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Now Available! The SB&F Searchable Database of Reviews

The SB&F Advanced Search allows subscribers and registered users to search the SB&F database of reviews.  Our database contains more than 10,000 science book, film and software reviews. Users can search by the criteria of their choice to find exactly what they need.


The SB&F Reviews page is updated regularly with new reviews. See our featured reviews below. Check back often for the latest science book reviews from SB&F.

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Featured Children's Book Review

Shapiro, Simon. Faster, Higher, Smarter: Bright Ideas that Transformed Sports. Willowdale, ON: Annick Press, 2016. 132pp. $12.95. 9781554518135. Index.

Rating: **

Generally, in most sports, there is someone who always seems to excel above others. While talent and hard work are big parts of the success equation, physics plays an important role. It takes an innovator to take advantage of the laws of physics and come up with a better way of jumping, vaulting, batting, kicking, skating, biking, swimming, ski jumping, playing tennis, and more. There are chapters for each of these and also for wheelchair sports and blade running. Bungee jumping isn’t exactly a sport, but it is covered, and so is how to use statistics to hire players for your major league baseball team. There is also a chapter on cheating in sports and why it doesn’t pay.

The innovations described in Faster Higher Smarter changed sports in many exciting ways. The illustrations help make the scientific concepts easy for middle school readers to follow, although readers of all ages will enjoy the book. The athletes featured in the book include women, those who are physically challenged, and cross the spectra of age and diversity. Middle school and public libraries would do well to have this title in their collection.‑‑Edward I. Saiff, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, NJ

Featured Young Adult Book Review

Gribbin, John. 13.8: The Quest to Find the True Age of the Universe and the Theory of Everything. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2015. 256pp. $30.00. ISBN 9780300218275. Glossary; Index.

YA, C, T, GA

1984 and 1776 are the best known of perhaps fewer than a dozen pure‑number book titles. 13.8 tells how the age of the universe was determined to be 13.8 billion years. It is not dry. The tale spans centuries, involves dozens of scientists, and clearly illustrates how science is done—with all its missteps, brilliant insights, personality clashes, tedious data collection, meticulous analysis, blind alleys, lost opportunities, and accidental discoveries.

How old are rocks, the earth, the sun, galaxies, and the universe? The discovery of radioactivity was a major key to determining such things, but accurately measuring distances to celestial bodies was essential also. Gribbin covers both aspects, showing how conflicting calculations based on incorrect assumptions gradually evolved into a consistent story. The second half is more difficult to follow, but closes with, “… science is the best way to understand how the world works.”

The progression of the science includes not merely names, dates, and results, but often how results were obtained and some insights into the personalities involved. One name curiously omitted is Nobel winner Chandrasekhar, a major developer of theories of stellar evolution. His co‑winner, Fowler, is mentioned a few times. Gribbin raises awareness of scientists who got less credit (or more) than their work deserved, especially women and junior researchers whose groundbreaking work was discounted or suppressed.

Errors include a “1000‑inch” telescope, 0.0001 arcsec = 10 microarcsec, and internal discrepancies in the sun’s mass loss rate and in the critical density for a flat universe.‑‑Charles A. Gaston, Pennsylvania State University, York, PA

Featured Adult Book Review

Williams, Wendy. The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. 304pp. $26.00. 2015003860. ISBN 9780374224400. Index. C.I.P.

C, T, GA

Rating:  **

Inspired by a very clever horse she had when young, the author sets out to explore the bond between horses and humans and to uncover just what makes horses tick. Her thesis is that the bond is two‑way and has its roots in evolution. The book is a testament to the educational philosophy that more can be learned by investigating a subject one loves, rather than trying to learn isolated facts. Here one learns about paleontology, archeology, evolution, structure and function, animal behavior, and much else. The book describes the evolution of the horse in detail with good evidence to support the chain of events. She also talks extensively about the behavior of wild horses. All this is good and, indeed, the book has been almost universally highly reviewed. However, her idea that horses and humans are so bonded because of a common evolutionary ancestor (49) is unfounded at best and a bit silly at worst. If one goes back far enough, everything has a common ancestor, but she is thinking of a fairly close ancestor. As evidence, she cites the fact that horse and human skeletons are similar. But human skeletons are similar to most mammals, and the bond between humans and all mammals is not universal. And although she does reference the way evolution occurs (35), she then often uses the word “choice” when describing evolutionary changes. In fact, in speaking of the early days of horse evolution, when horses resembled cats more than their present-day descendants, she says, “horses were already a fabulous idea.” (48) One wonders, whose idea?

However, while she does not prove her thesis and does take some poetic license with evolutionary terms, she does show that humans have been fascinated by horses for millions of years and that horses possess much more behind those inscrutable looks than we imagine. The book’s thorough descriptions of the evolution of the horse have great value. All in all, the book is charming, interesting, and well written and could inspire much further study. But readers should be aware of its flaws.‑‑Donna H. Duckworth, University of Florida, College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL