Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science

by Natalie Angier
When Natalie Angier offers you a whirligig tour, that's exactly what you get. Angier's writing style is playful and sparkling, and she seems to genuinely enjoy every aspect of science. Unlike Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, Angier's book is less about the wacky geniuses throughout the history of science, and more about what we know now, or rather, what we should know. She asked leading scientists what basic scientific knowlege no one should leave home without, and then uses her whirligig wit to take you along for the ride. Admittedly, there were sections where I started to feel my attention slipping (chemistry, anyone?), but all in all, the tone is light and full of startling and memorable examples. For instance, did you know that, though the cells making up our bodies are too small to see with the naked eye, some cells are so large that you could enjoy a single one for breakfast? Over-easy?

Friday, October 24, 2008

People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks
Hanna Heath is a rare book conservator in Australia, called to Bosnia to help restore a very rare book indeed: the Sarajevo Haggadah, which had gone missing during the siege in 1992. As Hanna gets to know the book, which is one of the few illuminated manuscripts in the history of Judaism, she comes across a few clues as to its history: a botched binding, a tiny butterfly wing, a white hair, some salt crystals. We travel back in time to witness these crucial moments in the book's 500-year life, and those who lives it touched along the way, including a girl who helps to save it from the Nazis and those who possessed it in Seville, Venice, Vienna. Between each story from the past, we return to Hanna, as she falls in love with the Bosnian librarian who saved the book during its most recent sectarian conflict. It's an intricately interwoven set of stories, full of memorable characters.