Packing for Mars: The Curious
Science of Life in the Void
Consider everything you do in 24 hours.
Now consider doing it without gravity.
Roach’s new book explores just that,
unveiling the “man” in “manned space
exploration.” She’s not interested in
heroes, but in humans — the dirty, hungry, sleep- and stimulus-deprived souls
shot into the isolation of space, and the
scientists who test every contingency
to put them there. The resulting tale is
a humorous and irreverent look at the
innards of space travel.
Take the Apollo 12 astronauts, who
were so plagued by sharp, clingy moon-dust particles that they took off their
long johns and flew naked half the way
home. Or the volunteers who, in ongoing experiments, are confined to three
months of bed rest for studies of their
shrinking bone mass. (Don’t feel too
bad for them: $17,000 goes a long way
toward credit card debt.)
Roach makes an art of interweaving
Here’s Looking at Euclid
Numberland is a topsy-turvy place. In
his new book, Bellos follows math’s
counterintuitive twists and turns with
the surprise and delight of someone
rediscovering a long-lost landscape.
After receiving a degree in mathematics and philosophy from Oxford University, Bellos left the world of numbers
for the world of words — working as a
journalist first in England and later in
dent on assignment, except that my destination was an abstract one,” he writes.
Bellos doesn’t cover ground that
readers will remember from the classroom. Instead he dabbles in the stories,
details. Her descriptions can make you
feel you’re floating in a NASA practice
flight or tear you apart with shearing
forces in a supersonic bailout. She has
certainly done her research — perhaps
too much. Nearly every page is foot-
noted with some factoid she couldn’t
quite fit in. While interesting (who knew
guinea pigs can’t get car sickness?), only
half these asides are
pertinent; others feel
like desperate inter-
relishes every gory
detail, but some
might argue that the
nitty-gritty of sexual
practices in space would have been bet-
ter left undescribed. As Roach puts it,
manned space travel “forces people to
unlace certain notions of what is and
isn’t acceptable.” Just don’t read the
space sickness chapter while riding the
subway. — Camille M. Carlisle
W. W. Norton & Co., 2010, 334 p., $25.95.
debates and puzzles that most interest
and in some cases confound him. To do
so, he travels the globe, visiting India
to understand how the concept of zero
came to be and to Germany to experience a speed-arithmetic competition.
He even stops in to see a fanatical devotee of the slide rule living near London.
When he can’t go in person, Bellos
takes readers on virtual visits to
numerical points of interest. He interviews researchers who study people
such as the Munduruku in the Amazon,
who have no words for numbers
beyond five, and the people of medieval Lincolnshire who used a base- 20
counting system. He even ponders
checking into the hypothetical Hilbert
hotel, a destination with an infinite
number of rooms.
In the end, the spirit of the book is as
silly as its title, but with a serious mission — to offer readers a second chance
to be surprised and inspired by math.
— Elizabeth Quill
In Pursuit of the
Rogues, Freaks, and
Giants of the Ocean
The author interweaves
tales of scientists
and surfers who, whether for study
or an adrenaline rush, seek out
monster waves. Doubleday, 2010,
352 p., $27.95.
The Grand Design
Stephen Hawking and
In his first major work
in nearly a decade,
Hawking ponders the
origins of the universe
and the pursuit of a unified theory.
Bantam Books, 2010, 208 p., $28.
Molly Caldwell Crosby
A historical account
of the sleeping sickness pandemic of
the 1920s and the
science behind it.
Berkley, 2010, 291 p., $24.95.
Deep Blue Home:
An Intimate Ecology
of Our Wild Ocean
pulse with life in this
lyrical exploration of
ocean currents. Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt, 2010, 246 p., $24.
Richard A. Muller
A Berkeley physics
professor puts his
popular course for non-
scientists into book form. Princeton
Univ. Press, 2010, 517 p., $49.50.
How to Order To order these books or others,
visit www.sciencenews.org/bookshelf. A click on
a book’s title will transfer you to Amazon.com.