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Current Issue: January 2015 Vol. 51 Iss.1

January Issue Highlights

The January issue of SB&F features our list of the best books and videos reviewed in 2014. View the index to see the list of books and videos reviewed in our January issue.

Next month, we will also be publishing an annotated version of this list containing the full text of reviews that will be available free of charge to subscribers. 

In February, our feature will announce the winners of the 2015 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. 

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Featured Reviews.

Collard III, Sneed B.   Fire Birds‑ Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests.   (Illus.)   Missoula, MT:  Mountain Press,   2015. 48pp. $17.00. 2014945653. ISBN 9780984446070. Index; C.I.P.  

EI, EA, JH ««

 

 

After reading this book the reaction of many may be, "Who Knew?" Several generations of Americans have been raised under the influence of Smokey Bear, who admonished, "Only you can prevent forest fires!" (p. 29) As a result, many people believe that all forest fires are bad, But, as one scientist has indicated, "There are two kinds of fires, ....The ones that burn down your house or kill your neighbor are bad, bad, bad. The other ones can be the greatest things in the world." (p. 8) The author, who has a science background, has written more than 65 books for young people. He also took most of the stunning photographs that appear in this book. Apparently, "...he became fascinated with wildfires at an early age." (p. 48) This interest led him to consult experts who study the ecology of burned forests. The text explains that "...burned forests are not just useless wastelands....They are thriving, essential parts of our world." (Pp. 8‑9) The young reader will learn that more than 15 kinds of birds prefer to nest in burned forests. Here they find safe nesting places, plentiful supplies of food, and refuge from small animals that often prey on their eggs. Ten birds are highlighted in boxes, entitled "Featured Fire Bird." Their special relationships with burned forests are described.—Jacqueline V. Mallinson, retired, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI

 

 

Munroe, Randall.   What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.   (Illus.)   Boston:  Houghton Mifflin,   2014. 320pp. $24.00. 2014016311. ISBN 9780544272996. C.I.P

 

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What if there was a Nobel Prize category for science outreach? Answer: Randall Munroe would be in the running for writing this book. Following on the success of his XKCD web comic, Munroe started a blog, called What If?, where he answers scientific questions, as bizarre as they may be, that are submitted by his readers. The success of the What If? blog led to the creation of this book, which contains both new material as well as some of his most popular blog posts. The iconic stick‑figures made famous in XKCD escort readers through Munroe’s well researched, extremely detailed, and humorously written responses. While some of his answers can get pretty scientific, the majority of the book covers very broad topics that most of us think about from time to time (lasers, lightning, printing money, and trying to reverse the spin of the earth). Everyone will learn something from this book, provided they are able to adapt to Munroe’s comedic delivery of one‑liners, biting sarcasm, and the occasional tangent about dinosaurs. What if you wanted to use this book in an education setting? This book is not a text book, and contains no references to learning standards or experiments to try (Munroe is pretty clear that the adventures his stick‑figures embark on should not be tried at home). What this book does contain are extremely entertaining anecdotes that can be brought in to accompany lessons on basic science. Several of his answers include scientific equations (especially ones relating to basic principles of Physics), and connecting these short and witty essays to a basic science lesson would make even the most uninterested student pay attention. What if you are just looking for a perfect gift for the science enthusiast in your life? Well, you’ve found it.—Melissa McCartney, Science Magazine, Washington, DC

 

Shlain, Leonard.   Leonardo's Brain: Understanding Da Vinci's Creative Genius.   (Illus.)   Guilford, CT:  Lyons Press,   2014. 226pp. $25.95. 2014027222. ISBN 9781493003358. Index; C.I.P.

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The author states in the opening paragraph of the Preface: "I intend to scrutinize Leonardo utilizing the knowledge others have gained, but seen from a perspective none have previously employed‑ that of a general and vascular surgeon with an abiding interest in brain science, and, in particular, the division of function between the two hemispheres of the brain." The author achieves his goal in a captivating manner in 18 chapters (including 16 pages of photographs in color of Leonardo’s work) that uses events in Leonardo’s life as recounted by others but with new perspectives that often includes speculation; however it is interesting speculation. Some selected quotes will give the flavor of the book; "Art and science represent the difference between "being" and "doing"" (p 5). "No other artist in history expended as much time and energy working out the geometrical details of the science of perspective." (p 7). "Another suggestive piece of evidence that Leonardo’s corpus callosum was fairly bursting with an overabundance of connecting neurons was his seamless annealing of art and science." (p 8). The author uses an abundance of quotations from various sources, including Leonardo, to focus principal ideas which he wishes to convey. I suspect most readers will learn much that is new to them from the author's recounting of attempt by others to "explain" Leonardo's genius, but always with fresh new interpretations provided by the author. For example, I did not know that "Another trait that contemporaries marveled about was his superb singing voice" (p 20). The painting The Last Supper (which the author calls "the most complex composition in all of art history" (p 69) is over‑analyzed but the speculation characterizes much of what has been written about all aspects of the science and art of Leonardo. Regarding Leonardo’s marvelous ability to use perspective, the author quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who commented wryly that if any of the apostles who were standing in the painting decided to sit down, they would find themselves in the lap of another apostle (p 50). Most who are interested in the history of art and of science will profit from reading this work.—Olen R. Brown, retired, Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

 

 

 

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