The Grand Design

Physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow bring the latest thinking about the nature of reality to the general, non-scientific public in this interesting and entertaining book. The Grand Design (2010) traces mankind's progress from mythology to science. And do we really have free will? Observer created reality, quantum, string, and M theory are presented. The big bang and multiple universes are discussed.

There is no math in this book, which helps by making the theoretical concepts accessible to those without a masters in physics. The authors have presented much to think about in a very brief book (200 pages or 4.5 hours). In the end, the explanations of our reality in The Grand Design are only theories. And those theories are, so far, unprovable.

Read the ebook or listen to the audiobook via Overdrive today.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (2013)

astronautAnyone who grew up during the race to the moon era can identify with the mystery and mystique of the astronauts. This nonfiction account from the perspective of their wives may disenchant some, but readers will have a whole new respect and admiration for these great American women. In The Astronaut Wives Club, Lily Koppel does a good job of presenting the facts and opinions through extensive research and interviews in a story-like format. The epilogue ties everything up in a neat package explaining what happened after the space race was won and life returned to normal.

Warped Passages (2005) and Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2011) by Lisa Randall

For those like me who have been confused and fascinated by modern physics, these two books are an awakening to the subject. Not only does Lisa Randall give a bit of history as to how modern theories came about, she also gives examples, allegories, and stories to help in understanding. She contrasts theories and models showing what each can do in making a connection between abstract ideas (often mathematical or multidimensional) and the real world we experience.

Randall clearly prefers Switzerland (CERN) to northern Illinois (Fermilab) which she regards as boring notwithstanding the buffalo herd and colorful buildings. I recommend both of these books but Knocking on Heaven’s Door is the more current and tells a great deal about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. These books are quite readable even by those with little technical education. Check out Warped Passages today.

And in a bit of serendipity, a superconducting particle storage ring is being transported from New York to Illinois this summer. Join us on July 25 at 7pm as a representative from Fermilab shares more about future experiments and big science.


Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (2005)
Interesting look at how the mind works or doesn't work. I especially liked learning that often instinct and experience have value over details and facts when people make decisions. Malcolm Gladwell seems to select topics to write about which are of interest to him so he can delve into them for answers. The current science on the way the mind works is very interesting. Fast, enjoyable read.

Watch the YouTube interview with the author.

Jacques Cousteau by Bradford Matsen

Jacques Cousteau: The Sea King by Bradford Matsen (2009)
Fast reading and informative book about Jacques Costeau's 20th century inventions and discoveries. It is startling to learn that the undersea explorations and diving equipment inventions were due to Cousteau's desire to dive deeper and search the world's oceans.

There is enough information in this book to learn about ocean explorations in the 20th century without getting too detailed. Every person should read this book to understand that ocean exploration and space exploration are equally important and that space was done by countries' funding and ocean was done by a few good, curious adventurers! Very interesting insight into the personal life and personality of Jacques.

Learn more about this famous oceanographer and read the Seattle Times review.

Remarkable Creatures by Sean Carroll

Remarkable Creatures: epic adventures in the search for the origins of species by Sean Carroll (2009)
This book is as much about the scientists as their discoveries. It is a chronicle of the greatest adventures in natural history in the last 200 years from Darwin's trip around the world to Charles Walcott's discovery of pre-Cambrian life in the Grand Canyon; from Louis and Mary Leakey's investigation of our deepest past in East Africa to the trailblazers in modern laboratories.

The author Sean Carroll, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, takes a look at the lives of these remarkable people whose one purpose was (and still is) to find evidence of evolution. Carroll has a gift for storytelling and this tale makes a very entertaining book.

Final Theory by Mark Alpert

Final Theory by Mark Alpert (2008)
Albert Einstein’s colleagues are being killed by someone trying to discover his long-hidden theory. A science historian receives a key from one of the dying men. To unlock the key, he encounters one puzzle, which leads him to another puzzle. He’s trying to solve the mystery while running for his life. This suspenseful novel is a good read-alike for people who like The Da Vinci Code.

View the author's YouTube video about his book and read the New York Times review.

The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil (2005)
The Singularity is Near is a book about future technology and how it will affect mankind. The author is a well-known inventor and futurist. The “Singularity” refers to a time when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, like a supercomputer. Kurzweil believes that time is coming very soon. Advances in several fields -- computer technology, genetics, robotics, biomedicine and nanotechnology -- will all advance and merge to become the next evolutionary step of mankind.  Kurzweil sees the elimination of all disease and pollution, and believes our lifespans will increase dramatically. He believes these advances will happen in our lifetime. His ideas are interesting and even frightening at times. The book was technical and difficult to read at times, but well-organized and very thought-provoking.

Visit the author's website for more about the book and other resources. Learn more about technological singularityPreview the book before you come to the library. Check out the site dedicated to the Singularity Summit at Stanford University. Watch this YouTube video on the concept of Singularity.