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The Evolution Revolution: Design Without Intelligence
The Evolution Revolution: Design Without Intelligence
by John A. Long
Edition: Paperback
Price: $23.70
13 used & new from $19.53

0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very misleading cover, September 28, 2007
The cover of this book says "Design without intelligence" and quotes from a review which says "just when we need it -- to counter the stupidity and duplicity of intelligent design".

So I looked inside hoping for an itelligent critique of, say, arguments like those in Michael Behe's new book "The Edge of Evolution" -- which I find to be thought-provoking, honestly argued, and respectful of the reader, even if I'm not competent to evaluate the truth or falsehood of its claims, that's why I was hoping to find an intelligent critique when I picked up the book under review here.

However, I find nothing inside about the questions posed by "intelligent design" proponents. The book may be a good exposition of the descent of species, but it is not what is implicitly advertised on the cover, in my opinion.

The contempt shown for the tiny band of intelligent design scientists, as well as their much large following in the public, is very off-putting to me. If the case against them is so air-tight, why the gratuitous insults? The "duplicity" and perhaps the "stupidity" seem to be on the other foot, in this case.


Elements of Statistical Thermodynamics: Second Edition (Dover Books on Chemistry)
Elements of Statistical Thermodynamics: Second Edition (Dover Books on Chemistry)
by Leonard Kollender Nash
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.44
52 used & new from $3.79

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this old book the best elementary introduction to statistical mechanics, March 4, 2007
This is a wonderful introduction to statistical mechanics, especially for chemistry students taking undergraduate physical chemistry. Leonard K. Nash was a Harvard professor of chemistry whose primary interest became chemical education and the history of chemistry. This book was a classic in the 1960's, but later went out of print. Dover has done a real service in reissuing it. The book is remarkable for its lucidity and pedagogical clarity. It's the best introduction I know to the very difficult subject, especially for beginners, of statistical mechanics. For starters, it gives a wonderfully insightful look at the meaning of the statistics of the statistical ensembles.

This book puts most of the current physical chemistry textbooks to shame in its treatment of the subject. It could serve as a stand-alone text for the statistical mechanics part of a physical chemistry sequence.

If you are taking this course, you owe it to yourself to get this book. The price cannot be beat.

I also recommend the companion book by Nash on macroscopic thermodynamics, together with Fermi's classic text (also available from Dover).

At a more elementary level, Dover has re-issued Bruce Mahan's famous thermodynamics book. I believe he used this for advanced freshmen at Berkeley. If you are having trouble with thermodynamics in physical chemistry, even at the Fermi or Nash level, do yourself a favor and get Mahan's book. Even if you're not having trouble, you may very well find it helpful.


An Approach to Aristotle's Physics
An Approach to Aristotle's Physics
by Aristotle
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.95
43 used & new from $9.39

7 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars bizarre thesis, November 29, 2006
This book argues that in the Physics, Aristotle concealed his real views, probably out of fear for his physical safety. Instead, Aristotle supposedly held views that are actually closer to the truth than what modern physical science tells us. Bolotin speaks of a "widespread and growing critique of modern science". One gets the sense of a recent uprising here. But when we go to the sources, it turns out they are the likes of Husserl and even Goethe.

This does not begin to capture the strangeness of this book, however. For an inkling, go to p. 7 where Bolotin states "Aristotle is generally thought of, from the perspective of our modern knowledge, as having been naively speculative or even manifestly wrong. But I will try to show in all these cases not only that his genuine views are consistent with modern discoveries, but that they stem from a broader and deeper grasp than modern science possesses of the matters to which they are related."

This would be mad, if it were not simply preposterous. Much of the "evidence" for this thesis is the inconsistencies and logical lapses in Aristotle's writings on nature. Surely Aristotle couldn't have meant what he wrote? Perhaps, then, he had an understanding of physics something like that of early modern science? But when we compare what Aristotle said, for example, about laws of motion with the work of Galileo and successors, we find that Aristotle's notions were simply primitive.

His books on nature are most probably lecture notes written down by students, hastily put together and perhaps corrupted by the transcribers or others. He was a man with a lot of original insights about a great many subjects. It would be ridiculous to think that he could have figured out what Galileo took a whole lifetime to do, while also writing everything that he wrote on metaphysics, biology, logic, poetics, philosophy.

For all I know, there may have been some concealment in Aristotle's writings. To extrapolate this hypothesis to Bolotin's wild thesis is simply absurd. Aristotle's achievements were staggering just as they are. It is not necessary to imagine that he did things that he simply didn't do.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 3, 2014 6:50 AM PST


General Chemistry (Dover Books on Chemistry)
General Chemistry (Dover Books on Chemistry)
by Linus Pauling
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.98
145 used & new from $2.89

108 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars full of insight but eccentric, September 23, 2006
This is an interesting, if somewhat dated and eccentric textbook by the man who was probably the leading chemist of the twentieth century. It is full of interesting insight, and written with real flair, so much unlike the typical textbook today produced by the textbook publishing machines.

Let me give a couple of examples, good and bad, of what makes this book interesting, but also exasperating.

The book is the only freshman chemistry text I know of that has a derivation of the Boltzmann distribution P ~ e^(-E/kT), a very basic relation in the kinetic theory of gases and in fact in all of statistical physics. The derivation is simpler than most, which makes it a real jewel especially at this level, where most people would think it doesn't belong.

On the other hand, the section on chemical bonding, which is actually where Pauling made his reputation, is very eccentric, like the author, so much so that it makes the book unsuitable as the sole text for a course. It is all based on sp3 hybrid orbitals. As far as I can tell, sp2 and sp hybrids are never mentioned. With the sp3 story, Pauling is able to account surprisingly well for some systematics of bond lengths. Whether this is fortuitous or not, I don't know, but it is interesting. On the other hand, without sp2 and sp hybrids, he is completely unable to give the standard, very simple, beautiful account of bond angles. A student learning introductory chemistry from this text who then went into organic chemistry would soon be at a disadvantage without knowing the theory of hybrid orbitals that everyone else would get from any of the standard contemporary texts.

My recommendation: use this text as a very insightful, quirky supplement. The price is certainly right.

The text that comes closest, in my opinion, in seriousness, if not eccentricity, is the contemporary text by Oxtoby and coauthors. It is too highbrow though for most college introductory chemistry courses.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 3, 2014 11:30 AM PDT


Relativity: The Special and the General Theory
Relativity: The Special and the General Theory
by Albert Einstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.50
224 used & new from $0.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beware of different editions! update of my earlier review, August 19, 2006
This is an update of the review below, posted anonymously June 20, 1999. People seem to have found it useful and I thought I would add what I consider to be important information about different editions of this book.

Various editions of this book differ in an important respect. Some of them are more complete than others! The reason is that Einstein wrote the first edition over 80 years ago, and it is in the public domain; I believe later additions to the book are still under copyright, which is under the control of Einstein's heirs and whomever the heirs have given publishing rights. In the 2005 celebration of Einstein's "miracle year", lots of publishers cashed in, but not all of the editions, including some of the more expensive ones, have the complete deal.

The very critical thing to look for in the various editions is the Appendices, in particular the piece "Relativity and the Problem of Space" which Einstein wrote near the end of his life. This is an extremely serious and profound meditation on the subject matter, whether written for a "popular" audience or not. Part of the essay is a brief discussion of something whose significance is still very actively debated, usually under the rubrics of "background independence" and "diffeomorphism invariance". You will not find these words in Einstein's essay, but these notions are at the heart of the sometimes bitter disagreements about various approaches to quantum gravity, e.g. loop quantum gravity (which takes an Einsteinian view) and string theory (which takes a view based on particle physics and quantum field theory). Einstein did not enter into these contemporary debates about quantum gravity, but his meditations in the essay in this book are very much at the source of the current controversies.

A leading quantum gravity person of the Einsteinian-based persuasion told me several years ago that he had been a professional practitioner in relativity and quantum gravity for years before he really appreciated what Einstein was getting at here.

Another person, of the string persuasion, told me that he was "deeply shaken" from reading a Scientific American critique of the string theory program by a person of the loop quantum gravity school, who stressed the lack of "background independence" in the string program.

So, by all means, check the table of contents of different editions to make sure the appendices are all there, make sure the "Relativity and the Problem of Space" essay is there. You will find much to ponder and mystify you there, and much that can be related to contemporary debates at the frontiers of quantum theories of space and time!

mastermind at work, June 20, 1999

Reviewer: A reader

The reviewer of April 13 from Moscow, Idaho says this is not the book to read unless you already understand the theory. Maybe fair enough. It was written when Einstein had achieved youthful fame, though, not in his dotage, if he had such a thing. It may be a little more difficult for the translation, but not much. Contrary to some reviewers, it is not that easy to follow, and if it seems like an easy read, you probably haven't understood it. There are many books written since where it is probably easier to learn about special relativity, to say nothing of the basic ideas of general relativity. But once you have started to get the hang of things, this book is a masterpiece of exposition! It allows one to follow Einstein's actual thought process in arriving at these theories -- pretty much by a process of pure thought -- more or less in the steps he probably took himself. There is not a word in the exposition that was not carefully thought out. So, learn the theory somewhere else and then read this book -- you'll understand the theory better for reading Einstein's book -- or read this book first, keep going back to it 'til it starts to make sense, and maybe consult some other, more "user-friendly" textbook at the same time. Einstein claims his book allows a lay reader with only high school math to understand relativity. To which a friend of mine replied "Yeah, if you have an IQ of 800". To which I say, have patience, keep thinking about it and going back to it.


Aristarchus of Samos: The Ancient Copernicus (Dover Books on Astronomy)
Aristarchus of Samos: The Ancient Copernicus (Dover Books on Astronomy)
by Sir Thomas Little Heath
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.88
51 used & new from $10.99

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars best history of Greek astronomy, July 2, 2006
This old (early twentieth century) book is not just about Aristarchus, the "Greek Copernicus" -- that comes in the final chapters. Rather, it is the best survey I know of ancient Greek astronomy, starting from the very beginning. I kept coming across references to this book by Sir Thomas Heath in books on the Copernican revolution, e.g. those by Angus Armitage and Thomas Kuhn, and finally decided to read it -- after having bought his smaller volume on Greek astronomy, also reprinted by Dover.

Heath really goes into detail on each of the ancient schools of astronomy in Greece. There were in fact a good many points of view -- the earth-centered view, the view that the earth rotates daily about its axis, the view of everything going around a fiery center, the "concentric spheres" variant of Eudoxus of the earth centered view, the Aristotelian variant of that, the eventual Ptolemaic view of epicycles and all that ... and finally the view of Aristarchus, which was essentially the Copernican sun-centered view (but without Copernicus' marvelous insights into how such a view simplified everything).

Heath not only goes into detail about each of these schools of thought -- it can be pretty rough going trying to follow all of this, especially because of the esoteric modes of speaking they often employed -- he also gives pithy summaries of what each school was saying, and a critical evaluation of their worth and influence.

If you really want to gain an appreciation of the variety of the ancient Greek schools of thought, of their struggle and progress over seven centuries in describing the motions in the heavens, of the reasonableness of much of their thinking, of the magnificence of their achievement -- I heartily recommend this book, then I recommend, either before or after, exploring the Copernican revolution and the rest of the scientific revolution, in the books by Armitage, Kuhn, Hall, and others.


Aristotle's Physics: A Guided Study (Masterworks of Discovery)
Aristotle's Physics: A Guided Study (Masterworks of Discovery)
by Joe Sachs
Edition: Paperback
Price: $36.05
36 used & new from $10.99

14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I gave up on this clunky translation, July 1, 2006
Wanting to read Aristotle's "Physics", I started off with the translation in Richard McKeon's collection "Basic Works of Aristotle", I don't remember the translator, but it is easy to find out, it was one of the standard old-time British classicists. Finding it stilted, and having read about the supposed virtues of Joe Sachs' "authentic" translation, I bought the book. I used it for a while, but found his bizarre literalism to be be far more opaque and clumsy than the older effort in the McKeon book. If Joe Sachs' Aristotle is the real thing, why bother?

Finally, I got ahold of the Wicksteed/Cornford translation in the Harvard "Loeb Classics" series. I found this to be a nice literary effort, with real grace, and also a lot of notes on difficult or ambiguous passages. It's not true that the old-timers had buried the real Aristotle under layers of maladapted Latinisms, and that Joe Sachs has recovered the "real" Aristotle. To the contrary: his bizarre malapropisms make it very difficult to follow what Aristotle was saying -- which is hard enough in a lot of places, probably in part because these were lecture notes, not a finished literary work, and probably corrupted over time in various places. So, try the Joe Sachs translation, if you like it, fine. To me, it's a cult item, even if it has some interest. I haven't tried every translation, I don't pretend to be any kind of Aristotle scholar, but for my money, the Loeb edition is the best.

Having several translations available certainly helps, there are plenty of places in Aristotle's Physics that should leave you scratching your head, a look at another translation sometimes helps clear things up.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2013 1:23 PM PDT


Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (Great Discoveries)
Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (Great Discoveries)
by William T. Vollmann
Edition: Hardcover
85 used & new from $0.01

32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars save your money and time, June 16, 2006
If you are interested in what Copernicus did, save your money and time and don't buy this book. Instead, get ahold of Thomas Kuhn's masterful account "The Copernican Revolution".

This book is one of a series in which non-scientists present popular accounts of mostly great episodes in science. I say mostly great because there seems to be a certain amount of political correctness in the choice of scientists to write about in the series. But I digress.

Some of the books in this series are successful, for example the one by Madison Smartt Bell on Priestley, Lavoisier, and the chemical revolution. But when you have fiction writers expounding technical subjects, there is potential for trouble, and that is what we get with Vollmann's book on Copernicus.

Vollmann's explanations of the technical aspects of Copernicus' work are superficial and hard to grasp. Kuhn is much better. Vollmann also has a complusion to say snotty things about everyone involved, about their thoughts, motives, habits of mind. One would think that the ancients who constructed early science and astronomy were a bunch of idiots who had to wait for Copernicus to come along, who of course was a dolt because he was "obedient" to Aristotle for the most part, and was incapable of writing clearly to boot. Kuhn is incomparably better at explaining the philsophical, religious, scientific, and historical contexts in which the ancients, Copernicus, and the other early moderns worked. For example, you get a real sense of why the ancient earth-centered system was the reasonable system, that the ancient heliocentric precursors of Copernicus didn't have much in the way of evidence or reason on their side. You get a sense from Kuhn of just what it was that made the heliocentric theory attractive to Copernicus -- the changing context of observational astronomy, and above all the clarity which the heliocentric view gave to the matter of the oddities of the motion of certain of the planets.

If you really want a sense of the greatness of ancient scientific thought, of ancient astronomy, of the magnificence of the accomplishment of Copernicus and his followers in the modern scientific revolution, get ahold of Kuhn's book.


A World on Fire: A Heretic, an Aristocrat, and the Race to Discover Oxygen
A World on Fire: A Heretic, an Aristocrat, and the Race to Discover Oxygen
by Joe Jackson
Edition: Hardcover
105 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars makes the world of the time come alive!, February 28, 2006
I'm a professional chemist with a long interest in the history of science, including the history of chemistry. I've studied the history of the "chemical revolution" brought about by Lavoisier, Priestley, and others, and have read some of the original works. Even though I know much of the scientific history, this book really brings to life the two protagonists, the Englishman Priestley and the Frenchman Lavoisier, in a way no other book does, including some recent ones that are selling much better. Not only the characters, but their environments, the places and time in which they lived. I'm in the middle of the book and enjoying every word of it. I heartily recommend this book if you're interested in the breakthrough in chemistry that took place in the late eighteenth century, interested in the lives of two of the leading protagonists, or even just interested in the social history of the time. It's a darn good read!


A Short Course in General Relativity
A Short Course in General Relativity
by J. Foster
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from $4.57

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great first book on general relativity, June 8, 2003
I like this book because it has the best elementary introduction to the mathematics of general relativity. It starts out with simple multivariable calculus and geometric notions about vectors. It then explains the ideas of the natural basis and the dual basis, first in a plane and then on a manifold, with very helpful figures. With too many other books it is possible in a first exposure to completely miss the point of these ideas, which really are pretty simple when you come right down to it. It is true that the physical motivation and meaning of general relativity are not treated in that much depth, but these can be picked up from other sources. In my view it is the mathematics that is the most intimidating thing about general relativity -- the physical ideas are exhilirating and natural by comparison!


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