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The state of science is a moving target, and its ever-shifting horizons can best be gleaned by the contents of scientific journals. However, the bigger picture of the scientific enterprise, which also encompasses its past, its future, and its overarching philosophies, can often be better represented through the more reflective pace of popular science writing.
Of the 34 books selected as the best of 2006, three--Amir Aczel's The Artist and the Mathematician, Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, and Chet Raymo's Walking Zero--draw both sobering and inspiring lessons for today from science's long history. And what's in store for the future of science? As Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers compellingly detail, global warming remains one of our most pressing concerns. At the same time, new theories in the physical and natural sciences, explored respectively by Charles Seife's Decoding the Universe and John Whitfield's In the Beat of a Heart, have great potential.
Finally, the ancient philosophical debate between science and religion was revisited from all perspectives: that of a believer (Francis Collins's The Language of God), an atheist (Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion), and an observer (Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell).
Primack, Joel & Nancy Ellen Abrams. The View from the Center of the Universe. Riverhead: Putnam. 400p. ISBN 978-1-59448-914-3. $26.95.
The combined talents of Primack, an astrophysicist, and Abrams, a philosopher and humanist, make for a thoughtful perspective on what's out there in the vastness of space and where we fit in it all. (LJ 2/1/06)
Peterson, Dale. Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man. Houghton. 752p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-396-85405-1. $35.
A born naturalist, a courageous field researcher, and a committed feminist and animal rights activist, Goodall had a uniquely inspirational and influential career. Peterson, her colleague, was provided broad access to material for this epic biography. (LJ 10/1/06)
Whitfield, John. In the Beat of a Heart: Life, Energy, and the Unity of Nature. Joseph Henry: National Academy. 280p. …