Thumbs up for Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman. Science.
Two things I like: civil engineering and materials science! This is the type of book that will stand or fall depending on the skill of the writer, and it stood very tall indeed. While not out-and-out funny like Mary Roach, Waldman is incredibly engaging and slyly witty. (I laughed every time he itemized the moustaches in a room of engineers.)… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik. Science.
Once I picked this book up, I couldn’t put it down. There’s no guarantee that a scientist passionately obsessed with their subject will be able to convey the beauty of the topic to a lay audience. Miodownik succeeds with ease. In chapters focused around everything from concrete to aerogel, chocolate to porcelain, he touches upon every level of the material, from the Why (does it act like it does) to the How (do we make it) to the What (do we use it for).… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything by Theodore Gray. Science.
I thought this would be pretty, and potentially informative. I didn’t think it would be hilarious. Enjoy it yourself, leave it on your coffee table for your friends, and give it to every kid you know.
The base of conventional nail polish is a nitrocellulose lacquer dissolved in acetone.
… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine’s Beautiful Idea, and Our Difficulty Swallowing It by Druin Burch. History.
If the history of medicine, in the specific sense of “things we take to feel better”–from opium to thalidomide, penicillin to aspirin–sounds at all interesting to you, read this book. That won’t apply to most of you, of course.… >> Read more
Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson. History/botany.
There are a couple of ways you could go here. You could talk about (1) the science behind the workings of seeds; (2) how they fit into ecosystems; (3) their importance to human culture and development; (4) their nutritive value; (5) the importance of, and methodology for, saving unusual seed varieties in viable form; or (6) their future in the face of changing agricultural patterns and genetic modification.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova. History/food.
This is one of those books to which you should apply a simple test: does the topic sound at all intriguing? If it does, you will like this book. The world history of butter is a fascinating thing, and Khosrova does all aspects of it justice—from dairying itself, to the science behind it, to the changing interactions of gender and butter production throughout the ages, to the sordid and weird evolution of margarine.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. Science.
Mary Roach is one of only two or three authors whose books I pre-order. Again, I am not disappointed by this, her book about military science—not guns, but all the other stuff, like uniforms, toilet paper specifications, shark repellent. However, I will say, for the first time, I was grossed out.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. Medicine/history.
Somewhat uneven—or perhaps it’s just that I found the development of the rabies vaccine a far more riveting story than the section on the folklore of vampires and werewolves, which even the authors acknowledge have only a pretty vague connection with rabies.… >> Read more