Monday, September 30, 2013

Highlights from the New Books List: September

Copies of this title available UW-Madison
Livio, Mario. (2013). Brilliant blunders: Colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed out understanding of life and the universe. New York: Simon & Schuster.

"At last we have a book specifically devoted to scientific mistakes: Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe. Its author, astrophysicist Mario Livio, chooses only five from the many available classic “blunders”: mistakes made by Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein.

Livio’s title and subtitle are worth pondering. Are the mistakes he writes about truly “brilliant”? Isn’t “colossal” a bit over the top? Are they even “blunders,” or are they justifiable and well-motivated ideas that just happened to turn out wrong? Concentrating on five examples gives Livio the opportunity to explore them and their scientific importance in detail. His extensive, 21-page bibliography is evidence of his thorough research. [...] One strength of Livio’s book is its argument that, despite the title, scientific mistakes are seldom blunders at all. They are complex manifestations of human psychology in the context of the prevailing scientific knowledge of the time. Livio concludes each essay with speculations about the mistakes from the perspective of our present knowledge of how the brain works. Some readers may consider those ruminations pop psychology. In any case, skipping them won’t diminish the value of the rest of the book. [...] For someone who wants the whole story, Livio’s book is a page turner."  -- Donald Simanek, Emeritus professor of physics, Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania. (Excerpts from review in Physics Today, 66.8 (2013): p. 48.)

Copies of this title available at UW-Madison
Gerry, Christopher and Kimberly Bruno. (2013). The quantum divide: why Schrödinger's cat is either dead or alive. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

"The burgeoning fields of quantum computing, information processing and simulation develop rapidly as a consequence of theoretical insight and technological developments. The latter have enabled us to take single atoms or ions and count single photons, and many of the thought experiments discussed in earlier treatments of quantum physics have now been conducted in laboratories. This lucid account by Gerry and Bruno presents a mature discussion of the link between the microscopic quantum and the macroscopic classical worlds and will be useful for professional physicists, students and the educated layman." -- Ifan Hughes, Department of Physics, Durham University (from dust jacket)

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