Topics in science that didn't fit in any of my other categories

A few books for the "miscelleneous" category.

Last updated 10/28/01


The Dragons of Eden : Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it by Gina Kolata

A fascinating and worthy book. The flu outbreak of 1918 was the deadliest disease outbreak of all time. During a period of less than two months, between 20 and 50 million people perished worldwide. Gina Kolata does an excellent job of reconstructing the outbreak itself from the perspective of eyewitness and newspaper reports from the time, and brings the story into the modern age as she goes into the laboratories of molecular biologists and virologists who are involved cracking the genetic secrets of flu viruses today. She chronicles the exploits of teams of scientists who traveled to Alaska and Norway to exhume bodies buried during the 1918 pandemic. Researchers hoped to find bodies which had remained frozen since burial due to the deep permafrost that permeates those areas. Scientists also had a few tissue samples which were stored at the Army's pathology warehouse outside of Washington. There, samples of lung tissue from 1918 flu victims had sat for 80 years soaked in formaldehyde and encased in paraffin wax.

The book is a mix of scientific detective work, biographies of the scientists involved, and a chronicling of one of the most significant disasters in the history of the world. A book well worth picking up.

How We Believe : The Search for God in an Age of Science by Michael Shermer -- Shermer is thorough, as usual, but his treatment of this topic left me somewhat exhausted by the detail in many chapters. Though he shows considerable respect for religious beliefs, his treatment was a bit too dry and academic for me. Not his best book, in my opinion.

Longitude : The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel -- Another Sobel brilliancy. She tells the story of this seemingly intractable problem of navigators of old. The story focuses on John Harrison, who finally built an accurate maritime chronometer, and the others who competed against him for the big prize.

The Plutonium Files : America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War by Eileen Welsome -- An excellent account of scientific investigative journalism. A horrifying look back at the human experiments that took place during and after the birth of the nuclear age - injecting patients with Plutonium, having soldiers witness nuclear blasts, or board ships near the Bikini Atoll just hours after a test, etc. Welsome is one of the journalists whose persistence broke the case in the early 90s.

The Real Science Behind the X-Files by Anne Simon -- Not being a fan of the fantastically popular Fox series, I picked up this book as a curiosity, and was pleasantly surprised by the depth to which Simon, the "science advisor" to the show, goes to elaborate on some of the plots to the TV show. Simon is a molecular biologist, and her discussion tend toward cell biology, but are written with such clarity that even those largely ignorant of life sciences (like me) won't be put off. For instance, her discussion of the mystery of aging goes on for a fairly dense 20 pages, having been introduced by the episode plot "Turning Back Time" where Mulder and Scully search for the missing Dr. Ridley, who was conducting illegal research aimed at modifying the process by which cells age and eventually die. Anyone who enjoys a good scientific detective story will enjoy this book. Simon presents countless real-life mysteries from the recent research of biologists and geneticists. My only real complaint was arriving at the end of the book and NOT finding a "recommended reading" list. Reading this book really piqued my interest in some of these scientific hunts.

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