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See Inside October 2010

Recommended: Mummies of the World

Books and recommendations from Scientific American



Courtesy of Prestel

Mummies of the World
Edited by Alfried Wieczorek and Wilfried Rosendahl. Prestel, 2010

People have been preserving bodies of the dead for millennia, from the bog bodies found in the peat wet­lands of northern Europe to the embalmed and wrapped mummies recovered from Egypt’s desert sands. The companion book to a traveling exhibit of the same name that opened in California in July, this vol­ume brings together evoc­ative imagery of dozens of mum­mies—human and animal—from around the globe and explains how science is revealing who these individuals were and how their remains have survived across the ages.

What Technology Wants
by Kevin Kelly. Viking, 2010
Technology, contends journalist Kevin Kelly, has a life of its own, and it advances independently of humans. Here he describes what he calls the “technium,” a term that embodies the sum of all technologies, the so­ciety and culture of tools, and the self-reinforcing system of creating them.

“At some point in its evolution, our system of tools and machines and ideas became so dense in feedback loops and complex interactions that it ... began to exercise some autonomy.

“At first the notion of technological independence is very hard to grasp. We are taught to think of technology first as a pile of hardware and secondly as inert stuff that is wholly dependent on us humans. In this view, technology is only what we make. Without us, it ceases to be. It does only what we want. And that’s what I believed, too.... But the more I looked at the whole system of technological invention, the more powerful and self-generating I realized it was.

“There are many fans, as well as many foes, of technology who strongly disagree with the idea that the technium is in any way autonomous. They adhere to the creed that technology does only what we permit it to do. In this view, notions of technological autonomy are simply wishful thinking on our part. But I now embrace a contrary view: that after 10,000 years of slow evolution and 200 years of incredible intricate exfoliation, the technium is maturing into its own thing. Its sustaining network of self-reinforcing processes and parts has given it a noticeable measure of autonomy. It may have once been as simple as an old computer program, merely parroting what we told it, but now it is more like a very complex organism that often follows its own urges.”

ALSO NOTABLE

Books
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values,

by Sam Harris. Free Press, 2010

Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World’s Most Mysterious Fish,
by James Prosek. HarperCollins, 2010

Judging Edward Teller: A Closer Look at One of the Most Influential Scientists of the Twentieth Century,
by Istvan Hargittai. Prometheus Books, 2010

Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology,
by Jonathon Keats. Oxford University Press, 2010

The Vertical Farm: Feeding Ourselves and the World in the 21st Century,
by Dickson Despommier. Thomas Dunne Books, 2010

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference,
by Cordelia Fine. W. W. Norton, 2010

For Kids
Bones: Skeletons and How They Work,
by Steve Jenkins. Scholastic, 2010

Biggest Bugs Life-Size,
by George Beccaloni. Firefly Books, 2010

Blogs
Rennie’s Last Nerve, by former Scientific American editor in chief John Rennie. http://johnrennie.net

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