Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe by George Johnson
How big is the universe? In the early twentieth century, scientists took sides. One held that the entire universe was contained in the Milky Way galaxy. Another camp believed that the universe was so vast that the Milky Way was just one galaxy among billions—the view that would prevail. Almost forgotten is the Harvard Observatory "computer"—a human number cruncher hired to calculate the positions and luminosities of stars in astronomical photographs—who found the key to the mystery. Radcliffe-educated Henrietta Swan Leavitt, fighting ill health and progressive deafness, stumbled upon a new law that allowed astronomers to use variable stars—those whose brightness rhythmically changes—as a cosmic yardstick. Click here to read a review from the Los Angeles Times.
The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity by Jack Repcheck
There are three men whose contributions helped free science from the straitjacket of theology. Two of the three-Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin-are widely known and heralded for their breakthroughs. The third, James Hutton, never received the same recognition, yet he profoundly changed our understanding of the earth and its dynamic forces. Hutton proved that the earth was likely millions of years old rather than the biblically determined six thousand, and that it was continuously being shaped and re-shaped by myriad everyday forces rather than one cataclysmic event. Click here to read a review from Curled Up with a Good Book.
Bottlemania: How Water Went for Sale and Why We Bought It by Elizabeth Royte
An incisive, intrepid, and habit-changing narrative investigation into the commercialization of our most basic human need: drinking water. In this intelligent, eye-opening work of narrative journalism, Elizabeth Royte does for water what Eric Schlosser did for fast food: she finds the people, machines, economies, and cultural trends that bring it from nature to our supermarkets. Along the way, she investigates the questions we must inevitably answer. Who owns our water? What happens when a bottled-water company stakes a claim on your town’s source? Should we have to pay for water? Is the stuff coming from the tap completely safe? And if so, how many chemicals are dumped in to make it potable? What’s the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and disposing of all those plastic bottles? Click here to read a review from the New York Times.
Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer
In the tradition of classics like Lewis Thomas's Lives of a Cell, Carl Zimmer has written a fascinating and utterly accessible investigation of what it means to be alive. Zimmer traces E. coli's remarkable history, showing how scientists used it to discover how genes work and then to launch the entire biotechnology industry. While some strains of E. coli grab headlines by causing deadly diseases, scientists are retooling the bacteria to produce everything from human insulin to jet fuel. Click here to read a review from the Columbia Journalism Review.
Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain—and How it Changed the World by Carl Zimmer
In this unprecedented history of a scientific revolution, award-winning author and journalist Carl Zimmer tells the definitive story of the dawn of the age of the brain and modern consciousness. Told here for the first time, the dramatic tale of how the secrets of the brain were discovered in seventeenth-century England unfolds against a turbulent backdrop of civil war, the Great Fire of London, and plague. At the beginning of that chaotic century, no one knew how the brain worked or even what it looked like intact. But by the century's close, even the most common conceptions and dominant philosophies had been completely overturned, supplanted by a radical new vision of man, God, and the universe. Click here to read a review from the Guardian.