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See Inside February 2010

Recommended: Gems and Gemstones

Books and recommendations from Scientific American


Gems and Gemstones
by Lance Grande and Allison Augustyn. University of Chicago Press, 2009
Eye candy abounds in this volume on gems based on the newly revamped Grainger Hall
of Gems at the Field Museum in Chicago. The book covers such topics as how gems form in nature, how they are classified, and the fascinating history of humanity’s love of jewels.

EXCERPT
From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time
by Sean Carroll. Dutton, 2010
In his first popular science book, theoretical physicist Sean Carroll tackles nothing less than the nature of time. Along the way he explains why the past is different from the future—and what this reveals about the beginning of the universe.

“What does it mean to say that time has a direction, an arrow pointing from the past to the future? Think about watching a movie played in reverse. Generally, it’s pretty clear if we are seeing something running the ‘wrong way’ in time. A classic example is a diver and a pool. If the diver dives, and then there is a big splash, followed by waves bouncing around in the water, all is normal. But if we see a pool that starts with waves, which collect into a big splash, in the process lifting a diver up onto the board and becoming perfectly calm, we know something is up....

“Certain events in the real world always happen in the same order. It’s dive, splash, waves; never waves, splash, spit out a diver. Take milk and mix it into a cup of black coffee; never take coffee with milk and separate the two liquids. Sequences of this sort are called irreversible processes....

“Irreversible processes are at the heart of the arrow of time. Events happen in some sequences, and not in others. Furthermore, this ordering is perfectly consistent, as far as we know, throughout the observable universe. Someday we might find a planet in a distant solar system that contains intelligent life; but nobody suspects that we will find a planet on which the aliens regularly separate (the indigenous equivalents of) milk and coffee with a few casual swirls of a spoon. Why isn’t that surprising? It’s a big universe out there; things might very well happen in all sorts of sequences. But they don’t. For certain kinds of processes—roughly speaking, complicated actions with lots of individual moving parts—there seems to be an allowed order that is somehow built into the very fabric of the world.”

BOOKS
Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging
by Greg Critser. Harmony, 2010

Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization
by Steven Solomon. HarperCollins, 2010

The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived
by Clive Finlayson. Oxford University Press, 2009

Lake Views: This World and the Universe
by Steven Weinberg. Harvard University Press, 2010

Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers: & Other Unusual Relationships
by Marty Crump. University of Chicago Press, 2009

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)
by William Poundstone. Hill and Wang, 2010

The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics, and Physics
by Steven E. Landsburg. Free Press, 2009

The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine
by Francis S. Collins. HarperCollins, 2010

The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science
by R. Douglas Fields. Simon & Schuster, 2010

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