Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
by Andrew Blum. Ecco, 2012
In 2006 Alaskan senator Ted Stevens described the Internet as a “series of tubes,” a quip that earned the octogenarian widespread mockery. But as Blum notes in his charming look at the physical infrastructure that underlies the Web, Stevens wasn’t all that wrong. Bits sail through a worldwide network of fiber-optic cables and come together in junctions where Internet providers connect their pipes to the networks of others. Blum’s transcontinental journey exposes some of the important issues confronting the Internet, such as the occasional disconnect between the interests of the corporations who control the physical pipes and the good of the network as a whole. “If you believe the Internet is magic,” he writes, “then it’s hard to grasp its physical reality.” I’d turn this around: only by understanding the physical richness of the Internet can we truly grok the thorny forces that are shaping its growth. — Michael Moyer
Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution
by Rebecca Stott. Spiegel & Grau, 2012
Stott grew up in a household in Brighton, England, that was so strictly creationist that her grandfather cut Charles Darwin’s entry out of the family’s Encyclopedia Britannica. Here Stott pours what remains of her pent-up fascination with Darwin into a beautifully written narrative about his intellectual predecessors. These include Leonardo da Vinci, who understood that shells found in the mountains of Italy meant that the earth was far older than the church would let on, and Aristotle, who understood that gradual change was at the heart of nature.
Prize Fight: The Race and the Rivalry to Be the First in Science
by Morton Meyers. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012
In a series of case studies, Meyers analyzes how credit has been doled out in major scientific discoveries, including the creation of MRI and the development of streptomycin, the first antibiotic against tuberculosis. Readers come away with an enhanced understanding of the conflicting impulses that drive scientists and of the historical context behind present-day research scandals.
Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success
by Andrew Balmford. University of Chicago Press, 2012
Tired of leaving policy makers and the general public with “a dismal choice between despair and denial,” Balmford traveled to six continents to track down environmental success stories. Among them: how villagers in Assam, India, helped to bring back rhinos and how British foresters helped to save heath. Balmford, a conservation scientist, does not gloss over the damage humans have inflicted but reminds us that conservation can pay off. As he says in one tongue-in-cheek passage: we may have halved the populations of wild species since the industrial revolution, but half those species remain. In other words, the glass is half full.
Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook, by Elaine Fox. Basic Books, 2012
Volcano: Nature and Culture, by James Hamilton, and Waterfall: Nature and Culture, by Brian J. Hudson.
Both are part of a new Earth series. Reaktion Books, 2012
From Here to Infinity: A Vision for the Future of Science, by Martin Rees. W. W. Norton, 2012
The Beach Book: Science of the Shore, by Carl H. Hobbs. Columbia University Press, 2012
World Science Festival. Held May 30–June 3 in New York City and streamed live at worldsciencefestival.com