Science/Mathematics

Book Review: The Science of Star Wars

Book Cover
Author: 
Brake, Mark & Chase, John
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

The Science of Star Wars by Mark Brake and John Chase is a fantastic read!
Explaining the science behind Star Wars the movie series through
understandable language and with humorous tone, the authors explore the
possibilities of realizing some of the fantasies of the galaxy far, far,
away. They also explain why some concepts in Star Wars will never be possible
in our own home. This book is appropriate for readers 16 and up. As a Star
Wars and science fan myself, I would definitely recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca D.

Book Review: The Science of Breath

Book Cover
Author: 
Ramacharaka, Yogi
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

In the Science of Breath, by author Yogi Ramacharaka teaches about
deep breathing. He teaches of the incredible scientifically-proven benefits
to health, spirit, and mind through this simple act of something we already
need to survive—breathing. Captivating and engaging, this book grips
readers and equips them with knowledge to improve their moods, health, and
life. This book is appropriate for ages 14 and up. Anyone with an interest in
lowering stress, or simply with an interest in the science of breath, would
enjoy this book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca D.

Book Review: Women in Science

Book Cover
Author: 
Ignotofsky, Rachel & Mollo-Christensen, Sarah
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Women In Science, by Rachel Ignotofsky and Sarah Mollo-Christensen, provides
an overview of the lives of fifty women who contributed greatly and, in the
authors’ words, “fearlessly”, to the scientific field. In the book,
these fifty women’s contributions to science are highlighted and described.
Well and engagingly written, this book is an important read for any young
woman interested in the scientific field. By teaching us about the lives of
these women, the authors encourage young women to pursue their passions in
the sciences by showing previous women who have paved the way. I would
recommend this book to readers ages 12 and up. The book is appropriate for
anyone interested in the STEM field and women’s contributions to it.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca D.

Book Review: The Brain that Changes Itself

Author: 
Doidge, Norman
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Dr. Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself, introduces
the revolutionary new science of neuroplasticity. The brain and its ability
to change itself and re-wire is the core of Dr. Doidge’s research, a
research which carries fundamental repercussions for day-to-day life for
every human being on the planet. Inspiring stories of stroke victims learning
to speak again and other incredible tales of brain change bring a sense of
awe to the reader. Teaching us about this amazing new frontier in science,
this book is certainly a fascinating read. In my own experience,
neuroplasticity helps me create a better life for myself through lower stress
and brain re-wiring. I would recommend this book to readers ages 16 and up.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca D.

Book Review: Women in Science

Book Cover
Author: 
Green, Jen
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Women In Science is a book which covers the lives of outstanding
women in science. Written for readers from 7-9, this book inspires young
readers with the incredible wonders of science. Too, it highlights these
contributions to the field which have been made by women. A simple and
digestible read, this book would be ideal for any young girl interested in
the scientific field. I would recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca D.

Book Review: How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
Author: 
Munroe, Randall
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist
of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I
looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for
Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered
hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a
somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic
things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the
book for you.

While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on
time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind
the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook
instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I do
enjoy some extreme aspects of science, there is a limit to this enjoyment.
And perhaps this was because most of the science explained in this book felt
fairly rudimentary. Back of the envelope calculations can work for these
hypothetical situations, so it’s not like we needed the exact distance
George Washington could fling a silver dollar.

Despite its occasionally dry scientific explanations, the writing and
illustrations often had me laughing out loud. Many of the footnotes were
particularly hilarious. So while the content often felt like it was being
taken quite seriously, the slight tinge of humor always reminded me that the
whole exercise was to be as tongue-in-cheek as possible. If anything, this
book should give any reader a good sense of how we shouldn’t take the
simple solution for granted. After all, it’s probably much less
radioactive.

Some dry science covered in healthy layers of humor, I give How To 4.0 stars
out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Pandora's Lab

Pandora's Lab book jacket
Author: 
Offit, Paul A.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry.

Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by using science can create worse problems than the ones that were initially there. Scientific rigor is also of utmost importance. Even if many of these horrific discoveries received Nobel prizes, hindsight showed skewed results from the start. Every new and fantastic technology created from scientific research should be scrutinized with a heaping of salt to ensure it can’t be abused.

On the flip side, ignoring sound scientific facts or not considering the full, worldwide implications of a discovery is just as dangerous. Ignorance is bliss, as long as the consequences don’t directly impact you. While we do have the benefit of hindsight, it’s essential to use the lessons presented in this book. We need to examine the science and technology being developed today and do our due diligence to make sure that they don’t inspire genocide or doom all of humanity to an unsustainable new way of life.

A grave lesson about the consequences of bad science, I give Pandora’s Lab 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. W.

Book Review: Bomb

Bomb book jacket
Author: 
Shienken, Steve
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This book is perfect for young history enthusiasts, around the age of middle school. It's all about how the world's deadliest weapon was created, researched, spied on, and used. Explaining the race and allies of America to win the Cold War and beat Russia and Japan in creating the very first atomic bomb, this real-life story includes many famous scientists and new scientific discoveries. If you love action, science, and history, then I promise you'll love this book. It is super unpredictable and has a pretty sad ending when one of the countries wins. But who wins? Guess you're going to have to read to find out. Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: 
Jaime P

Book Review: Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of Math Destruction image
Author: 
O'Neil, Cathy
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them.

I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding a single aggregating number to represent an individual is a simple solution. However, I agree with the author’s outrage that these numbers are putting the disenfranchised into a toxic and harmful feedback loop. It’s difficult enough to survive out there without an arbitrary number determining your fate and you having little to no ability to change it. Of course, this point is pounded home about one or two times too many in this book.

From personal experience, I have received a brief glimpse behind the curtain into how these algorithms work. When I got married, I moved from one zip code to another in the same town. At that point, my car insurance premiums suddenly went up. Why? Because I was in a zip code filled with people who were “bad drivers.” Despite nothing about me or my car changing, now I was suddenly a bad driver. I do think there are some substantial reforms needed in these algorithmic systems. Still, I don’t necessarily think the solutions provided by the author are the right answer (they seem mostly based on the author’s personal opinions and biases).

A repetitive look into the dangers of blindly trusting algorithms, I give Weapons of Math Destruction 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool
Author: 
Oster, Emily
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier.

Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely comes down to broad Gaussian distributions. That is, there are no correlations between two drastically different approaches on the outcome of the child’s health or future behavior. This is undoubtedly a relief to know, if for no other reason than to give me free rein to parent as I see fit (with my wife's input, of course).

One mantra that Cribsheet seems to reiterate is that—even if data supports a beneficial outcome—if the parents’ mental health issues and/or anxiety increase because their lifestyle cannot support it is not worth the small percentage points of benefit to the child. Basically, the studies that do support something like breastfeeding show that these desired outcomes are in the short term and won’t harm the child if this particular parenting method isn’t chosen. While the data absolutely supports one or two items of interest, everything else is so loosely researched as to prove nothing in one way or another.

A great book about statistical rigor in childhood studies, I give Cribsheet 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

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