Friday, October 01, 2004

yes, i'm a dork

Strange Beauty by George Johnson
By one of the best science writers out there, this biography of one of the century's great theoretical physicists, Murray Gell-Mann, was fascinating and actually had enough physics, explained well enough, that it has already helped me in my own writing about physics for my internship at CERN. Murray Gell-Mann was a child prodigy, but apparently suffered from it. He had an amazing memory, which helped him in his work, and he won a Nobel prize, but it doesn't seem to have made him especially happy. So whenever I rue my bad memory at least I know I'll forget the failings of my life and they won't eat me alive.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I fell in love with this book. It's a travel writer's tour through science, a world he knew almost nothing about before he started the book. I think his outsider view makes it a fresh treatment of material that mostly scattered across other popular books on physics, genetics, anthropology, geology, you name it. It's full of experts throughout history saying stupid things and rejecting ideas that turned out to be right. It's got underdogs who overcome adversity, like the janitor who wrote scientific papers that were eventually accepted as brillant--a real-life Good Will Hunting. And it stresses how amazing science is, but nonetheless how little we know. And it's got weird, disturbing facts like that a pillow that's been used to a few years is a good portion--like ten percent by weight--dead skin and dust mites.
The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
If you're dying to understand weird, complex physics without actually crunching any numbers or slogging through equations, this is the book for you. It's a bit pedantic--it seems he thinks it's really important for the reader to understand certain distinctions that maybe aren't that big a deal to most people. But the writing is smooth and, for this kind of book, lively (though the attempts at humor fall flat). A lot of the physics is acted out by Simpson's characters, like Itchy and Scratchy attacking each other on a moving train to illustrate relativity.


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