Friday, December 7, 2012

Best Books of 2012

The New York Times announced its "10 Best Books of 2012" in last Sunday's Book Review.  One of the books is in cosmology.  The book, Why does the World Exist?  An Existential Detective Story, was written by Jim Holt and is also a staff pick for 2012.

The book is available electronically ( ) and there's a circulating copy at Memorial library ( ).

We'll post more "Best Books of 2012" lists.  What's your Best Books list for 2012 look like?  Send in your lists or titles and we'll post them.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

National Book Award Winners

The four winners of the National Book Award were announced last night at an extravagant ceremony in New York City.  The winners are:

National Book Foundation, Presenter of the National Book AwardsYoung People's Literature: William Alexander, Goblin Secrets 
Poetry: David FerryBewilderment: New Poems and Translations
Nonfiction: Katherine BooBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity 
Fiction: Louise Erdrich, The Round House  

This year the National Book Foundation sought to draw more attention to its award and nominated some more well known authors than in previous years. Too see the nominees and winners, listen to interviews, and learn more about the award itself, visit the National Book Foundation Website.

Have you read any of the winning books or nominees?  I read the nonfiction winner over the summer, and I believe it was an excellent choice for a winning pick.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

SciFri Book Club - Richard Feynman

In case you missed it, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman was the October book selection for NPR's Science Friday Book Club (not to mention it was the subject first ever book review posted on this site!)

You can listen to the discussion at the Science Friday Webpage.  The participants (led by Annette Heist) discuss Feynman's antics, his sexist attitude, and his brilliant mind among other things.  Lawrence Krauss, author of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science, also chimed into the discussion, adding further insight into Richard Feynman's life and the "great man behind the curious character".

Have you read this book?  Maybe you had a different take on it and disagree with the participants in the discussion.  Feel free to write your own review of this book for the blog or comment below to share your thoughts.

Copies of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman at UW-Madison Libraries

Copies of Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science at UW-Madison Libraries

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


This post is about another online book discovery tool, but don't worry, it's even more exciting than others previously featured on this blog, like the Physics Today Bookends or the New York Times books section.

Today I'm introducing you to NoveList, a subscription database through the University that aims to connect readers to fiction books they'll love.  Each book that has a page on NoveList will include information about the book and book reviews.  The database also allows users to search many different facets associated with works of fiction, including tone, genre, writing style, subjects, and more.

I like to start out by finding a book I've read in the past and loved.  NoveList will offer "read-alikes" (books similar to the selected book) and provide information about the characteristics of the book and you can figure out which ones are most important to you.

For example, one of my favorite books is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  On the homepage for Name of the Wind NoveList tells me that its tone is atmospheric and dramatic, the writing style richly detailed, and the genres are epic and fantasy fiction.  The subjects of The Name of the Wind are things like good and evil, magic, quests, etc.  I don't really care if the next book I read is categorized as fantasy fiction or about a quest, but I do like books that are epic and about good and evil, so I can easily search for other books with those qualities from my book's page while ignoring the qualities and subjects that are less important to me.

Please check out this fascinating resource and if you have any questions stop by the Physics Library talk to a reference librarian at another library.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October New Book Feature, Part II

Here are a few more of the books currently on the New Book Shelf.

Particle PhysicsCarlsmith, Duncan L. Particle Physics. Boston: Pearson, 2013.
Of course we have to feature a book written by one of our own, Duncan Carlsmith. According to Amazon
Particle Physics is the first book to connect theory and experiment in particle physics. Duncan Carlsmith provides the first accessible exposition of the standard model with sufficient mathematical depth to demystify the language of gauge theory and Feynman diagrams used by researchers in the field. Carlsmith also connects theories to past, present, and future experiments.
Be sure to come take a look!

2012 Graduate Programs in Physics, Astronomy, and Related Fields 

For those of you looking into graduate school in physics or astronomy, the Physics Library has your back.  This is the most recent edition of the popular grad program guide which contains up-to-date information and data about almost all doctoral programs in fields relating to physics and astronomy within in the United States.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: The Life of Pi

Martel, Y. (2001). Life of Pi : a novel. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Harcourt.

I have to confess that someone left a copy of The Life of Pi in the Physics Library several years ago. It has been sitting on my office bookshelf ever since. Periodically I would look at and think hmm, I should read that. After all, it won the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction ( But when I saw that Ang Lee was making a movie of the book ( ) and it was due out this coming November I thought it was probably time to read it. 

The book tells the story of Pi (short for Piscine) Molitor, a young Indian boy growing up in Pondicherry, India, where his father ran the local zoo. When he is 16 his father decides to leave India for Canada. They pack up their animals and board a Japanese freighter. The unthinkable happens and the ship sinks, leaving only Pi and a few animals in a lifeboat. The rest of the story is about Pi's journey across the ocean, his only companion a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Pi turns out to be quite resourceful during his voyage, using his wits to keep himself and Richard Parker alive. They encounter many wondrous things as they cross the Pacific Ocean. As I read it I wondered if I would have been able to survive as Pi did.

The Life of Pi is more than a survival story. It's deeper than that. It explores man's relationship with animals (and with himself). It explores the nature of spirituality and story-telling. And it explores the depths of the imagination.

If you are looking for a book that truly transports you to somewhere else I'd highly recommend The Life of Pi.

Submitted by Kerry Kresse.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sean Carroll Speaking at UW

Photo: Sean M. carrollSean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here and Spacetime and Geometry, is speaking at UW-Madison tonight (Thursday, October 18th) from 7-8:30 pm at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery.  Registration is required, so be sure to fill out the form as soon as possible.  Carroll will be speaking about the scale of life and the evolution of the universe.  You can find out more information about the talk here.

Addtionally, Carroll has a new book coming out in November called The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.  We will be purchasing this book for the Physics Library as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, you can read a description of the books and some editorial reviews at

To hear more from Carroll, be sure to check out his interview with Stephen Colbert (and our blog post about it!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October New Book Feature, Part I

Here are a few of the most exciting books added to the Physics Library collection in October.  As always, you can check out the Physics Library New Book page for the complete list.  

Physics professor Chad Orzel and his inquisitive canine companion, Emmy, tackle the concepts of general relativity in this irresistible introduction to Einstein’s physics. Through armchair—and sometimes passenger-seat—conversations with Emmy about the relative speeds of dog and cat motion or the logistics of squirrel-chasing, Orzel translates complex Einsteinian ideas—the slowing of time for a moving observer, the shrinking of moving objects, the effects of gravity on light and time, black holes, the Big Bang, and of course, E=mc2—into examples simple enough for a dog to understand. (from Amazon)

Science News also did a book review of How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog in their February 11th issue.  You can view it at the Science News website

Nuclear energy, X-rays, radon, cell phones . . . radiation is part of the way we live on a daily basis, and yet the sources and repercussions of our exposure to it remain mysterious. Now Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wayne Biddle offers a first-of-its-kind guide to understanding this fundamental aspect of the universe. From fallout to radiation poisoning, alpha particles to cosmic rays, Biddle illuminates the history, meaning, and health implications of one hundred scientific terms in succinct, witty essays. A Field Guide to Radiation is an essential, engaging handbook that offers wisdom and common sense for today's increasingly nuclear world. (from Amazon)

This book was reviewed by Francis Halzen back in May.  At the time there were no copies in UW-Madison Libraries.  We promised to purchase a copy for the Physics Library, and here it is!  Make sure to check out Francis' review, then stop in the library to reserve Antarctica before it's off the New Book Shelf.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

2012 Nobel Prize in Physics

You've probably already heard, but the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Serge Haroche of Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure, inParis, France and David J. Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado Boulder "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems".  

You can find out more information about the winners and their work at the Nobel Prize website and the AIP webiste.  

We have one book by Haroche on campus, "Exploring the Quantum: Atoms, Cavities, and Photons", and a couple books edited by Wineland.

Friday, October 5, 2012

October New Books

BookThe highly anticipated October New Books have found their way to the New Book Shelf.

You can stop by the library to see them in person or take a look at the list on the Physics Library website first.  A few of the books will also be featured on the blog in the coming week, so make sure you check back!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Author Interview/Talk: William Kamkwamba

The last review posted on the blog was for the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. The reviewer, Amihan Huesman, mentioned that Kamkwamba has appeared on the Daily Show and has given a TED Talk.  Since the blog has recently begun posting author interviews, I thought I would include these as well.  

You can watch Kamkwanba's interview with Jon Stewert here and the TED Talk here Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Kamkwamba, W., Mealer, B., & Zunon, E. (2012). The boy who harnessed the wind. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin.

This was the best book I read this past summer. And I read a lot. And if you, like me, felt proud of taking apart (and reassembling) a boombox when you were a kid, you should read this book for a reality check.

You may know the author as the kid in Malawi who built a windmill out of found scraps—after all, he was on The Daily Show and gave a TED talk. But this is a book about hunger. The reason he wanted to build, specifically, a windmill? He wanted to have it power a pump so that his family could irrigate crops and be more resilient in the face of drought.
William Kamkwamba almost died of hunger. A badly timed drought killed an entire year’s harvest in his subsistence-farming community. Many people died; those who did not survived on scraps of food and food-like substances (the hulls leftover from milling corn, of no nutritive value, were sold as food). For months, his family shared one small handful of food each night, and his mother had a baby the week before they ran out of food entirely.
William survived, but he also experienced a different kind of hunger. He had to stop going to school because his parents couldn’t afford it anymore, and his primal need to learn about how the world works led him to read every book available in his local library about technology and science. That old intro physics textbook you donated to Textbooks for Africa? Explaining Physics? That’s the one he pored over. He could barely read or speak English. The other book that he deciphered, with the help of the patient librarian and her dictionary, was Using Energy. [This week, I’m trying to teach Physics 104 students about induced current, and this kid with a primary-school education and hardly any English figured it all out from an old college textbook. Shhh... Don’t tell my students.]

Any conversation about education must touch on issues of poverty. Students can’t learn without food to power their brains and enough sleep to consolidate what they learn. Growing up in Southern Africa and teaching physics in Gabon, I saw kids in circumstances much less dire than William’s struggle to get by in school. What William did, in the midst of a famine, is a little bit miraculous.
So, William builds this windmill and becomes an international sensation. Not a very long book, right? But it’s also a coming-of-age story about an awkward, nerdy boy who likes to tinker and whose best friend is his dog, which might be a bit familiar. Like a lot of nerds, he has a pretty keen sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. I also found William’s own sketches that are in the book to be charming. If you can handle a feel-good, nerdy story that also happens to include a lot of people dying of hunger, this is your next book.

Submitted by Amihan Huesmann.

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wisconsin Book Festival Schedule is Up

A couple of months ago the tentative list of featured presenters at the Wisconsin Book Festival was posted to this blog, and now the official schedule is up!  The Festival begins on Wednesday, November 7th and lasts until Sunday, November 11th.  With exciting presentations every day located right downtown in the beautiful fall weather there is no reason not to attend!

There are events for every age group and the breath of topics ensure that there is something to interest everyone.  The featured authors have written about everything from Islam to Agriculture, in memoirs, biographies and history books.  Personally, I can't wait to see the Legends and Lost Chances: Sports and Dreams in America presentation. Football, Wisconsin ties, dreams of the major league - what's not to love!

You can see the complete schedule with descriptions of each event at the Wisconsin Book Festival website now.  And don't forget to attend the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries Sale taking place for the duration of the festival in Memorial room 116.

What are you most looking forward to?  Have you read any of the books by the featured authors?  If so, write a review!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cyanotype Printing

I know a lot of people are excited about the Go Big Read selection (Radioactive by Lauren Redniss for those of you who haven't seen it around yet) because for the first time it incorporates the physical sciences.  There's even more to the book than meets the eye.  Redniss used some cool techniques to introduce even more character to Radioactive.

First of all, parts of the cover glow in the dark.  The illustrations were made using a technique called  cyantotype printing. According to Redniss' website:
Cyanotype is a camera‐less photographic technique in which paper is coated with light‐sensitive chemicals. When the chemically-treated paper is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it turns a deep blue color. 
If you're interested in cyanotype printing, the Madison Public Library is holding a few classes on it.  If you're interested, you can register and get more information here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding Fiction at Memorial

[logo] Crest of the University of Wisconsin-Madison
If you're still looking for something good to read, try using the Finding Fiction at Memorial guide.  This research guide was created by Ellen Jacks at Memorial to help people locate readily accessible fiction located right on campus.  The guide also offers links to resources that can help you find book reviews and selection guides.  It's worth checking out if you're unsure about what to read next.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Author Interview: Sean Carroll

Last week this blog featured an interview of Michio Kaku on the Colbert Report, and it turns out that Colbert has actually interviewed several physicists and astronomers.

After his book, From Eternity to Here: the Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, came out in 2010 Sean Carroll visited Stephen and attempted to discuss theoretical cosmology - specifically theories of time and why the past is different from the future.  As usual, Colbert's antics made for a humorous if not terribly informative interview.  You can watch the video here.

Books by Carroll in the Library Catalog

Thursday, September 13, 2012

NPR Books

NPR Books is another great resource for discovering new books.  NPR posts new reviews and author interviews regularly.  Their Summer Books Series is just winding down, but there are several more continuing series. Perhaps, like many, you have a Guilty (literary) Pleasure that you would like to explore or are interested in what kind of books authors recommend in You Must Read This.
NPR Books

I especially recommend this website, because it is very thoughtfully laid out and pleasant to visit.  You can sort by reviews, author interviews, and even browse genres.  The audio component is unique and

NY Times Books

Earlier in the summer I wrote about the Physics Today Bookends website, and today I'm featuring another resource for book recommendations.  Unlike Bookends, this website is not physics related, but is definitely well respected and an excellent source of book reviews and information.
Most people are familiar with the New York Times Books section, but here is a reminder to look into what their editors are recommending this summer and fall.  Their reviews are always honest, interesting, and certainly worth reading.

As always, remember that it's your opinion we really want to hear.  Have you read any of the books recently reviewed by the New York Times?  What did you think? Submit your own review here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Author Interview: Michio Kaku

I don't know how I missed it, but popular science author Michio Kaku was interviewed on Stephen Colbert's show in the summer of 2010 before his most recent book came out, Physics of the Impossible.  As you can imagine, Stephen was very excited to hear some of Kaku's ideas.  Best of all, Kaku promised Colbert the possibility of a Harry Potter-esque invisibility cloak!  You can watch the video on Colbert's website.

Books by Kaku in the Library Catalog

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Author Interview: David Kaiser

"How the Hippies Saved Physics" by David Kaiser was not only  featured on the Reconnect to Reading summer reading list, an interview with the author was replayed on To the Best of Our Knowledge with Jim Flemming last Sunday on WPR.  You can listen to the interview or read the transcript here.

I encourage everyone to check out this excellent interview.  Science historian Kaiser briefly explains how the field of physics transformed from the "shut up and calculate" attitude after the Second World War to a bunch of "hippie physicists" reconnecting physics with philosophy in the 1970's.

Copies of How the Hippies Saved Physics at UW-Madison Libraries

Other books by David Kaiser at UW-Madison Libraries

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Go Big Read!

It's nearly the beginning of the Fall Semester.  Students are arriving in Madison, courses will be underway shortly, and the Physics Library will get a lot busier in the coming weeks.  All of this also means that it's almost time for the Go Big Read program to start again.  Soon there will be book discussions and other events all over campus as all of UW reads the same book.

This year the scientists, and specifically physicists, are getting a little love.  The selection is Radioactive: a Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss.  According to the Go Big Read Website:
 "This highly visual book depicts the Curies discovery of radioactive power. Through her writing, Redniss, captures the complexity of the intersections between science, history, and biography. The images of the book were developed using a technique called 'Cyanotype.'"
Also on the website is more information about events and discussions happening around campus this semester.  You should especially consider going to Redniss's talk at Union South Varsity Hall on October 15 at 7:00 PM.

Copies of Radioactive at campus libraries or see other ways of getting access to this book.  View Redniss' website and see sample pages at .

If you read this book and want to offer your opinion, send us a review!

Book Review: The Infinity Puzzle

Close, F. E. (2011). The infinity puzzle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Infinity Puzzle by Frank Close (Oxford) is a history of the development of Quantum Field Theory from the late 1940's to the 1970's.  The book is exceptionally well written and the author has done dozens (at least) of interviews in order to tell the story of how some the components of QFT came into being. Prof Close in several instances offers his own take who gets credit for what and to what extent history sees the evolution of the subject in the same way. For example Ron Shaw and John Ward are singled out as having been sorely neglected in the distributing of awards (Shaw for his own version of Yang-Mills, and Ward for his contribution to the electro-weak theory).

The author does not give any indication of what background the prospective reader should have, but it is clear to me that a familiarity with the details of doing calculations in QFT is more than just helpful. This, technically speaking, is not a book about science but rather about how the ideas that make up QFT were discovered/invented. In my opinion it would help if the reader has some previous experience with the Lagrangian formulation of field theories, the computational details of renormalization, and some idea of how SU(2) and SU(3) come into play.

On the other hand, the chapters on the Higgs mechanism, the creation of electro-weak theory, and asymptotic freedom are likely to be of considerable interest to historians as well as physicists. Close interviewed all the many people associated with the development of the Higgs mechanism, and tells the interesting story of the Harvard/Princeton back-and-forth that lead to the creation of asymptotic freedom.

To give some perspective, two earlier books came to mind as I was reading The Infinity Puzzle: The Second Creation (Robert Crease and Charles Mann), and Constructing Quarks (Andrew Pickering). Of these two the former has the best claim to being accessible to the general reader (it also covers a longer period of time), while the latter is rather more technical on the science material, while not actually being as complete on the history of the ideas. Unlike Close, who is a physicist and who did research in the field, these other authors are historians/sociologists.

The best recommendation to give a book is to say that I found it worth investing in a personal copy.

Submitted by Bob Kariotis

Friday, August 24, 2012

August New Books

New On Stars by eady - The word
The books that arrived at the Physics Library in August are now on the New Book Shelf!  Make sure to take a look before classes start and the semester is in full swing.  You can preview the list on the Physics Library Website.

Book Review: Bonk

Roach, M. (2008). Bonk : the curious coupling of science and sex. New York: W.W. Norton.

“Bonk” is a lighthearted exploration of the intersection between scientific research and sex. It answers many questions that we’ve all pondered at one point or another, such as “do vibrators actually improve fertility in pigs?” or “what exactly is a vaginal photoplethysmograph anyway?” The author’s narrative style is very accessible to readers from all backgrounds; while Mary Roach is not a scientist herself, she includes enough references to current research to keep scientifically inclined readers happy, while maintaining a light tone in the narrative. She draws heavily on her own experience (such as interviews with researchers, and personal participation in various studies). All material is presented in a tasteful manner, and the narrative, while witty, is never crude or distasteful. All in all, a well-written book that’s both informative and good for the occasional laugh. Highly recommended.

Submitted by Anonymous

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: How Experiments End

Galison, P. (1987). How experiments end. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

"How Experiments End" is an intriguing history of experimentation in modern physics. Galison describes how experimentation transitioned from the table-top experiments of the early 20th century to the large-scale particle experiments of the 1970's. He argues that the earlier, smaller experiments were ended when the individual experimenter believed he had physically manipulated and altered his apparatus enough to diminish all sources of error. Later and larger experiments, however, were ended only after initial data was sorted, analyzed, and compared to computer simulations in order to eliminated background effects and determine the reliability of results. Galison’s conclusions about how experiments end are well supported by research into experimental apparatuses, collaboration memos, conference minutes, and computer records. In fact, he often presents more detail than needed to back up his claims. Overall, “How Experiments End” is a fascinating, thoughtful probe into the history of experiment, considering themes often ignored by most theory-centered histories of science.

Submitted by David Britton

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Mann, C. C. (2005). 1491: New revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York: Knopf.

Growing up in Colorado, I was vaguely aware of the importance of Indian culture in that region (Boulder High School is located on the site of an Arapahoe settlement). Marrying a New Mexican who grew up near the Bandelier Pueblo increased my interest in pre-Columbian history. Two years ago, I enjoyed a visit to the Taos pueblo, which I believe is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in North America. Then last week I spent a day at Mesa Verde National Park, the site of an ancestral home of our modern Pueblo Indians. My Mesa Verde experience was greatly enhanced by the coincidental birthday gift of ʺ1491ʺ.

ʺ1491ʺ exposed me to modern research revealing the dramatic impact of pre-Columbian civilizations on the Western Hemisphere. Besides the obvious question of how the Indians got here (toss out the too-clean Ice Age land bridge picture from high school history class), the book details how perceptions of the extent and complexity of Indian populations have changed over the past few decades. And when I say ʺdetailsʺ, I mean it: over 100 pages of notes and bibliography document the 400 pages of text.

Besides considering the issues of origins, the book describes how researchers have come to conclude that Indian populations literally collapsed from the inadvertent introduction of smallpox by the earliest Europeans. And the resulting population explosion of bison, elk, and passenger pigeons. And how the extensive trade networks caused the epidemics to reach Peru before Pizarro, thus softening up the Inka empire for his historic conquest. And how the Inkan ancestors genetically engineered maize (well, no question that they did it, but how is still up for debate). ʺ1491ʺ tells about the milpa farming practices of southern Mexico that allowed continuous cultivation of corn, beans, and squash on the same land, without fertilizer, for 5000 years. And about Indian land and forest management of the Amazon, producing fertile soil out of the nutrient-bereft rain-forest earth by ʺslash and charʺ agriculture. And Indian land management of the Midwestern US (the forests explored by Lewis and Clark were actually relatively young, having arisen after the decimation of the Indian populations by disease). And much, much more.

Actually, I'm amazed and impressed at just how much information is packed into a mere 400 pages. The book is actually quite well-written and easy to read, partly due to the author incorporating juicy scientific controversies and spats into the narrative. Here's a revelation: science is done by people. Humans, as a matter of fact. With (gasp) agendas. It is fascinating to see in this tale an example of the inherent conservatism of science, where the existing paradigm is vigorously defended against discordant new information. Despite those agendas, despite having to reject cherished views, when the weight of the evidence is sufficiently great the new perspective eventually gains widespread acceptance (dark energy?). And, in a bonus for UW readers, several UW faculty, in particular William Denevan from the Geography Department, play prominent roles in the new developments.

ʺ1491ʺ certainly challenged my understanding of pre-Columbian history. It seems quite well researched and documented, and from what I can glean from the internet, hasn't been pilloried too badly by true experts in the field. A great book to read on vacation when your family disapproves of you bringing physics books along.

Submitted by Thad Walker

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries

Book Review: Lords of Sipan

Kirkpatrick, S. (1992). Lords of Sipan: A tale of pre-Inca tombs, archaeology, and crime. New York: Morrow.

Throughout South America there are ancient ruins produced by a variety of pre-Columbian civilizations. "Lords of Sipan" is the story of a particular pyramid complex in Peru that was recently (late '80s) looted by locals. This story involves impoverished natives, ruthless smugglers, intrepid archaeologists, and a Nobel-prize winning physicist who "rationalized (his) purchases with specious arguments and a sanitized, post-card vision of Latin America". The book is a fun and easy, shake-your-head read that I hope whets your appetite for the meaty main course of 1491.

Submitted by Thad Walker

Friday, July 13, 2012

July New Books Feature

As promised, here are a few of the most exciting new additions to our collection this month. 

Gratzer, W. B. (2009). Giant molecules : from nylon to nanotubes. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press.

Our lives are dominated by giant molecules, which have remarkable properties, some of which are only just being discovered and exploited by science, though many have long been exploited far more effectively by Nature. Giant molecules dominate our lives - from the proteins and DNA within us to the man-made fibres of our clothes and the many plastics that we use every day. And they are set to have an enormous impact on the future, as scientists and engineers learn from nature (biomimetics), and utilize the full potential of tiny carbon nanotubes. The possibilities may seem like science fiction - a space station tethered to Earth by cables of giant molecules, tiny molecular vehicles carrying and dispensing drugs in our bodies, smart materials that adjust automatically to optimize our comfort, minute computers utilizing the information storage capacity of DNA - but they are the subjects of cutting edge research. 

Walter Gratzer gives a fascinating account of the discovery and variety of giant molecules, how they come to have their remarkable properties, and how these are used by Nature and increasingly by us, pausing now and again to tell of some of the remarkable characters involved in their discovery and development.

(from Amazon)

Close, F. E. (2011). The infinity puzzle. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Speculation is rife that by 2012 the elusive Higgs boson will be found at the Large Hadron Collider. If found, the Higgs boson would help explain why everything has mass. But there’s more at stake—what we’re really testing is our capacity to make the universe reasonable.
Our best understanding of physics is predicated on something known as quantum field theory. Unfortunately, in its raw form, it doesn’t make sense—its outputs are physically impossible infinite percentages when they should be something simpler, like the number 1. The kind of physics that the Higgs boson represents seeks to “renormalize” field theory, forcing equations to provide answers that match what we see in the real world.

The Infinity Puzzle is the story of a wild idea on the road to acceptance. Only Close can tell it.
(from Amazon)

Update:  Bob Kariotis wrote a review of this book in August.  

Cox, B., & Forshaw, J. R. (2012). The quantum universe : (and why anything that can happen, does). 1st Da Capo Press ed. Boston [Mass.]: Da Capo Press.

In The Quantum Universe, Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw approach the world of quantum mechanics in the same way they did in Why Does E=mc2?and make fundamental scientific principles accessible—and fascinating—to everyone.
The subatomic realm has a reputation for weirdness, spawning any number of profound misunderstandings, journeys into Eastern mysticism, and woolly pronouncements on the interconnectedness of all things. Cox and Forshaw’s contention? There is no need for quantum mechanics to be viewed this way. There is a lot of mileage in the “weirdness” of the quantum world, and it often leads to confusion and, frankly, bad science. The Quantum Universe cuts through the Wu Li and asks what observations of the natural world made it necessary, how it was constructed, and why we are confident that, for all its apparent strangeness, it is a good theory.
The quantum mechanics of The Quantum Universe provide a concrete model of nature that is comparable in its essence to Newton’s laws of motion, Maxwell’s theory of electricity and magnetism, and Einstein’s theory of relativity.
(from Amazon)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July New Books

The July New Books are out!

You can see the whole list of books added to the Physics Library collection here and stay tuned to the blog for a post or two featuring some of the most exciting new titles.

Monday, July 9, 2012

UW Summer Reads

Looking for summer book recommendations?  UW Madison Libraries are talking about #UWSummerReads on Facebook and Twitter.  For the next two weeks Badgers will be talking about camp-related books! Be sure to scan the archives to see past themes (road trips and beach reads) too.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Physics and Science Fiction

Science fiction is a very popular genre among many groups.  For physicists and other scientists the genre can be fascinating, exploring plausible possibilities based on current scientific understanding.  Other times it can seem so loosely based in reality that the joy of the story can be overtaken by complete absurdity.   No one expects works fiction to be totally accurate and possible with every law of physics known.  Sometimes authors can alter the rules and imagine future technology in a way that makes sense.

Insultingly Stupid Physics: Hollywood's Biggest Mistakes, Goof, and Flat-Out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe

So what are some of the best science fiction works based on sound science?

Have you read any science fiction books that really nailed the scientific plausibility?  Or maybe one that was based on ridiculous pseudoscience?  Let us know in the comments, or better yet, submit a review to the blog!

Sources and Links:

Physics Today Bookends

Are you interested in discovering new books about physics recommended by those in your field and reading author interviews? If you're here, it's safe to assume so.  After you've read all our posts, there are other resources to explore.

For example, Physics Today's Bookends is an awesome section of the magazine's website that features a monthly interview with one of the authors reviewed in the magazine, links to their book reviews, and other lists and articles.  This month the interview is with Spencer Weart, author of The Rise of Nuclear Fear (which is currently available in the Physics Library stacks!).

Also don't forget to check out the new display in the Physics Library of a few of the books recently reviewed in Physics today magazine.  We'd love to hear your opinion too - submit your own review to this blog!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: Drift : the Unmooring of American Military Power

Maddow, R. (2012). Drift : the unmooring of the American military power. New York: Crown.

A great book!! Almost finished reading. Discusses how the lack of congressional backbone and the diminution of public attention has changed the way we go to war.

Copies of this book in the UW system

Submitted by Ugo Camerini

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin : an American Life

Isaacson, W. (2003). Benjamin Franklin : an American life. New York: Simon & Schuster. Benjamin Franklin cover

An easy read. Describes the life of that lascivious scoundrel and his many scientific accomplishments. Almost finished reading.

Submitted by Ugo Camerini

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

May New Book Feature, Part III

Here it is, folks, the final installment of the May New Books Features (Part I and Part II are already up).  I know you all are enjoying the wonderful weather we've been having, but perhaps you should visit the Physics Library where you can pick up a riveting new book to read by the pool.

Steane, A. M. (2011). The wonderful world of relativity : a precise guide for the general reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This book is an excellent introduction to relativity for physics and mathematics novices.  The author uses many illustrations, charts, and simple equations to expand the reader's understanding and appreciation of the topic without being overwhelming.

Everett, A., & Roman, T. (2012). Time travel and warp drives: a scientific guide to shortcuts through time and space. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Like The Wonderful World of Relativity, Time Travel and Warp Drives explains the theory of relativity, but takes it one step further.  Although we cannot yet travel through time, the authors present possibilities for the future that are scientifically plausible under our current understanding of physics.

Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Slow reading, the book explains that wo systems drive the way we think.  System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.  Not finished reading.

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries

Submitted by Ugo Camerini

May New Book Feature, Part II

Here's Part II of the May New Book Features.  If you missed Part I, check it out here.  Remember, if any of these books sound interesting to you, please stop by the library to check it out (and remember to review them on this blog once you're finished)!

Randall, L. (2011). Knocking on heaven's door : how physics and scientific thinking illuminate the universe and the modern world. New York: Ecco.

Lisa Randall sets before the reader a broadly sweeping explanation of physics and the contemporary scientific process.  She not only manages to explain the current state of both particle physics and cosmology to the non-scientist, but she also describes the contemporary process of science, illuminating how scientists decide which topics to study as well as how they answer them and why it's important.

Weinberg, S. (2009). Lake views : this world and the universe. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Lake Views consists of a series of well-written essays by Steven Weinberg, organized in chronological, order reflecting on physics, religion, politics, and more.  Many of these essays have previously appeared as book reviews or articles in various publications and are preceded by a short introduction in this collection.  The binding quality of these essays is that they were all written at the author's home along the shore of Lake Austin in Texas.

Bojowald, M. (2011). Once before time : a whole story of the universe. 1st Vintage books ed. New York: Vintage Books.

Once Before Time is an account of how the universe was created and functions using loop quantum cosmology (LQC), a new theory devised by the author that marries Einstein's theory of gravity with quantum mechanics.  Most interestingly, Bojowald explains the advent of the universe using LQC and, unlike Einstein, can account for the big bang (or alternatively, the big bounce) theory.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May New Book Feature, Part I

The May New Books are an interesting bunch!  Here's a taste of two of the standouts.  Come down to the Physics Library to browse these books and many more.  

Boisot, M. (2011). Collisions and collaboration : the organization of learning in the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
Collisions and Collaborations Cover
This book describes the nature and process of "Big Science" using the ATLAS collaboration as a case study while attempting to answer the question of whether the cost of practicing Big Science is too large and the results too uncertain.  In the end, Boisot endeavors to use the ATLAS experiment to predict where Big Science is headed in the future.

Schlosshauer, M. A. (2011). Elegance and enigma : the quantum interviews. Heilelberg: Springer Verlag.

Elegance and Enigma CoverThis book is part of The Frontiers Collection and is a compilation of responses to Schlosshauer's questions to seventeen leading physicists and philosophers about quantum mechanics.  Schlosshauer gets fascinating answers to questions such as: what is quantum mechanics about? what is it telling us about nature? what is the experiment of your dreams? what is the role of philosophy in our understanding of quantum mechanics?

Thanks to anecdotes and stories sprinkled throughout the responses anyone can enjoy this book, from experts to students and the average layperson.

The participants include: Guido Bacciagaluppi, Caslav Brukner, Jeffrey Bub, Arthur Fine, Christopher Fuchs, GianCarlo Ghirardi, Shelly Goldstein, Daniel Greenberger, Lucien Hardy, Anthony Leggett, Tim Maudlin, David Mermin, Lee Smolin, Antony Valentini, David Wallace, Anton Zeilinger, and Wojciech Zurek.

Don't forget to check back - we'll be featuring more new books next week.

May New Books

Summer book image
Photo credit: MJaqueline
The May new books have hit the shelf!

Now that summer has begun, perhaps it's time to start your summer reading - and where better to begin than at the Physics Library?  You can check out the list on our May New Books page and stay tuned to the blog through next week - we'll be highlighting some of the most interesting books added to our collection this month. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wisconsin Book Festival Featured Presenters

The Wisconsin Book Festival has announced their initial list of author presenters for 2012!  For those of you not familiar with the Festival, here is a description from their website:
The Wisconsin Book Festival is a free, five-day program of public events that takes place every Fall in downtown Madison.  It is the state’s largest literary festival, drawing thousands of attendees annually.
Since its inception in 2002, the Wisconsin Book Festival has been a showcase for literary talent from across the state of Wisconsin and beyond.  It is a forum for people to come together and sit face to face and side by side, to talk and listen, whisper, laugh, cry, sing, sign, write notes, tell jokes, and give voice to their ideas.  The Wisconsin Book Festival is a special project of the Wisconsin Humanities Council, an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit, and works to fulfill the WHC’s mission: Community through Conversation.
We proudly host authors of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for readers of all ages; in addition we stage plays, offer hands-on workshops, feature spoken word performances, and more.  Our authors have included such well-known names as Grace Paley, Tim O’Brien, Edwidge Danticat, Isabel Allende, Michael Chabon, TC Boyle, Judy Blume, Wendell Berry, Michael Perry, Lorrie Moore, Lynda Barry and Harvey Pekar. 
This year's fesitval is taking place from November 7-11 and has the theme "Lost & Found".  The initial list of presenters include:

Add books by these authors to your summer reading list now and be ready to enjoy everything the Wisconsin Book Festival has to offer this fall!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Summer Reading List

Now that school's almost done, check out these fun books that were new to the Physics Library collection during the 2011-2012 school year.

  •   By Richard Panek.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.
    • In recent years, a handful of scientists has been racing to explain a disturbing aspect of our universe: only 4 percent of it consists of the matter that makes up you, me, and every star and planet. The rest is completely unknown. 
      Richard Panek tells the dramatic story of how scientists reached this cosmos-shattering conclusion. In vivid detail, he narrates the quest to find the “dark” matter and an even more bizarre substance called dark energy that make up 96 percent of the universe. This is perhaps the greatest mystery in all of science, and solving it will bring fame, funding, and certainly a Nobel Prize. Based on hundreds of interviews and in-depth, on-site reporting, the book offers an intimate portrait of the bitter rivalries and fruitful collaborations, the eureka moments and blind alleys, that have redefined science and reinvented the universe.

  •   Edited by William Brandon Shanley and Nick Herbert.  Pari, Italy:  Pari Publishing, 2011. 
    • Alice in Wonderland leaps into the twenty-first century of quantum paradoxes and chaotic attractors. In a series of engaging stories several of the world's leading science writers speculate on what would happen if the young Alice were to enter the world of quarks, fractals, chaos theory, Heisenberg's uncertainty, the very center of the universe and theories of everything. The book also contains a glossary, very accessible to the lay reader, of definitions and explanations of the curious quantum world.
  •   By Giovanni Viganale.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2011.
    • Challenging the image of theoretical physics as a dry discipline, The Beautiful Invisible shows that this highly abstract science is in fact teeming with beautiful concepts, and the task of imagining them demands profound creativity, just as creative as the work of poets or magical realist novelists such as Borges and Musil. "A good scientific theory is like a symbolic tale, an allegory of reality," writes Giovanni Vignale, as he uncovers the unexpected links between theoretical physics and artistic creativity. In engaging and at times poetic prose, and with ample quotations from many of the writers he admires, Vignale presents his own unorthodox accounts of fundamental theoretical concepts such as Newtonian mechanics, superconductivity, and Einstein's theory of relativity, illuminating their profound implications. Throughout, the author treats readers to glimpses of physics as "exercised in the still night, when only the moon rages." Indeed, as we delve behind now-familiar concepts such as "electron spin" and "black hole," the world that we take for granted melts away, leaving a glimpse of something much stranger.
  •   By John Marburger III. Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2011. 
    • Questions of the fundamental nature of matter continue to inspire and engage our imagination. However, the exciting new concepts of strings, supersymmetry and exotic matter build on ideas that are well known to physicists but mysterious and puzzling to people outside of these research fields. Covering key conceptual developments from the last century, this book provides a background to the bold ideas and challenges faced by physicists today. Quantum theory and the Standard Model of particles are explained with minimal mathematics, and advanced topics, such as gauge theory and quantum field theory, are put into context. With concise, lucid explanations, this book is an essential guide to the world of particle physics.
  •  By James D. Stein. New York:  Basic Books, 2011.
    • In Cosmic Numbers, mathematics professor James D. Stein traces the discovery, evolution, and interrelationships of the numbers that define our world. Everyone knows about the speed of light and absolute zero, but numbers like Boltzmann’s constant and the Chandrasekhar limit are not as well known, and they do far more than one might imagine: They tell us how this world began and what the future holds. Much more than a gee-whiz collection of facts and figures, Cosmic Numbers illuminates why particular numbers are so important—both to the scientist and to the rest of us.
  •  By John W. Moffat.  Toronto:  Thomas Allen Publishers, 2010.
  •   By Sonia Nazario.  New York:  Random House, 2007.  [2011 Go Big Read Book Selection]
    • If you missed reading this 2011 Go Big Read pick during the school year, catch up now!
  •   By Victor J. Stenger.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Books, 2011.
    • A number of authors have noted that if some physical parameters were slightly changed, the universe could no longer support life, as we know it. This implies that life depends sensitively on the physics of our universe. Does this "fine-tuning" of the universe also suggest that a creator god intentionally calibrated the initial conditions of the universe such that life on earth and the evolution of humanity would eventually emerge? Some influential scientists, such as National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, think so. Others go even further, asserting that science "has found God."
  •   By Walter Lewin with Walter Goldstein.  New York:  Free Press, 2011.
    • FOR MORE THAN FORTY YEARS as a beloved professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Walter Lewin honed his singular craft of making physics not only accessible but truly fun. Now Lewin takes readers on a marvelous journey in For the Love of Physics, opening our eyes as never before to the amazing beauty and power with which physics can reveal the hidden workings of the world around us.
  •   By Mark Denny.  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
    • A physics-driven exploration of sports played on ice and snow that is truly fun and informative, Gliding for Gold is the perfect primer for understanding the science behind cold weather athletics.
  •  By John Eric Goff.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010
    • Fun, witty, and imbued throughout with admiration for the simple beauty of physics, Gold Medal Physics is sure to inspire readers to think differently about the next sporting event they watch.
  •  By David Kaiser.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.
    • A lively, entertaining story that illuminates the relationship between creativity and scientific progress, How the Hippies Saved Physics takes us to a time when only the unlikeliest heroes could break the science world out of its rut. 46 black-and-white illustrations
    • David Kaiser was a 2011 Physics Colloquia speaker.
  •   By Richard A. Muller. Illustrated by Joey Manfre.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.
    • Richard A. Muller demonstrated in his recent bestseller, Physics for Future Presidents, that he has a unique talent for delivering the “aha” moment—making difficult topics accessible. In The Instant Physicist he shows his ability to entertain, too, by presenting the best of the scientific curiosities he has assembled over his distinguished career. Assisted by award-winning cartoonist Joey Manfre, who has created an original color cartoon for each “physics bite,” Muller will have readers chuckling while they’re absorbing more science than they ever thought possible. From the surprising (chocolate has more energy in it than TNT) to the scary (even kids can make a bomb), this book contains a revelation on every page. Once finished with this page-turner, readers will be the stars of their next cocktail party.
  •  By Abigail Foerstner. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2007.
    • Astrophysicist and space pioneer James Van Allen (1914–2006), for whom the Van Allen radiation belts were named, was among the principal scientific investigators for twenty-four space missions, including Explorer I in 1958, the first successful U.S. satellite; Mariner 2’s 1962 flyby of Venus, the first successful mission to another planet; and the 1970s Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 missions that surveyed Jupiter and Saturn. Although he retired as a University of Iowa professor of physics and astronomy in 1985, he remained an active researcher, using his campus office to monitor data from Pioneer 10—on course to reach the edge of the solar system when its signal was lost in 2003—until a short time before his death at the age of ninety-one. Now Abigail Foerstner blends space science drama, military agendas, cold war politics, and the events of Van Allen’s lengthy career to create the first biography of this highly influential physicist.
  •   By Ian Sample.  New York:  Basic Books, 2010.
    • In Massive, prize-winning science journalist Ian Sample tells the story of the race to locate the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle whose existence remains to be proven. Since 1964, when Peter Higgs described an over-arching theory of mass that depended on the Higgs boson, the scientific community has been possessed by the increasingly competitive race to prove its existence. The ensuing four-decade quest has cost billions of dollars and consumed the attention of scientific luminaries and of politicians eager to ensure that their home country would be the one to get credit for discovering the long-sought-after particle. Now, with the Large Hadron Collider up and running, the discovery of the Higgs boson seems finally to be within our grasp. Sample’s Massive provides the juicy backstory to what will possibly be the defining discovery of modern physics, complete with intense rivalries, clashing egos, and grand ambition.
  •   By Thomas Grissom.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.
    • How do students learn about physics without picking up a 1,000-page textbook chock-full of complicated equations? The Physicist’s World is the answer. Here, Thomas Grissom explains clearly and succinctly what physics really is: the science of understanding how everything in the universe moves.... This is physics for the thinking person, especially students who enjoy learning concepts, histories, and interpretations without becoming mired in complex mathematical detail. A concise survey of the field of physics, Grissom’s book offers students and professionals alike a unique perspective on what physicists do, how physics is done, and how physicists view the world.
  •  By Simone Turchetti.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
    • In the fall of 1950, newspapers around the world reported that the Italian-born nuclear physicist Bruno Pontecorvo and his family had mysteriously disappeared while returning to Britain from a holiday trip. Because Pontecorvo was known to be an expert working for the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment, this raised immediate concern for the safety of atomic secrets, especially when it became known in the following months that he had defected to the Soviet Union. Was Pontecorvo a spy? Did he know and pass sensitive information about the bomb to Soviet experts? At the time, nuclear scientists, security personnel, Western government officials, and journalists assessed the case, but their efforts were inconclusive and speculations quickly turned to silence. In the years since, some have downplayed Pontecorvo’s knowledge of atomic weaponry, while others have claimed him as part of a spy ring that infiltrated the Manhattan Project. 
      The Pontecorvo Affair
       draws from newly disclosed sources to challenge previous attempts to solve the case, offering a balanced and well-documented account of Pontecorvo, his activities, and his possible motivations for defecting. Along the way, Simone Turchetti reconsiders the place of nuclear physics and nuclear physicists in the twentieth century and reveals that as the discipline’s promise of military and industrial uses came to the fore, so did the enforcement of new secrecy provisions on the few experts in the world specializing in its application.
  • By Lawrence M. Krauss.  New York:  W.W. Norton, 2011.
    • Perhaps the greatest physicist of the second half of the twentieth century, Richard Feynman changed the way we think about quantum mechanics, the most perplexing of all physical theories. Here Lawrence M. Krauss, himself a theoretical physicist and best-selling author, offers a unique scientific biography: a rollicking narrative coupled with clear and novel expositions of science at the limits. An immensely colorful persona in and out of the office, Feynman revolutionized our understanding of nature amid a turbulent life. Krauss presents that life—from the death of Feynman’s childhood sweetheart during the Manhattan Project to his reluctant rise as a scientific icon—as seen through the science, providing a new understanding of the legacy of a man who has fascinated millions. An accessible reflection on the issues that drive physics today, Quantum Man captures the story of a man who was willing to break all the rules to tame a theory that broke all the rules.
  •  By Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill.  Amherst, NY:  Prometheus Books, 2011.
    • Quantum theory is the bedrock of contemporary physics and the basis of understanding matter in its tiniest dimensions and the vast universe as a whole. But for many, the theory remains an impenetrable enigma.
      Their story is partly historical, covering the many "Eureka" moments when great scientists--Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schroedinger, and others--struggled to come to grips with the bizarre realities that quantum research revealed. Although their findings were indisputably proven in experiments, they were so strange and counterintuitive that Einstein refused to accept quantum theory, despite its great success.
      The authors explain the many strange and even eerie aspects of quantum reality at the subatomic level, from "particles" that can be many places simultaneously and sometimes act more like waves, to the effect that a human can have on their movements by just observing them!
      Finally, Drs. Lederman and Hill delve into quantum physics' latest and perhaps most breathtaking offshoots--field theory and string theory. The intricacies and ramifications of these two theories will give the reader much to ponder. In addition, the authors describe the diverse applications of quantum theory in its almost countless forms of modern technology throughout the world.
      Using eloquent analogies and illustrative examples, Quantum Physics for Poets render even the most profound reaches of quantum theory understandable and something for us all to savor.
  •   By Charles K. Kao.  Hong Kong:  Chinese University Press, 2011.
    • Charles K. Kao was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for "groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication." This memoir chronicles his personal and scientific odyssey from his an unfathomable childhood in war-torn Shanghai and Hong Kong to his seminal work with glass fibers. Kao shares his experiences as vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and muses on his legacy as the "father of fiber optics." His groundbreaking research (based in part on the discovery that signal loss in fiber cables was a direct result of glass impurities rather than technology flaws) laid the groundwork for our present day communication infrastructure. 
If you want to browse past new books for yourself, visit