Edge 231 — December 19, 2007
(2,300 words)


Books By Edge Contributors (and others) — 2007


Laws of Nature, Source Unknown
By Dennis Overbye

Books By Edge Contributors (and others)— 2007

This is the season for year-end lists of books in which the mainstream review media steer literate culture away from deep questions about how our world works and who we are and toward celebrations of narcissism, celebrity gossip, and literary cliques. What I wrote in 1991 in "The Emerging Third Culture", still pertains today:

A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.

Given the well-documented challenges and issues we are facing as a nation, as a culture, how can it be that there are no science books (and hardly any books on ideas) on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list; no science category in the Economist Books of the Year 2007; only Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker's list of Books From Our Pages?

Instead of having science and technology at the center of the intellectual world—of having a unity in which scholarship includes science and technology along with literature and art—the official culture has kicked them out. Science and technology appear as some sort of technical special product. Elite universities have nudged science out of the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum—and out of the minds of many young people, who, arriving at their desks at the establishment media, have so marginalized themselves that they are no longer within shouting distance of the action. Clueless, they don't even know that they don't know.

But science today is changing our understanding of our universe and species, and scientific literacy is indispensable to dealing with some of the world’s most pressing issues. Fortunately, we live in a time when third culture intellectuals—scientists, science journalists, and other science-minded writers—are among our best nonfiction writers, and their many engaging books have brought scientific insight to a wide audience.

We are pleased to present a list of books published in 2007 by Edge contributors (and others in the science-minded community) for your holiday pleasures and challenges.

John Brockman
Publisher & Editor


[Bold type indicates Edge contributor]

Natalie Angier,The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science , (Hardcover), Houghton Mifflin (May 1, 2007)

Peter Atkins, Four Laws That Drive the Universe (Hardcover), Oxford University Press, USA (September 7, 2007)

Amir Aczel, The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man (Hardcover), Riverhead Hardcover; 1 edition (October 4, 2007)

Ian Ayres, Super Crunchers: How Thinking by Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart (Hardcover), Bantam Books, (August, 2007)

Edward Ball, The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA (Hardcover), Simon & Schuster (November 6, 2007)

John Barrow, New Theories of Everything (Hardcover), Oxford University Press, USA (July 6, 2007)

Sharon Begley, Train Your Mind Mind, Change Your Brain, Ballantine Books (January 2, 2007)

Jeremy Bernstein, Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element (Hardcover), Joseph Henry Press (March 30, 2007)

Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee, The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better (Hardcover), Random House (September 11, 2007)

John Brockman, What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable (Paperback), Harper Perennial (March 13, 2007)

John Brockman, What Are You Optimistic About?: Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better (Paperback), Harper Perennial (October 30, 2007)

Matthew Brzezinski, Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age (Hardcover), Times Books (September 18, 2007)

Fritjof Capra, Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance (Hardcover), Doubleday (October, 2007)

Dorothy L. Cheney, Robert M. Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind (Hardcover), University Of Chicago Press (May 15, 2007)

Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Hardcover), Free Press (July 11, 2006)

Michael D'Antonio, A Ball, a Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 - The Space Race Begins (Hardcover), Simon & Schuster (September 18, 2007)

Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison, Objectivity, Zone Books (October 31, 2007)

Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life (Hardcover), Houghton Mifflin (April 11, 2007)

Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (Hardcover), Viking (March 15, 2007)

James Flynn, What is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect (Hardcover), Cambridge University Press (August 27, 2007)

Aubrey de Grey, Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime (Hardcover), St. Martin's Press (September 4, 2007)

Freeman Dyson, A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (Hardcover), University of Virginia Press (August 10, 2007)

Margalit Fox, Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind (Hardcover), Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (August 21, 2007)

Owen Flanagan, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (Hardcover), The MIT Press (November 1, 2007)

Robert H. Frank, The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas (Hardcover), Basic Books (May 21, 2007)

Michael Frayn, The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe (Hardcover) Metropolitan Books (February 6, 2007)

Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future (Hardcover), Harvard Business School Press, (April 3, 2007)

Gerd Gigerenzer, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious (Hardcover), Viking (July 5, 2007)

Douglas Hofstatder, I Am a Strange Loop (Hardcover), Basic Books (March 26, 2007)

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (Hardcover), Simon & Schuster (April 10, 2007)

Christine Kenneally, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language (Hardcover), Viking (July 19, 2007)

The Best American Science Writing 2007, Gina Kolata, Editor, Jesse Cohen, Series Editor, Harper Perennial (September 18, 2007)

Gina Kolata, Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss—and the Myths and Realities of Dieting (Hardcover), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (May 1, 2007)

Jonah Lehrer, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Houghton Mifflin (November 1, 2007)

David Levy, Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships (Hardcover), Harper (November 6, 2007)

Alan Lightman, Ghost: A Novel (Hardcover), Pantheon (October 23, 2007)

David Lindley, Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science (Hardcover), Doubleday (February 20, 2007)

Bjorn Lomborg, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (Hardcover), Knopf (September 4, 2007)

Lynn Margulis & Eduardo Punset, Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time (Hardcover), Chelsea Green Publishing (August 21, 2007)

Chris Mooney, Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming(Hardcover), Harcourt, (July 2, 2007)

Oliver Morton, Eating the Sun: How Light Powers the Planet (Hardcover), HarperCollins (July 1, 2007)

Michael Novacek, Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Old Ecosystem — and the Threats that Now Put it at Risk, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Nov 13, 2007)

John Allen Paulos, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up (Hardcover); Hill and Wang (December 26, 2007)

Richard Preston (Editor), Tim Folger (Series Editor), The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 (The Best American Series) (Hardcover), Houghton Mifflin, (October 10, 2007)

Stephen Rose (Editor), The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould (Hardcover), W. W. Norton (April 24 2007)

Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (Hardcover), Viking (September 11, 2007)

Eduardo Punset, The Happiness Trip, Chelsea Green Publishing (June 18, 2007)

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback), Simon & Schuster (August 1, 1995)

Matt Ridley, Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code (Hardcover), Eminent Lives (June 13, 2006)

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (Hardcover), Knopf (October 16, 2007)

Gino Segre, Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics (Hardcover), Viking (June 14, 2007)

Michael Shermer, The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics (Hardcover), Times Books (December 26, 2007)

Seth Shulman, Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration (Hardcover), University of California Press (January 8, 2007)

Paul J. Steinhardt, Neil Turok, Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang (Hardcover), Doubleday (May 29, 2007)

Ian Stewart, Why Beauty Is Truth: A History of Symmetry (Hardcover), Perseus Books Group (April 30, 2007)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Hardcover) Random House (April 17, 2007)

Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories (Hardcover), Knopf (September 25, 2007)

Frank Tipler, The Physics of Christianity(Hardcover), Doubleday (May 1, 2007)

David Toomey, The New Time Travelers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics (Hardcover), W. W. Norton (July 1, 2007)

Sherry Turkle, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (Hardcover), The MIT Press (August 31, 2007)

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (Hardcover), W. W. Norton (January 22, 2007)

J. Craig Venter, A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life (Hardcover), Viking (October 18, 2007)

Peter D. Ward, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future (Hardcover), Collins (April 17, 2007)

James Watson, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science (Hardcover), Knopf (September 25, 2007)

Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (Hardcover), St. Martin's Press (July 2007)

Richard Wiseman, Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things (Hardcover), Basic Books (August 27, 2007)

David Sloan Wilson, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (Hardcover), Delacorte Press (March 27, 2007)

Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Hardcover), Harper (September 4, 2007)

Lewis Wolpert, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief (Hardcover), W. W. Norton (January 29, 2007)

Philp Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (Hardcover)Random House (March 27, 2007)

December 18, 2006


By Dennis Overbye

Yes, it’s a lawful universe. But what kind of laws are these, anyway, that might be inscribed on a T-shirt but apparently not on any stone tablet that we have ever been able to find?

Are they merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don’t know and that most scientists don’t seem to know or care where they come from?

Apparently it does matter, judging from the reaction to a recent article by Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and author of popular science books, on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

Dr. Davies asserted in the article that science, not unlike religion, rested on faith, not in God but in the idea of an orderly universe. Without that presumption a scientist could not function. His argument provoked an avalanche of blog commentary, articles on Edge.org and letters to The Times, pointing out that the order we perceive in nature has been explored and tested for more than 2,000 years by observation and experimentation. That order is precisely the hypothesis that the scientific enterprise is engaged in testing.



Paperback—UK £8.99, 352 pp
Free Press, UK

November 5, 2007

Paperback — US
$14.95 400 pp
Harper Perennial
November 1, 2007

WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?: Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better With an Introduction by Daniel C. Dennett, Edited By John Brockman

"Danger – brilliant minds at work...A brilliant book: exhilarating, hilarious, and chilling." The Evening Standard (London)

Paperback—UK £8.99, 352 pp
Free Press, UK

Paperback — US
$13.95, 336 pp
Harper Perennial

WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable With an Introduction by STEVEN PINKER and an Afterword by RICHARD DAWKINS Edited By JOHN BROCKMAN

"A selection of the most explosive ideas of our age." Sunday Herald "Provocative" The Independent "Challenging notions put forward by some of the world’s sharpest minds" Sunday Times "A titillating compilation" The Guardian "Reads like an intriguing dinner party conversation among great minds in science" Discover

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Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

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