Staff Pick

Like Stephen Hawking, “one of those physicists who know that time travel is impossible but also know it’s fun to talk about,” James Gleick, author of Chaos and The Information, plays with a century’s worth of ideas about time, from its secret identity as the fourth dimension to alternative sequences for past-present-future, to the obsolescence of the future itself in the digital age. His point of departure for this buoyant yet substantial “history” of Time Travel (Pantheon, $26.95), a phenomenon that hasn’t quite happened yet, is H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, published in 1895, which marked the divide between old notions of cyclical time and the modern sense of time as an inexorable advance. Until the twentieth century, there were no time zones, no daylight saving time, no centennial celebrations. Utopias and dystopias were distant lands, not visions of the future. Gleick lays out the technological and scientific contributions to this new concept of time as well as examining what the changes meant for age-old questions about free will and the nature of consciousness. But “the rules of time travel have been written not by scientists but by storytellers,” and Gleick focuses on the literature of time, dipping into works by Wells’s contemporary, Proust, and their long line of descendants such as Asimov, Gibson, Calvino, Stoppard, and Wallace. Gleick has a sharp eye for wit, puzzles, and the telling paradox; if you don’t already have a taste for science fiction, his sampler will send you after more of this “roisterous temporal complexity.”

Time Travel: A History Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307908797
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Pantheon - September 27th, 2016

Time Travel: A History Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780804168922
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Vintage - September 5th, 2017

Staff Pick

Spectrography is a way of studying stars by taking pictures that separate astral light into different wavelengths. The practice was pioneered by Dr. Henry Draper of Harvard Observatory in the late nineteenth century, but the long and detailed work of interpreting the images and classifying the stars was done by a group of women. In this long overdue tribute to Harvard’s “human computers,” Dava Sobel, author of the classic Longitude, brilliantly intertwines science, history, and biography, charting not only the advances in astro-physics from the 1870s to the 1940s, but following the progress women made in establishing themselves in a notoriously male-dominated field. The Glass Universe (Viking, $30), then, refers both to Harvard’s archive of hundreds of thousands of photographic plates and to the barriers women faced in becoming astronomers. The Harvard Observatory was more supportive of women than most; with fellowships endowed by Draper’s widow, the institution specifically looked for women with an aptitude for math, and its male directors gave them titles, publication opportunities, and credit for their discoveries. If they paid them less than men earned, Sobel points out that funding for scientific projects was always insufficient and unreliable. United in the quest to classify the heavens, the men and women of Harvard’s “little city of science” generally worked with and respected each other as equals, and it’s the work that Sobel spotlights here, documenting the many novae, variable stars, and much more discovered by women including Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Cecilia Payne—names unfamiliar to most of us, but essential in forming how we see both the cosmos and the lab.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9780670016952
Availability: Backordered
Published: Viking - December 6th, 2016

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143111344
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Books - October 31st, 2017

Staff Pick

As anyone familiar with her work knows, Mary Roach has a knack for delving into complex subjects and writing about them with both a depth and a clarity that make them accessible to many readers. Roach also can be very amusing. All these traits are very much in evidence in her latest work, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, which as the subtitle suggests is about how the military prepares troops to deal with such combat challenges as exhaustion, heat, noise, panic, and boredom. Asked once by Peter Sagal of NPR how she picks her topics, Mary replied, “Well, it's got to have a little science, it’s got to have a little history, a little humor—and something gross.” There are some gross passages in Grunt, but overall the book is informative and entertaining.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9780393245448
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - June 7th, 2016

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780393354379
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - June 6th, 2017

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