- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st Printing edition (May 1, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0618242953
- ISBN-13: 978-0618242955
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 150 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #867,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science Hardcover – May 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer-winning science writer Angier (Woman: An Intimate Geography) distills everything you've forgotten from your high school science classes and more into one enjoyable book, a guide for the scientifically perplexed adult who wants to understand what those guys in lab coats on the news are babbling about, in the realms of physics, chemistry, biology, geology or astronomy. More important even than the brief rundowns of atomic theory or evolution—enlivened by interviews with scientists like Brian Greene—are the first three chapters on scientific thinking, probability and measurement. These constitute the basis of a scientific examination of the world. Understand these principles, Angier argues, and suddenly, words like "theory" and "statistically significant" have new meaning. Angier focuses on a handful of key concepts, allowing her to go into some depth on each; even so, her explanations can feel rushed, though never dry. Angier's writing can also be overadorned with extended metaphors that obscure rather than explain, but she eloquently asks us to attend to the universe: to really look at the stars, at the plants, at the stones around us. This is a pleasurable and nonthreatening guide for anyone baffled by science. (May 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Pulitzer Prize-winner Natalie Angier (Woman: An Intimate Geography), a science journalist at the New York Times, was writing an article on whale genetics when her editor suggested that she define the term mammal for her readers and confirm that mammals are animals. That was the last straw for Angier, who nevertheless writes with respect for The Canon's intended audience. She incorporates imaginative metaphors, concise analogies, and jokes into her writing, which result in clear and accessible explanations of complex ideas. A few critics were annoyed by the scientific "sugarcoating" and the dizzying pace of the book, but most were impressed by Angier's lucid prose and clever word play.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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The problem I had was that at times the author seemed to be more focused on finding cute ways to say things than on the ideas themselves. The biggest reason for this seemed to be to avoid scaring any unwary readers with "math" or "hard" science. The best example of this comes right at the end when the author talks about the Drake equation. Rather than just give the equation and tell what the variables mean (to me a wonderful way to understand how astronomy intersects historical sciences), the author mentions, almost off-handedly, a few of the variables and then only really explains the last one.
In all, a good way to bring the science fearful into a basic understanding that could be nurtured into interest or even love. However, probably not a book for someone who has seen their way through less flowery, more information dense tomes.
The writing is breezy and not stilted, using metaphors instead of math to explain difficult topics. The chapter on evolutionary biology is my favorite, and covers not only the mechanics of evolution but the controversy, and explains the tenets (and bad reasoning) of the Intelligent Design movement. After reading this chapter it seemed like a veil lifted from my eyes, and I got excited and yelled, "I get it!"
A couple of my favorite quotes:
From the chapter on evolutionary biology: "Natural selection is the force that transforms drift and randomness into the gift of extravagance. It takes the doctrinaire sloth of the second law of thermodynamics, the tendency of every system to get frowzier over time, and hammers it into a magic, all-purpose, purpose-making machine that turns around and breaks entropy at the knees."
From the chapter on astronomy, talking about the search for extraterrestrials: "We are such indefatigable telecommunicators that the world and its 6.5 billion content providers don't feel like enough, and we can't help but wonder, Who else can we call?"
The book is wonderful and definitely is worth reading several times. My only gripes: there is the occasional reference to some current pop culture celebrity, and I think this will make an otherwise timeless book seem dated in a few years. Also I think that the book would have been enhanced by an occasional illustration. For instance, the explanation of the galaxies flying away from each other is much easier understood if you actually see a picture of a balloon with dots on it to represent the galaxies.
As the book went on, however, I began to get frustrated. She routinely works in cutesy little rhymes and sayings that started to drive me crazy. As the concepts dealt with became more complex, her penchant for the poetic was really irritating. She would be talking about... I don't know, atoms maybe... and she would say something like "the size of a bird or this word or all the nerds in class." Please remember you're writing for adults who are intelligent and choosing to further educate themselves about science. I don't want to be driven off by cute.
In the end, I still think she didn't quite simplify some of the deeper concepts to a level I was really comfortable with. Maybe I am truly a science idiot, but I doubt it.