Sunday, May 13, 2007

Humor helps make simple science fun

Angier does care about educating the public -- she just won the Exploratorium's Public Understanding of Science Award -- and she feels tempted to demonstrate the effects of gravity on Waterford crystal glasses when confronted by science skeptics at weddings. But mostly, she just thinks science is really, really cool. "In place of civic need, why not neural greed?" she writes. "These things are fun, and fun is good."

"The Canon" starts with an introduction to the scientific process and moves at a zippy pace through probability, physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy. As promised, the book covers the basics: We find out how the universe began, the four fundamental forces of nature (not counting Donald Trump's hair, Angier notes), what lies at the core of the Earth, why proteins are more than just hamburgers and how alcohol originated. Along the way, readers will surely have a few "Really?" moments. Yes, some tiny sea creatures really do eject their brains when they've finished the "thinking" phase of their lives. Chemistry Professor Peter Atkins tells Angier, helpfully: "[I]t is a good idea to get rid of your brain when you discover you have no further need of it."

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