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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

Lang, Heather. Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark (Illus. by Jordi Solano.) Morton Grove, IL: Whitman, 2016. 32pp. $16.99. 2016042052. ISBN 9780807521878. C.I.P.

K, EP, EI, EA

Rating: **

I found this book so inspiring (despite it being for children) that I went to the library afterwards to find more information out about Eugenie Clark and her work for myself! I convinced my three sons (ages 7, 7, and 10) to sit down and listen to a book about the life of a female marine biologist. While at first reluctant, they were rapidly enthralled. Of course, who isn’t interested in sharks? But the boys at first thought a story about a girl who loved sharks and became a marine scientist would be. . .boring. Yet this book does an excellent job of drawing in even the most reluctant reader. It successfully communicates the enthusiasm of young, and then older, Eugenie Clark for the wide range of species of sharks.

While there is some scientific information about sharks (e.g., why some of them sleep in caves), the book is much more a story about the early life of a scientist. It details how Eugenie became interested in sharks, the opportunities she found, the struggles she faced (with technology and with others’ attitudes), the way she conducted her research, and the impacts she had on the field. It even touches on the shift her life’s work took as the populations of her study organisms plummeted due to misunderstandings and purposeful and inadvertent overfishing.

Be sure not to miss the “Author’s note” and the “More about sharks” after the story. These sections detail biological information about the current threats to sharks and more personal information about Dr. Clark and the discrimination she faced as a woman in science and a Japanese American.

At all parts of this book, the language conveys a sense of excitement, inspiration, and can do attitude, a zest for targeted adventure that will reveal more about the wonders of undersea life. The illustrations that accompany the text are simple, yet effective. They focus on Eugenie in action, so the reader feels she is looking over the shoulder of this scientist. While most of the words are not complicated, there are some longer ones (e.g., mesmerized, oceanography) and the print is a smaller size. Children 8 to 12 will enjoy reading it to themselves, while children 5 to 7 will enjoy reading and looking over the reader’s shoulder. I highly recommend this book as a way to inspire young scientists.--Erika Iyengar, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA

 

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Featured Young Adult Book Review

 

Frydenborg, Kay. A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human. (Illus.) New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2017. 246pp. $18.99. 2016000217. ISBN 9780544286566. Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

JH, YA, GA

Rating: **

This book is well written and beautifully illustrated with lots of excellent photos, most in color, and some full page. The title is based on a discovery that a dog may have been in a cave where ancient (several thousand years ago) humans lived, or at least visited. It’s also based on the thesis of the book, which is that humans and dogs may have co evolved, gradually coming to depend on each other, and becoming more social, humans with humans, dogs with dogs, and humans with dogs. The author is careful not to be, well, dogmatic about this idea, but does present quite a bit of evidence for it. (She is careful not to overdraw her conclusions about other ideas, too.) The book considers fossil, genetic, and behavioral evidence, and mentions many different types of scientific findings, in many parts of the world, over a broad span of time. Even mature readers will probably learn quite a bit, such as that dogs and humans both are much better able to digest starch than wolves or non human apes. There is a brief bibliography, including websites, a brief glossary, and an adequate index. This book is probably best used as a reference. It is of value for all levels from middle grades up. The typefaces used are large and easily readable.--Martin LaBar, Liberty, SC

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Featured Adult Book Review

Weatherall, James Owen. Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2016. 196pp. $26.00. 2016949271. ISBN 9780300209983. Index; C.I.P.

C, T

Rating: **

James Weatherall explains in layman’s language—which is to say, free of equations—the hidden structure of what we perceive as empty space. Suggesting that this short book (138 pages of text and another 50 pages of notes and bibliography) is free of mathematical arcana should not lead a reader to expect a simplified, easy to grasp vision of how our concepts of space time have developed. Indeed, by the time Weatherall reaches the mid twentieth century in his tale, many readers will find the level of complex abstraction quite challenging.

Students of the history of science and mathematics are familiar with the conflict between Isaac Newton in Great Britain and Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz in Germany regarding the invention of calculus, which seems to have been produced independently by each of them. What many will not know about is their disagreement over the existence of the “plenum.” Newton’s view of the universe was that empty space occupied the area between celestial bodies, and, while Liebniz agreed with the plausibility of Newton’s construct, for religious reasons he could not accept emptiness, and fell back on an earlier view of Rene Descartes that space was filled with “fine, unobservable stuff” (Weatherall’s words), the plenum. The distinction, if there is one, between, “space” and “stuff” is a recurring theme in the book.

Weatherall shows beautifully the connections between James Clerk Maxwell’s ideas on electromagnetism and Einstein’s conclusion that the velocity of light is an absolute limit. We learn how Einstein’s refinement of Maxwell’s pioneering work led to another abandonment of the plenum, by the late 19th century called the “aether.” The importance of Hermann Minkowski’s work, followed by that of Karl Schwarzschild, on the geometry of space time, leading to the concept of black holes, takes its place in the narrative. Perhaps the most interesting character to emerge from Void is Paul Dirac, discoverer of the positron, who, when asked if he could explain the theoretical framework of anti matter in layman’s terms, replied, “No.” Finally, Weatherall’s story moves with equal skill through the relatively recent work of Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger and their explanations of Quantum Electrodynamics.

At its core, Void is a brief history of physics. Weatherall’s unifying theme regarding the nature of space—is it something or is it nothing?—sets it apart from other popular science literature in this genre. Void will not replace Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time or Carlos Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons in Physics on the science teacher’s bookshelf, but it holds up very well as a new view of the history of theoretical physics.--Cary Seidman, Ruffing Montessori School, Cleveland Heights, OH