Staff Pick

In Calculating the Cosmos (Basic Books, $27.99) award-winning scientist and math popularizer Ian Stewart takes the majesty and complexity of our universe and explains it, bit by bit, according to how the numbers add up. In addition to showing how math helps us understand the cosmos as it is (and will be), Stewart also humanizes and contextualizes our history of calculations. Through short summaries he explains how we came to better understand the universe, detailing our record of insights, mistakes, recalculations, and lucky guesses. Discussing everything from how the bodies in our solar system affect each other to whether dark matter exists, and on to speculations about how new discoveries may guide future deep space exploration, this book is for anyone who is fascinated by looking at the stars and wants to better understand their—and our—place in the universe.

Calculating the Cosmos: How Mathematics Unveils the Universe Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465096107
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Basic Books - October 25th, 2016

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: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
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

Before he became “the architect of the nuclear age,” Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) was known to his colleagues as The Pope of Physics (Holt, $30) for his infallible accuracy. One of the rare physicists equally adept as a theorist and an experimentalist, Fermi was also one of the few to be self-taught; a math prodigy, in 1915 he discovered a book on mathematical physics written in Latin in the 1830s and was hooked. As Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin recount in their masterful history of Fermi’s life, times, and work, the Nobel laureate was “seemingly impervious to fatigue, frustration, or dissatisfaction,” where science was concerned. Yet the authors, both related to people who knew Fermi, draw out the unfailingly thoughtful, complex man behind the world-changing discoveries. Claiming to be apolitical, Fermi was eager to make Italy a center for scientific research. Later, he was more attuned to the anti-Semitism of Mussolini’s Italy than his Jewish wife was, and it was he who persuaded her to emigrate to the U.S. With World War II, physics grew ever more inextricably linked to politics, and Fermi, who won the Nobel in 1938 for induced radioactivity (picking up the award on his way to Columbia University), could no longer practice “science for the sake of science.” In the U.S., though his Italian citizenship made him suspect, he was integral to the Manhattan Project and built the world’s first atomic-fission pile. Without getting too technical, the authors give readers enough science to appreciate Fermi’s achievements; while he was absorbed in the question of “could” nuclear physics be done, the world still wrestles with the “should“ of it.

The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9781627790055
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Henry Holt and Co. - October 18th, 2016

The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age Cover Image
$19.00
ISBN: 9781250143792
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - October 10th, 2017

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