Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz book coverCalculus is one of those subjects that is so complicated that most people not only don’t understand it, they don’t even know what it is that they don’t understand. But that’s unfortunate, because calculus is one of humanity’s most impressive achievements, an accomplishment that unlocks the secrets of the universe and delivers our most profound and useful technology, from radio and television to GPS navigation and MRI imaging. Calculus is the main protagonist in the story of science, and is a subject every educated person should understand at least conceptually.

Fortunately, you don’t have to trudge through a thousand-page textbook to appreciate the story and power of calculus. Steven Strogatz, in his latest book Infinite Powers, has provided a clear, concise, and fascinating tour of the subject. In fact, if you don’t understand what calculus is all about after reading this book, then the prospects are not great that you ever will. There is simply no better, clearer presentation of the ideas available. Strogatz uses metaphors, illustrations, stories, and examples to guide the reader through the most difficult concepts. While this is not an easy read, it is as reader-friendly as possible; remember, you’re tackling the most sophisticated branch of mathematics, the underlying logic of all science, and a subject that the sharpest mathematical minds in history had to grapple with for thousands of years.

Continue reading “How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe (And the Power of Human Cooperation)”

When Death Becomes Life Book CoverIt is an underappreciated fact that today a surgeon can, if needed, rip open your chest, remove your heart, replace it with another one, and if all goes well, have you discharged in 10 days. This amazing feat of modern medicine, one we may rarely think about, was at one point thought to be nothing more than a science fiction fantasy—and rightly so.

The number of hurdles standing in the way of successful transplantation was enormous. These included figuring out how to suture together blood vessels without leakage or damage to the inner lining, how to keep patients alive by temporarily taking over the function of failed organs (dialysis for kidneys and cardiopulmonary bypass for the heart and lungs), and developing anti-rejection medication to prevent the host immune system from attacking the donated organ. Throw in the ethical and logistical issues associated with procuring and coordinating donated organs and recipient transplant lists and you have one of the most complex and daunting issues in the history of medicine.

Continue reading “Review of When Death Becomes Life by Joshua D. Mezrich”

The Order of Time Carlo RovelliIn The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli sticks to the theme that reality is not what it seems, in this case focusing entirely on the concept of time.

In a sense, the history of science can be described as an uncompromising assault on intuition and common sense. The Earth appears flat and stationary, but in reality spins and soars through space at 67,000 miles per hour. Humans appear to be a species of their own special creation, but in reality are simply naturally evolved primates.

These ideas are familiar by now, but they were revolutionary at the time of their discovery. What Rovelli is pointing out is that science may not be done with us yet—the next assault on our common sense might be the revelation of a world without time.

Continue reading “Why Time is a Psychological Construct and Not a Fundamental Part of the Universe”

The Clockwork UniverseAn entertaining and fast-moving historical narrative of the scientific revolution, including fascinating insights into the lives of Isaac Newton, Leibniz, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and more.

There are many ways to make a science book tedious and dull. You could include too many equations, too much biographical detail, or otherwise get caught up in dry, lifeless writing. This is definitely not the case with The Clockwork Universe.

Edward Dolnick gets the proportion of biography, science, and history exactly right, giving the reader the full picture of the people and culture of the times and also the revolutionary nature of the science itself. The writing is vibrant, succinct, and conveys just the right amount of scientific detail.

Continue reading “Review of The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World”