the Sun to the equally revolutionary proposal of Albert Einstein that space and time are curved and warped by mass and energy. What few people realize is that Einstein built on a little-known theory of Galileo's called the principle of relativity—further evidence that science advances through a series of incremental changes.

The book tells a compelling story. As theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking notes in his introduction, "Both Copernicus and Einstein have brought about profound changes in the way we see our position in the order of things. Gone is our privileged place at the center of the universe, gone are eternity and certainty, gone are Absolute Time and Space."

This version of Giants is also fascinating because of the stories it tells—in words and pictures. Sandwiched between the master works are essays that will increase your understanding of who these men were, and their lasting contributions to physics and astronomy. Learn about Copernicus' unwavering commitment to truth over religious doctrine, despite his position as a Polish priest; Galileo's spirit of defiance; Kepler's family and financial woes; Newton's passionate feuds; Einstein's humble beginnings. And enjoy more than 125 full-color illustrations throughout. This beautifully illustrated, fascinating book will no doubt inspire awe, and provide a bet-ter understanding of the universe and man's place in it.

The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense by Michael Shermer (Oxford) As author of the bestselling Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe, and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer has emerged as the nation's number one scourge of superstition and bad science. Now, in The Borderlands of Science, he takes us to the place where real science (such as the big bang theory), borderland science (superstring theory) and just plain nonsense (Big Foot) collide with one another.

Shermer argues that science is the best lens through which to view the world, but he recognizes that it's often difficult for most of us to tell where valid science leaves off and borderland science begins. To help us, Shermer looks at a range of topics that put the boundary line in high relief. For instance, he discusses the many "theories of everything" that try to reduce the complexity of the world to a single principle, and shows how most fall into the category of pseudoscience. He examines the work of Darwin and Freud, explaining why one is among the great scientists in history, while the other has become nothing more than a historical curiosity. He also shows how Carl Sagan's life exemplified the struggle we all face to find a balance between being open-minded enough to recognize radical new ideas but not so open-minded that our brains fall out. And finally, he reveals how scientists themselves can be led astray, as seen in the infamous Piltdown Hoax.

Michael Shermer's enlightening volume will be a valuable a to anyone bewildered by the many scientific theories swirling about. It will help us stay grounded in common sense as we try to evaluate everything from SETI and acupuncture to hypnosis and cloning. Shermer is more than a debunker, his evaluations often show that he is willing to keep an open mind but is unwilling to believe just anything because someone says it is so. I find his analysis of the base of magical thinking to be the most important psychological aspect to his arguments for a healthy skepticism.

Time Travel in Einstein's Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time by J. Richard Gott III (Houghton Mifflin) Time travel in Newton's universe was inconceivable, but in Einstein's universe it has become a possibility. J. Richard Gott III, a Princeton astrophysicist who is a leading researcher in the field, gives readers a guided tour of the potential of traveling through time. Although scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne have previously considered the topic, the delightfully refreshing -- but scrupulously careful -- Gott goes light-years beyond them in his exploration of this exciting idea.

Gott begins by describing how the finest science fiction about time travel has inspired some of today's top scientific ideas on the subject. He goes on to explain how travel to the future is not only possible but has actually happened (astronauts have aged a bit less than we whose feet have stayed solidly on earth), and he examines whether travel to the past might also be possible, given certain physical conditions. He then offers up his most stunning material: the study of time travel can be used to discover whether the universe could have created itself. Finally, asserting that no book on time travel would be complete without a report from the future, Gott predicts the span of human existence, based on a scientific technique he has developed. His conclusion is humbling but wondrous: just in the short time we have lived so far, consider how much we have already learned about the universe.

Time Travel in Einstein's Universe is a book to read not only for its extraordinary subject matter and scientific brilliance but for its joyful writing. It should be accessible to a bright high school student and definitely playfully explores some of the more astounding facts of our current understanding about how things act.

The Cosmic Dance: Science Discovers the Mysterious Harmony of the Universe by Giuseppe Del Re, Foreword by Thomas F. Torrance (Templeton Foundation) focuses on a new worldview, emerging from the science of the last decades of the second millennium. Its metaphor is the cosmic dance, or the harmony existing between systems that are so strongly interdependent that they behave as a single entity. This dance image hints at a general, evolving pattern in which all objects in the universe participate-like the ordered chaos of an African open-air market.

Some of the chapters discuss the nature of processes in the universe, including chaos and chance in the game of life. The reconciliation of variety and unity are addressed in reference to the space-time continuum and the unified field of relativity theory. Del Re continues the investigation into an exploration of the origins of freedom and ethics, suggesting that science indicates that the human species may have a specific task in the universe: building a bridge between matter and spirit.

Del Re ponders alchemy, the significance of symbols, and the meaning of the soul. Woven throughout a variety of esoteric and scientific inquiries is the underlying sense of the unifying principles of science and a spiritual outlook. The questions raised are issues that will be discussed by an emerging network of scientists and spiritual seekers, and this book will add a valued and informed perspective to these conversations.

The Cosmic Dance is a playful book that takes a broad view of the subject of science and religious aspiration. Del Re wants us to keep an open and playful imagination about how we think and experiment with the universe. The book may please some who are naturally inclined to an esoteric science and irritate material reductionists if there are really very many of them left. If there are this book is to braod  in its humanistic reach to engage them to reconsider their entrenchment. For the rest of us The Cosmic Dance is a pleasure to read.

"This book is intended to take you on a voyage through the main ideas and discoveries of contemporary science, from physics to biology; a voyage aimed at finding out how the wonders the scientists have discovered can contribute to a wholesome personal outlook on life and the universe.

"The times are over when our voyage would have been a royal visit to the empire which human ingenuity has conquered for our welfare and pleasure; it will be a humble and patient search for the meaning of the greatest concepts of science in the context of poetry, history, and philosophy. We shall be guided in our exploration by an ancient, recently revived idea: that all there is participates as if it were in a great harmonious Dance." from the preface.

Dr. Giuseppe Del Re is professor of theoretical chemistry at the University of Naples Federico II and a member of both the international Academy for the Philosophy of Science and the European Academy for Environmental Problems. He is also on the scientific board of several international philosophical journals. Del Re has published more than 180 papers in scientific and philosophical journals and has edited a book on the brain-mind problem. A collection of papers in his honor has been published in the journal Advances in Quantum Chemistry.

From the Foreword by Thomas Torrance:

This is a very remarkable book, concerned with a holistic scientific under­standing of the universe and its meaning, written by an eminent scientist who is also a very special human being. Giuseppe Del Re was born in Naples, Italy, in 1932, the son of Raffaello Del Re, a scholar in classical literature and philosophy, who was well known for his philological and critical work in Hellenistic philosophy. Giuseppe himself was first a stu­dent in classical languages (Latin and Greek) before becoming a professor of theoretical chemistry at the University of Naples. The main achieve­ments in his primary research field, quantum chemistry, are marked by the "Del Re method" for the determination of atom charges in molecules (1958), and by the introduction of "maximum localization hybrids" in the molecular orbital method. Both procedures are still widely used. In his fundamental epistemology he propounds a basic unitary outlook upon reality seeking to overcome the dualistic frame of mind, long endemic in European thought and affecting science and philosophy alike. This is very evident in his examination of the chemical origin of life and his impres­sive development of "complexity," with special reference to organization as a characteristic of living beings, resolution of the mind-body relation, and the emergence of meaning. At the same time he has devoted special attention to the philosophy of chemistry and its status as an independent discipline.

Professor Del Re has published over 180 scientific papers, and is best known for his work on the electronic states of molecules. He was one of the leading second-generation specialists in quantum chemistry, and is widely recognized for his particular interest in theoretical and epis­temological issues in the present post-mechanist era. This is reflected, for example, in his contribution to a work on the brain-mind problem, in which he collaborated with Sir John Eccles, and which he edited for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He is a member of the international Academy of the Philosophy of Science (Brussels), and the European Academy for Environmental Questions (Tubingen), and is a founding member of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research and Studies (Paris). He is a member of the advisory board of three inter­national journals of philosophy, Hyle (Karlsruhe), La Nuova Critica (Rome) and Filoso fia oggi (Genoa). He has been a professor in Can­ada, Germany, France, Peru, Hungary, and most recently at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.

The early chapters of this book deal with the scientific and philo­sophical issues now recognized as central for understanding the world: information, which makes a thing what it is; complexity, the newest gen­eral concern of science and technology; the order and intelligibility of nature; organization, the dynamical order characteristic of life, deter­minism, finalism and chance, and the processes associated with them; beauty and variety; meaning and communication; life and its history. Professor Del Re operates with a hierarchical or multi-layered concept of nature in accordance with which the whole reality of a material entity is characterized by a number of levels. This approach shows that science poses questions which point outside what it can investigate-questions which cannot be ignored if we are to make rational and responsible deci­sions. The great John Archibald Wheeler, a fellow member with Del Re of the International Academy of the Philosophy of Science, has spoken of the third era in physics as "meaning physics." In this brilliant work, Giuseppe Del Re shows that this applies to much more than physics and chemistry, and yet what he calls a science for sciences. That is a science which points beyond science itself to a universal spiritual outlook em­bracing science, scientifically compatible with its most rigorous research and open-ended results.

This is a work of great relevance to the meaning of science and its openness to spiritual reality. With his musical metaphor Del Re explores the comprehensive outlook upon the world, which appears to be most compatible with the rise of molecular biology, systems theory, and the new cosmology. This approach is not altogether new, for already in the fourth century Athanasius had employed musical terms such as harmony and symphony, to express something of the kind of order, symmetry, and concord which he discerned in the created cosmos. But today Del Re ap­plies that musical analogy or "image" to the scientific view of the universe to which rigorous science now gives rise after the immense developments in our understanding of the physical world. Thus, Del Re uses the "Great Dance Image" to give meaningful expression to the dynamical order of the universe as a coherent, evolving pattern in which all things participate as if in a dance or a ballet, combining general harmony and coherence with evolution, randomness, irreversibility. The intelligible universe is in

fact a dynamic open-structured coherent whole made of complex systems connected by a fine network of causal and non-causal relations, and char­acterized by semantic reference beyond themselves, which is finally to be appreciated as a hierarchy of meaning.

Here Del Re operates with the realization that the whole reality of a material entity comprises a number of levels, which science seeks to de­scribe in terms of "elementary objects" differing in complexity and size, from that which treats a thing as composed of interacting elementary par­ticles to that which treats it as a collection of a few parts. It is this holistic approach (in line with that of Clerk Maxwell in his "Treatise on Elec­tricity and Magnetism"), argues Del Re, that overcomes the limitations of physicalism and mechanism and opens the way to understanding why life can result from a collection of physico-chemical processes. It also shows that in its very rigor science itself poses questions which point outside what it can investigate and which humanity cannot ignore if it is to make rational and responsible choices. This double emphasis upon the non-dualistic, unitary, and open understanding of the universe, and what Del Re thinks of as the "apophatic" or open-structured character of science, together have the effect of demolishing Stephen Weinberg's contention that the more the universe appears to be comprehensible, the more it seems to be pointless (!), and of fulfilling John Wheeler's prophecy about the new era of "meaning physics." "Meaning," Del Re argues, "can and should be treated as something objective, as a fact of reality," which belongs to the purview of science. This book is not con­cerned with an examination of the details of science, but with the picture of the universe as a coherent whole to which science leads us. Hence in the later chapters Del Re shifts attention to man as a free agent, con­sideration of whom is fully consistent with science. Only man can use his reason to make rational judgments, engage in objective operations, choose between different courses of action, and reach a unifying spiritual grasp of reality. This calls attention to the relation between science and man's built-in belief in a dimension of reality inaccessible to the senses.

If the Great Dance image suggested by science hints at a coherent, not necessarily material reality, what, asks Del Re, is "the glue" that ensures coherence between the stars, man, and the spiritual level inaccessible to the analytical methods of science? For a satisfactory answer he turns to information theory and communication, which can be conceived as tak­ing place, although in various forms and degrees of sophistication, among all things animate and inanimate. Communication can be intentional and the attribution of meaning extends to symbols regarded as gates to the spiritual dimension of reality.

Professor Del Re's exploration of the epistemic character of scientific activity, and its built-in semantic thrust toward the spiritual dimension, leads him to the question of "the soul." The "complexity" viewpoint suggests that the soul of a living being is the organized activity, which makes its development and persistence possible as a specific being, despite incessant exchange of matter and energy within a changing environment. The properties of the soul include self-consciousness, a major stumbling block for cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and neuro-science. This is another point where science seems to point to realms that it seems incapable of grasping with its analytic methods.

What then of a "scientific" Weltanschauung or a view of the intelli­gible world, built on the model of science? Del Re argues that a way of interpreting the world to guide man's actions demands a personal com­mitment and a personal path of justification: it is a spiritual enterprise. Then, with reference to the notion of in-built belief, and to statements of Poincare and Polanyi about belief and faith, Del Re points out that the principles for our understanding of the world are adopted as an act of faith-even when they are strictly scientific ones. It turns out that what is special to the nature of the starting principle, which man needs for his psychological stability, is that validity results not only from information about the physical world, but from the history of mankind and the inner experience of each person.

Special Contents

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