Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider

Amir D. Aczel Crown 288 pp. $25.99 (2010)

Mathematician and author Amir Aczel describes the origins and science of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Europe's particle-physics lab near Geneva. Conveying his excitement at visiting the game-changing machine, Aczel's odyssey includes the voices of key scientists. After explaining the history of the standard model of particle physics, he looks ahead to string theory, the identity of dark matter and tests of the Higgs mechanism for conferring mass. But the real gems, he believes, will be beyond our imagination.

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

Joseph Michael Reagle Jr MIT Press 256 pp. £20.95 (2010)

Joseph Reagle, a computer-science historian, looks at the collaborative culture behind online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. He charts the technology-driven attempts in the 1930s to collect the world's knowledge and bypass elite publishers, such as Paul Otlet's information indexing system and H. G. Wells's proposal for a World Brain stored on microfilm. Wikipedia, Reagle argues, comes close to the goal of a universal encyclopaedia owing to the openness of its users in assessing knowledge. But there are downsides to inclusivity — for example, censorship, lawsuits and bureaucratization.

Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science

Jim Al-Khalili Allen Lane 336 pp. £25 (2010)

Physicist, author and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili celebrates the forgotten pioneers of early Arabic science. His focus is the House of Wisdom, a great centre of learning established in the ninth century by the caliph of Baghdad, Abu Ja'far Abdullah al-Ma'mun. Among its wise alumni are Syrian astronomer Ibn al-Shatir, whose work inspired Nicolaus Copernicus's heliocentric model of the Solar System; Andalucian physician Ibn al-Nafees, who described blood circulation 400 years before William Harvey; and zoologist al-Jahith, who proposed natural selection 1,000 years before Charles Darwin.

The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth's Deep History

Jan Zalasiewicz Oxford University Press 256 pp. £16.99 (2010)

Every pebble holds the story of Earth, shows geologist Jan Zalasiewicz. He extracts from a humble stone evidence of the violent formation of the Solar System, in which our embryonic planet was dusted with the detritus of supernova explosions and the elemental litter of the Big Bang. Trapped, too, is the tale of Earth's evolution — the lives and deaths of disappeared plants and animals, volcanic eruptions and long-vanished oceans. Zalasiewicz explains how oil and minerals form and how geologists use clever chemistry to sniff out the resources on which we depend.

Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God

Greg Graffin and Steve Olson It Books 304 pp. $22.99 (2010)

Greg Graffin's memoir, co-authored with science writer Steve Olson, offers an unusual perspective on evolution. As an evolutionary biologist and lead singer of punk band Bad Religion, Graffin argues that research and punk rock have much in common: both require an open mind and look to evidence and rationality. Bucking authority and the religious views of his family, Graffin explains how he has developed a personal philosophy that celebrates the power of nature.

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