Convinced that the secret to a sniper's success is all in his aim? You're underestimating the role of Velcro. Think that artisanal cheesemakers represent the ultimate rejection of mainstream science? Think again. From an upbeat meditation on death to a snarky critique of economics, this year's picks offer delightfully unconventional perspectives on a range of scientific topics. Join a birdsong expert as he ditches academia for a cross-country bicycle tour, embrace the unknown in an exploration of the cosmos, and get lost (pun intended) in a quest to uncover the implications of modern mapping technologies.
|ILLUSTRATION: BENEDETTO CRISTOFANI|
The reviewer is at the Department of History, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Long-haired surfers catching waves on handcrafted shortboards at Laguna Beach. Women practicing home births as a form of “spiritual midwifery” on the famous Tennessee commune, The Farm. Psychologist Timothy Leary, “the most dangerous man in America,” imploring us to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” These are quintessential images of American counterculture. But Groovy Science will make the reader see them in a surprising new way: as significant scenes of encounter between counterculture and science.
|Groovy Science: |
Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture
By yoking together the words “groovy” and “science,” editors David Kaiser and W. Patrick McCray refute three durable notions about science in the 1970s: that the counterculture was antiscience, that science was languishing in a rather moribund phase during this period, and that mainstream researchers lived and worked apart from the counterculture that seemed to spurn them. Instead, the 12 essays that make up Groovy Science demonstrate that people and groups strongly ensconced in the counterculture also embraced science, albeit in untraditional and creative ways.
Groovy science was hardly a singular, coherent movement, but the book's four sections create some conceptual order around the ways that people connected science and counterculture. In “Conversion,” neurophysiologists, chemists, and physicists recast Cold War science by simultaneously rejecting “the megamachine” and adapting its “resources and forms of knowledge … toward new ends.” Those engaged in “Seeking”—the book's second section—pursued science as a path to countercultural virtues such as authenticity, cooperation, and environmentalism. The “Personae” in part three—Immanuel Velikovsky, Timothy Leary, and Hugh Hefner—seized mass media to fashion themselves as science-minded iconoclasts. And in “Legacies,” we discover the unacknowledged influence of groovy science on contemporary commonplaces such as sustainability, innovation, and organic food.
The Unknown Universe - Reviewed by Megan Engel
The reviewer is at the Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3NP, UK. Email:
Every clear night, 300 quadrillion particles of light are fired by an enormous laser at mirrors less than half a meter wide on the Moon, allowing scientists to measure the Moon's orbital motion with extreme accuracy and precision. The handful of particles that make it back to Earth deliver vital information: whether or not Einstein's theory of gravity continues to correctly describe nature. So far, it does. But as Stuart Clark suggests in The Unknown Universe, breakthroughs happen when a “brave scientist [throws] away a cherished assumption,” rather like Einstein himself did in overturning Newton's understanding of gravity.
|The Unknown Universe: |
A New Exploration of Time, Space, and Modern Cosmology
This title will be released on July 5, 2016.