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  • Reviews & Previews

    Every breath you take contains a molecule of history

    Caesar’s Last BreathSam KeanLittle, Brown and Co., $28

    Julius Caesar could have stayed home on March 15, 44 B.C. But mocking the soothsayer who had predicted his death, the emperor rode in his litter to Rome’s Forum. There he met the iron daggers of 60 senators.

    As he lay in a pool of blood, he may have gasped a final incrimination to his protégé Brutus: You too, my son? Or maybe...

    06/25/2017 - 07:00 Chemistry, Earth, History of Science
  • Reviews & Previews

    Physics greats of the 20th century mixed science and public service

    The 20th century will go down in history — it pretty much already has — as the century of the physicist. Physicists’ revolutionizing of the scientific world view with relativity and quantum mechanics might have been enough to warrant that conclusion. Future historians may emphasize even more, though, the role of physicists in war and government. Two such physicists, one born at the century’s...

    02/23/2017 - 06:00 History of Science, Science & Society, Physics
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘The Glass Universe’ celebrates astronomy’s unsung heroines

    The Glass UniverseDava SobelViking, $30

    In the early 1880s, Harvard Observatory director Edward Pickering put out a call for volunteers to help observe flickering stars. He welcomed women, in particular — and not just because he couldn’t afford to pay anything.

    At the time, women’s colleges were producing graduates with “abundant training to make excellent observers,”...

    11/27/2016 - 08:00 History of Science, Astronomy
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Void’ dives into physics of nothingness

    VoidJames Owen WeatherallYale Univ., $26

    In empty space, quantum particles flit in and out of existence, electromagnetic fields permeate the vacuum, and space itself trembles with gravitational waves. What may seem like nothingness paradoxically teems with activity.

    In Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing, physicist and philosopher James Owen Weatherall explores how...

    11/13/2016 - 07:00 Physics, History of Science, Particle Physics
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Citizen Scientist’ exalts ordinary heroes in conservation science

    Citizen ScientistMary Ellen HannibalThe Experiment, $25.95

    You don’t need a degree in science to monitor backyard owls or measure trees. And anyone with a computer can help scientists track seal populations in Antarctica. Citizen science projects like these — which depend on crowdsourced data — are booming. And when faced with a planet scarred by industrialization and climate change,...

    10/16/2016 - 11:00 Ecology, Conservation, History of Science
  • Reviews & Previews

    Cognitive scientist puts profanity in its place

    What the FBenjamin K. BergenBasic Books, $27.99

    Few of the expletives discussed in cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen’s new book can be spelled out in this review. But Bergen argues, in a bluntly engaging way, that the largely secret science of swearing reveals much about who we are.

    Based on surveys of what people in several Western nations regard as unacceptable, the...

    09/05/2016 - 07:00 Language, Psychology
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Lab Girl’ invites readers into hidden world of plants

    Lab GirlHope JahrenKnopf, $26.95

    The first, tiny root that emerges from a baby plant can make it or break it.

    Anchor to a good patch of ground, and the plant can thrive for decades. Set up someplace else, without enough water or sunshine, and all may be lost.

    The odds of a single rootlet mooring itself to just the right spot of soil are more than a million to one, writes...

    06/26/2016 - 08:00 Plants, Science & Society
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘Silent Sparks’ illuminates fascinating world of fireflies

    Silent SparksSara LewisPrinceton Univ., $29.95

    Kids are fascinated by fireflies. So are scientists, who, despite decades of research, are still perplexed by many of the mysteries posed by “lightning bugs.” In Silent Sparks, biologist Sara Lewis explores both the cultural and scientific fascination with these...

    06/12/2016 - 10:00 Animals
  • Reviews & Previews

    ‘America’s Snake’ chronicles life and times of iconic timber rattlesnake

    America’s SnakeTed LevinUniv. of Chicago, $35

    Turns out, it is possible to be a lucky snakebite victim. Depending on the circumstances (and the snake’s mood, presumably), a timber rattlesnake may choose to strike its prey with only one fang and to pump out little or no venom when it does so. Far from being mindless, hair-triggered biting machines, timber rattlers don’t always...

    05/16/2016 - 12:00 Animals, Conservation
  • Reviews & Previews

    Despite misuses, statistics still has solid foundation

    The Seven Pillars of Statistical WisdomStephen M. StiglerHarvard Univ., $22.95

    In many realms of science today, “statistical wisdom” seems to be in short supply. Misuse of statistics in scientific research has contributed substantially to the widespread “reproducibility crisis” afflicting many fields (SN: 4/2/16, p. 8; SN: 1/24/15, p. 20). Recently the American Statistical...

    05/15/2016 - 09:00 Numbers