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See Inside May 2010

Recommended: The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual Guide

Books and recommendations from Scientific American

The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual Guide
by Juliane L. Frye, Hans-F. Graf, Richard Grotjahn, Marilyn N. Raphael, Clive Saunders and Richard Whitaker. University of California Press, 2010

The science of weather—from cloud formation (right) to approaches to slowing and reversing climate change—is clearly and succinctly explained in this wide-ranging, well-illustrated volume.

EXCERPT
A Tear at the Edge of Creation: A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe
by Marcelo Gleiser. Free Press, 2010

For centuries scientists have been searching for a single theory of the universe that reveals an elegantly simple order behind the apparent complexity of the natural world. That quest continues today with the hunt for a “grand unified theory” that joins Einstein’s theory of relativity with the laws governing quantum mechanics. This is a misguided mission, argues physicist and former “Unifier” Marcelo Gleiser of Dartmouth College. It is the messiness of the universe—not the beautiful symmetries—that holds the key to its origins. Here he describes grappling with 16th-century German astronomer ­Johannes Kep­ler’s unified model of the cosmos, which proposed that the arrangement of the six planets then known could be understood as a tidy series of nested spheres and polyhedra.

“How could someone so wrong be so utterly convinced of being right? We have much to learn from Kepler’s mistake. In hindsight, it’s easy for us to ridicule his creation. After all, there aren’t six planets, but eight. If he could have seen them with the naked eye, he would never have proposed his model, and his career would have taken a different turn. Kepler’s blindness was his blessing. He constructed a model of the world with the data he had available. At any given time, including ours, this is the best that anyone can do. What we can measure will always limit our view of reality. Kepler’s mistake was to give his vision of reality a finality it didn’t deserve. Glimpsing at the hidden code of Nature proved so cathartic that he was bewitched and took his belief for the truth. Kepler’s mistake was to forget that a final theory is impossible because we will never know all of reality. Then and now, any science that is tainted with blind belief will lead us astray. I looked again at Kepler’s creation: a nested finite cosmos, a geometric dream, ordered and precise. At that moment, I knew that my days as a Unifier were over.”

BOOKS
Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
by Robert Whitaker. Crown, 2010

Mystery Cults of the Ancient World
by Hugh Bowden. Princeton University Press, 2010

Bursts: The Hidden Pattern behind Everything We Do
by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. Dutton Adult, 2010

A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming
by Paul N. Edwards. MIT Press, 2010

America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation
by Elaine Tyler May. Basic Books, 2010

In the Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape
by Gretel Ehrlich. National Geographic, 2010

Duel at Dawn: Heroes, Martyrs, and the Rise of Modern Mathematics
by Amir Alexander. Harvard University Press, 2010

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals
by Jonathan Balcombe. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

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