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Science books galore

Book sale season is upon us, and what better time to stock up on riveting reads? The following five science books are all available at National Book Store.

The Grand Design

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The most famous scientist in the world today, Cambridge physicist and US Presidential Medal of Freedom award recipient Stephen Hawking does not let his frail body dim his brilliant mind.

In “The Grand Design” (2010), coauthored with CalTech physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking poses the eternal question: How did the universe begin? The Big Bang theory aside, Hawking believes that every possible history of our universe can and does exist simultaneously.

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The book does not contain abstruse equations. Instead, models and metaphors can be found in every chapter, all in an effort to explain the so-called M-theory, a supersymmetric hypothesis that Hawking insists is most likely the Unified Theory (or Theory of Everything) that Einstein was looking for a century ago.

Hawking also concludes that no Creator is needed in creation. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and get the universe going.” As usual, Hawking incites controversy, but his views are always thought-provoking.

The Shape of Inner Space

Hawking credits string theory in his work, and the best way to get a more detailed grasp of this topic is to read “The Shape of Inner Space” (2010), written by no less than string theory’s main proponent, Shing-Tung Yau, a Harvard geometer and Fields medalist.

Yau says we live in a universe of ten dimensions, which are curled up in twisted shapes called Calabi-Yau manifolds, which are essentially miniscule strings.

Lest this sounds too far-fetched, Yau assures us that the mathematics behind the string theory is solid. Indeed, this book is a testament to that. String theory has enormous applications in science, particularly cosmology. With the help of Astronomy Magazine editor Steve Nadis, Yau tries his best to make his work intelligible to the lay reader.

Though Yau’s book is not easy reading, particularly when he delves into high-level, nontraditional geometry, the effort is well worth it. A journey into the mind of a brilliant mathematician, “The Shape of Inner Space” will delight readers who are not afraid to use their minds.

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The Perfect Swarm

No man and, indeed, no creature is an island. Nowhere is this adage more evident than in Len Fisher’s book “The Perfect Swarm” (2009). A chemist by training, Fisher has become known as a science popularizer because of his first work, “How to Dunk a Doughnut,” named Best Popular Science Book of 2004 by the American Institute of Physics.

Now a visiting scientist at the University of Bristol, Fisher describes the new science of complexity, where locusts, bees, and ants display collective smarts of various sorts, and where crazes, contagions, and communications spread virally through populations.

With anecdotes gleaned from the everyday world, Fisher uses easy-to-understand language not only to make us comprehend networks and crowds but, more importantly, to make us care. Fisher is indeed the Malcolm Gladwell of science writing.

Bursts

What do time-stamped texts, voice mails and web searches have in common with the papacy, FBI manhunts and 9-11? Or with the bloody crusades (in Transylvania, of all places), medical appointments and Einstein’s letters?

These topics are not as random as they seem. In fact, they are “bursty,” according to Northeastern University professor Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.

Whatever we do, in work or play, usually occurs in spurts of activity, followed by almost no action. In short, we work and play in “bursts.” These bursts can actually be predicted, and this is when the book, entitled (what else?) “Bursts” (2011), becomes riveting.

Of all the science writers today, it is Barabasi who makes the fullest use of history, biography and narrative. He writes with verve, passion and humor. With such irresistible chapter titles as “Accidents Don’t Happen to Crucifixes” and “The Man Who Taught Himself to Swim by Reading,” the book is not only for lovers of science, but of language (and history), as well.

The Maths Gene

Everyone can do math. Really. Ask Keith Devlin, Stanford University professor, National Public Radio’s “The Math Guy,” and author of “The Maths Gene” (2000).

Everyone has the maths gene, but most people don’t use it, argues Devlin, who says newborn babies are actually born mathematicians. And so are chimpanzees.

Mathematics is the study of patterns and evolution has shaped the human brain to make sense of them. Some people manage to do so, but others fail, leading them to find math difficult. A bit simplistic, to be true, but Devlin is persuasive, culling from psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, among other fields, to make his case.

“Everybody counts,” Devlin says. Though more than a decade old, “The Maths Gene” has won the Italian Peano Prize and is still relevant today, both for those who love and those who loathe math.

E-mail the author at [email protected]

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