Updates to the Science Shelf Book Review Archive (Sept 07)


News about the Science Shelf archive of book reviews, columns, and comments by Fred Bortz

Issue #23, Back-to-School 2007 edition

Dear Science Readers,

I’m sending this update a little sooner than usual because I want to include a last-minute invitation to those of you in the Pittsburgh area for a talk I’ll be giving based on my recent book Physics: Decade by Decade. If you don’t live in Pittsburgh but the talk intrigues you, I will be glad to consider visiting your favorite venue for a modest honorarium and travel expenses.

Here’s what I sent to my friends and neighbors:

Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), whose work in quantum mechanics explained why the periodic table is periodic, was well known among his fellow physicists for his sharp tongue and high expectations. In a famous quotation, he declared that a research paper was so bad that it was “not even wrong.” Blessed with an equally sharp sense of humor, he became the object of many “Pauli stories,” including this one that emerged shortly after his death.

In his first meeting with God, Pauli asked for an explanation of the significance of the value of a particular physical constant. God went to the blackboard, and…

For the rest of this story, you can read my new book about of 20th-century Physics, Physics: Decade by Decade.

But you can also hear it, plus a number of other fascinating human stories from the book as I present “Ten Decades, Ten Physicists: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century” on September 19, 2007 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Monroeville Public Library. Details can be found at http://www.monroevillelibrary.org/screens/adultprograms.html#physics

For fans of the “Armchair Adventure” series, this will be a very different but equally fascinating trip into new territory.

I’ve also been busy with book reviewing, and I’ve added two reviews of books that were on my reading table when I sent my previous Science Shelf update.

The first is by Oakland (MI) University engineering professor Barbara Oakley, who has written a fascinating look at Machiavellian behavior, Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.

Until the review is published in print, you’ll have to settle for an abbreviated version, which you will find by following the link above. After publication, that link will get you a full-blown review.

My review of Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade by Linda Perlstein is now available.

The landmark “No Child Left Behind” education program is falling short of expectations, and politicians are struggling to understand not only what has happened but also whether it is reparable. Perlstein spent a year in a poster-child school for the program. Her experiences reveal why that school has been so successful in meeting the goals as well as the hidden flaws in its offerings.

In my review, I parked my political inclinations and approached the book as a parent, grandparent, scientist, and writer for young readers seeking to understand what works. I hope my readers will share this message of Tested with their representatives in Congress who will soon have to vote on what we might call NCLB 2.0.

NEW IN PAPERBACK (repeated from previous newsletter)

A controversial title that I reviewed in 2006 is now available in paperback. Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield produce a solid history of mammalian cloning in After Dolly, I think one of their recommendations for future developments is somewhat woolly-headed. Still, it’s a great read. Don’t sheepishly accept my conclusions. Read it for “ewerself” instead. (Ba-a-a-a-d jokes are de rigeur in some Science Shelf reviews).


My new title for middle graders in Lerner’s “Cool Science” series, Astrobiology has received featured treatment on the NASA Astrobiology Institute Web Site.


Thank you to the people who have been kind enough to buy some of the books that they discovered here through the Science Shelf links. They’ve even used the link on the Science Shelf homepage to enter and buy other products from tube socks to a Razor scooter.

I never find out who is buying; I just find out what they have bought, how much they paid, and how much my commission amounts to. At the current pace, commissions cover the cost of the web address and webhosting. I’ll never expect commissions to cover the time I spend maintaining the archive of book reviews and sending out messages like this. That’s a labor of book- and science-love, and your feedback (in terms of increasing numbers of clicks) tells me you appreciate it.

As always, happy science reading, and thanks in advance for your support!

Fred Bortz