From Publishers Weekly
Cole (The Universe and the Teacup) gathers 92 short essays that first appeared primarily in her Los Angeles Times science column. The book's four sections are loosely ordered around the subjectivity of inquiry, the physical world, science in practice and the politics of science. Cole's technique is to set her stage with a scientific factoid or news blip and then ruminate on the unexpected insights, inversions or ironies she finds there. Her themes include uncertainty, the limitations of measure, fragility, illusion, humility before nature, complacency. A solar eclipse "exposes our fragility" and dispels illusion "like turning up the houselights during a movie." The millennium, indeed the notion of time itself, is an artificial concept, and "it's a fine line," the author writes, "between discovering something and making it up." Ever the navel gazer, Cole seeks the wondrous in the stuff we mistake for just ordinary. Her piece on clouds ("wind made visible") segues inevitably to dying stars ("a cosmic-scale cloudburst") and atoms (a nucleus "engulfed by a cloud of electrons"); her piece on wind leads her to the hurricanes on Jupiter and the complicated "weather" of galaxies. Her science is also a foil for left-of-center political commentary on Enron, daisy cutter bombs, the Kansas Board of Education's vote on Darwin and the American justice system, to name a handful of her targets. These light vignettes are doubtless welcome respite for readers of the L.A. Times, but this collection may be too much of a good thing. Readers are advised to take it in measured doses.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Having wound up her "Mind over Matter" science column for the Los Angeles Times, journalist Cole here corrals about 90 of her serial musings. More personal than her books, which, like The Hole in the Universe (2001), "translate" physics and mathematics for a mass readership, Cole's columns take inspiration from her conversations, sightings in nature, or reactions to items of science news or entertainment. An element of apology frequently surfaces here, for Cole is apparently responding to opinion from a segment of physicists who are either disdainful or jealous of successful popularizers such as the late Carl Sagan or her, for that matter. Her concrete defense, of course, is her skillful writing, built on sparking curiosity about her topics. These she broadly sorts into those about detection of impinging cosmic information; what the information communicates about what is out there; and the experience of doing science. Whether conceiving a column idea while at the theater, the lab, or the Canadian Rockies, Cole knows how to wrap it into a wonder-prompting package. Gilbert Taylor
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