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Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos Hardcover – April 1, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151008167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151008162
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,671,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Back during the brief period when the Los Angeles Times pretended to care about science it ran a weekly column by K. C. Cole. The Times, unfortunately, has reverted to viewing science as something to egregiously misrepresent in its daily reporting. But Cole's columns live on, and are now available to a larger audience. A physicist by training, I am often disappointed by science books because they achieve understandability by subtly misrepresenting the essence of difficult concepts. Cole, on the other hand, has a knack for explaining difficult concepts in simple terms without sacrificing veracity. This book is both a pleasurable and accurate read on topics of current interest in science. I highly recommend it to people wanting to better understand modern science.
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Format: Hardcover
In this collection of mostly columns that she wrote for the Los Angeles Times, science writer K.C. Cole relies on her wide reading in science, and on her interviews and friendships with scientists as a basis for appreciations, observations, interpretations, reports, and just plain musings on science and how science is transforming the planet. Employing a style that ranges from gossip column cute to poetic, Cole (who teaches at my alma mater UCLA) works hard to make science as relevant to the general public as the personalities in, say, People magazine, and just as accessible.
The task in writing about science is making it intelligible without dumbing it down or making simplistic statements that are not accurate. Cole recognizes this problem; indeed in reading these small essays (almost all are under a thousand words) I can feel her struggling mightily to get it just right: to make her expression as accurate as possible and as readable. She muses on these problems in the final essay, entitled, "Oops!" in which she confesses to some slips including confabulating Caltech physicist Robert Millikan with junk bond king Michael Milken. Ah, yes, I know well that sort of error, having stumbled thereabouts myself a time or two!
But it is not her ability to popularize science (by the way, she is now doing pieces for National Public Radio) that impresses me about Cole. It's her ability to understand science and its place in society that sets her apart from other writers. She is especially good are relating science to the social, political and personal worlds in which we live.
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Format: Hardcover
K.C. Cole has the rare ability to make the physical world both comprehensible and entertaining. I never thought I'd curl up with a good physics book but I found her brief commentaries obliterate the usual arbitrary separation between science and the humanities. In fact, it is by making physics so humanistic that she makes it clear to those of us who have difficulties understanding numerical concepts or apparently obscure ideas like space-time, quarks, and black holes. "Physics is simple," she writes, ". . . .consider the harmonics of a bottle of beer. Blow over the top, and you can make a series of different sounds, depending on how hard you blow and how much beer is left in the bottle. And lo and behold, it is by analyzing a very similar set of harmonics set up by the sloshing of gas and light in the early universe that astronomers have been able to put their ears to the cosmos, listening in on its babblings from the first moment of time. And here's what Cole, the mistress of metaphor, has to say about how Einstein's theory of relativity explains gravity as a curvature of space-time: "It's like an elephant sitting on a waterbed. Heavy objects bend space-time into "gravity wells" that pull other object in." If Einstein had put it that way in the first place, I wouldn't have had to wait this long to get it. Thanks, K. C. Cole.
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By blueshoes on November 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have had a lifetime interest in science, and I am a seasoned reader of nearly all of the popular science authors (Sagan, Gamow, Hawking, et al.) This book is comprised of a multitude of pithy and interesting topics presented in small, digestible bites. K.C. Cole is a great science writer.
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