Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Canon (copy)

My father-in-law was a reader. Before his demise, bless his soul, I used to love talking to him about books. One of his favorite authors, Patrick O'Brian, wrote 23 books in the Aubrey/Maturin series with Master and Commander as the anchor. Mr. Moran was in a happy seafaring knot as he would read all 23 then turn around and start again.

A very curious thing was pointed out to me during a visit in the summer of 2003. On Mr. Moran’s nightstand was a textbook titled Ionic and Non-Ionic Surfactants. When asked about the book, he said he read it when unable to sleep.

This is the first thing I thought when picking up The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. The premise is promising, but sleep is certain.

I am happy to report this is one of the most engaging science books read. Angier won a Pulitzer Prize Beat Reporting award in 1991 for her compelling science writing at The New York Times. It was well deserved as she tackles topics in this book such as physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and astronomy with intelligence and humor.

The book begins with discussions on critical thinking, probability, and calibration before delving into major topics. In the probability chapter she demonstrates how one can predict whether a class of students, broken into two groups, tosses a coin 50 times or pretends. Both groups must record the number of heads and tails in sequential occurrence. Within seconds of looking at the two results, she has an answer. How?

The first topic, physics, is the foundation on which other sciences are built. Angier explains, “Physics is the science of starter parts and basic forces, and thus it holds the answers to many basic questions. Why is the sky blue? Why do you get a shock when you trudge across a carpeted room and touch a metal doorknob? Why does a white T-shirt keep you cooler in the sun than a black one, even though the black one is so much more slimming?”

Angier advocates teaching physics before all other topics. She likens beginning with chemistry and biology as to building walls and a roof before pouring the slab. I like the idea but wonder if students have enough math skills to accomplish physics first.

This is the perfect book to prop up on your chest while in bed. No need to worry about the effects of gravity.


Jeane said...

This sounds quite interesting, but also like it would be a book to put me to sleep! Stuff heavy on science or history tends to do that to me.

maggie moran said...

I'm happy I read it Jeane. A little review on this stuff is good for me being in an academic setting, but the author was quite enthusiastic and funny. :)

Anonymous said...

Read "Buddha or Bust" by Perry Garfinkel Maggie. You'll like it.

Isabel said...

My high school did teach physics before biology and chemistry and I didn't learn too much. None of us had the mathematical background to get deep into it.

Probability always stumps me. It seems that she explains it in a way that I could understand.

I also need to catch up with science. This seems like a good book for summary of the latest findings.

Thanks for letting me know about it.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like an interesting book but I don't know if I could attempt it in bed... I agree w/ Jean above -- it might put me to sleep.

No Country for Old Men was filmed outside of Santa Fe (where we live). Cormac McCarthy is a resident here as well. The landscape was as much of a character as Javier the bad guy. Wouldn't you agree?

But as you said in your post opening, books do make great conversation...

maggie moran said...

Ok Paul, I will! :)

Instead of the latest findings, WW100, she discusses proven findings with clarity. She has a tendency to run a sentence like Faulkner though. This style takes a couple of chapters to get used to. It's her humor which keeps you going such as a long story with punchline.

I do hope you get a chance to read and enjoy the book, WW100.

Yes, HA Page! I do believe McCarthy provided a visual sense of place which could be pictured and felt before watching the movie. Way Kewl! :)

Diane said...

This sounds really interesting - I'd also recommend Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything"

maggie moran said...

Thanks Diane! I'll read it! :D

Booklogged said...

Being a retired science teacher, this one sounds very interesting. Thanks for the great review, Maggie.

maggie moran said...

I hope you like it Booklogged! :)