The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design
by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins is a biologist who sets out to demolish once and for all the argument from design. His bright, lucid, non-technical prose is accessible to all and provides a detailed presentation of the foundations of the theory of evolution, identifying clearly why some people find this theory hard to believe --i.e. what particular, very human factors are at work. To prove his case, he shows how evolution, and only evolution, accounts for life as we can observe today with its most wonderful, exquisite, and stunning display of niches and developments, as well as the amazing divergences and convergences of species and their organs. Dawkins does not take evolution for granted, and because of that he spares no effort to explain deftly and patiently the most marvelous facts of life, often resorting to brilliant analogies with our own everyday activities. His discussion of taxonomies and disputes among taxonomists may also be of special interest to computer scientists. (318 pages, 1988 / new 1996 preface)
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River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins elegantly and briefly describes the theory of evolution, seen in a particular perspective: each species of living being is like a pool of genes, a river of DNA which has been flowing for billions of years and branched into millions of species. He understands and presents the subject so clearly that it is a delight to learn about the mysterious dance of the bees; the wasp-likeness of orchids; the multiple evolutions of the eye; the African mother of mankind; the causal relation between reproduction and old-age diseases; supernovas and the beginning of the replication bomb we call "life"; and many more fascinating facts and insights. (172 pages, 1995)
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'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' : Adventures of a Curious Character
by Richard P. Feynman

One of the greatest physicists in this century, Feynman tells of adventurous anecdotes in a witty tone that underscores his joyous and permanent desire to understand how things work. It is a pleasure to follow his real-life experiments. Feynman was a charming genius. His prose is a delight to read. (350 pages, 1985 -- reprinted 1997)
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The True State of the Planet
edited by Ronald Bailey

Are the doomsday claims about the environment valid? No, answer ten of the world's premier environmental researchers, serious scientists who demonstrate how the known facts contradict the environmentalist case. For instance: Are we threatened by "overpopulation"? Today human beings live longer, eat better, produce more, and consume more than ever before. Is there a global warming crisis? The Earth's atmosphere has cooled by 0.13 degrees Celsius since 1979 according to highly accurate satellite-based measurements; but "computer climate models" predicted --and still do absurdly predict-- a warming of 0.4 degrees Celsius over the past 15 years. The Arctic has cooled by 0.88 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years. Unfortunately this book does not document the mounting evidence that the increasing global availability of carbon dioxide is good for plant growth (it is a nutrient for relatively starved vegetals), and it does not address the ozone layer controversy; for this, the reader can turn to "Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns". (472 pages, 1995)
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Spring 1997 Spotlight
Longitude : The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
by Dava Sobel

Written by a science reporter, this book tells the Promethean story of an 18th-century man who single-handedly solved a great engineering challenge of his time --a self-educated hero who in the process invented, and gave mankind, all the essential devices necessary to the manufacture of accurate mechanical clocks, ones that are resistant to ship motion as well as to variations in temperature and humidity.

John Harrison created the chronometer, reliable enough for navigators to correctly and easily measure longitude. The problem of determining the geographical location of ships had perplexed great scientists (e.g. Galileo, Newton, and Huygens) and caused the death of thousands upon thousands of sailors in history, because they regularly lost track of their longitudinal position.

Harrison went against the "scientific" wisdom of the time, which upheld exhausting observations of the stars, required difficult computations and predictions of the changing position of the moon, and demanded blinding, direct stares at the sun.

Harrison started from nothing to invent all that was needed in order to solve that terrible problem with accurate clock-making, and was rewarded with decades of persecution by sundry bureaucrats. Later another hero, Babbage, invented a famous "engine" to automate and ensure accurate computation of moon position tables. The chronometer and navigation tables remained in use together for a long time, for increased safety.

Diagrams and additional technical details, perhaps segregated in an annex so as to preserve the plot-like structure of the story, would have turned this wonderful book into an absolutely compelling read for scientists and engineers. Still, this is a fascinating, masterfully written story, well worth reading. (184 pages, 1996)
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'What Do You Care What Other People Think?' : Further Adventures of a Curious Character
by Richard P. Feynman

This companion to the earlier 'Surely You Are Joking Mr. Feynman!' shows the independence of mind that characterized Feynman. Ultimately, what others think does not matter, only facts do--whether one deals with science or everyday events. Contains his views on the events surrounding the investigation of the cause of the Challenger space shuttle disaster (science vs. politicians) and of the problems with the NASA. Offers many more fascinating insights into the life of a genius. (197 pages, 1988 / reissued 1992)
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Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns
edited by Jay H. Lehr

This book is a sound antidote to the countless false claims that have spread in recent decades; it offers reason and arguments where arbitrary claims have come to dominate the media. The collected articles, written by more than 40 well-known and respected scientific and medical experts, address such issues as: environmentalism vs. reason and human life; acid rain nonsense; cancer misconceptions; the tragedy of the DDT ban; global warming facts; carbon dioxide and increased plant growth; ozone layer facts; radiation and hormesis; the scientific process; bad science in the media; the wastefulness of recycling; and the toxicity of environmentalism. Liberty requires that informed citizens make decisions based on reasoned analysis; in this book environmentalism meets reason and science. (841 pages, 1994)
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Page last modified: 1999-01-03