Great Essays in Science, 2nd edition

Great Essays in Science, 2nd edition
by Martin Gardner (Ed.)

Prometheus Books
C, GA **


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How do you condense, into 427 pages, some of the best writings in science during the last 100 years? Select the 31 most wonderful contributors to science and science writing in that period. Pick some of the most thought-provoking contributions by them that represent the peak of their accomplishments. That is what Martin Gardner has done in editing this anthology of Great Essays in Science. Although, as a matter of fact, these are not all essays in science, they are all about science, society, and nature. Two pieces are from works of fiction, but they keep their scientific character and thrust all the same. On the old (but not continuing) debate on the relative importance of the roles of literature versus science, there are four essays. Jose Ortega Y Gasset and John Burroughs speak for the lesser role for science, while Thomas Huxley and Isaac Asimov present even more forceful arguments for the other side. From the world of insects (Jean Henri Fabre and Maurice Maeterlinck) to the organisms under the deep oceans beyond the reach of sunlight, the essays cover some of the most fascinating topics that have ever evoked the curiosity of those who have experienced the beauty of science. The essays by Stephen Jay Gould (Nonmoral Nature) and Carl Sagan (Reflections on a Grain of Salt) show that the intellectual giants of the 20th century can match and surpass their counterparts of earlier centuries in the vastness of the sweep of their imagination and intellectual excellence. If you have thought about what the seven wonders of the world in the 20th century would be, who else would be better suited to offer the best answer but Lewis Thomas? In his typically incisive and provocative fashion, he offers the following list: the bacteria that thrive under extreme pressures and temperatures in deep sea vents, the beetle oncideres, the scrapie virus--the strangest thing in all biology, the olfactory receptor cells of animals, the termites as a society of insects, the human child, and the planet earth. If you are curious as to what his arguments for selecting just these items are, you will want to read this book.

--Reviewed by B. Thyagarajan in Science Books and Films, 30/3 (April 1994), p. 76.