Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

Alan Turing: His Work and Impact

Edited by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leeuwen Elsevier (2013)

The new testament of computer science has come, 101 years after the birth of founding prophet Alan Turing. It took 70 renowned evangelists from all walks of science and philosophy to put the polymath's words in context and dissect his living impact on pure maths, physics, biology, engineering, banking, metaphysics and beyond. How big is the incomputable universe? Can digital machines think? Do daisies emerge from pure chemistry? If your soul craves answers to such questions, this is your new bible.

Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World

Mark Miodownik Viking (2013)

Today's materials vie with our wildest imaginings, fromtwo-dimensional graphene to aerogel — made up of 99.8% air, resembling “solid smoke” and created by NASA to gather space dust. In this homage to materiality, Mark Miodownik tells us why we should care about stuff. The materials specialist traces his obsession back to a violent childhood epiphany when, stabbed with a razor blade, he woke to the wonders of steel. Here, we too are jolted into a new consciousness of the made world's multiple facets.

Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History

Andrew Carroll Crown Archetype (2013)

From Plymouth Colony to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, hotspots of US history are well and truly mapped. Yet 'off-piste' places with scientific importance abound, as historian Andrew Carroll reveals on this road trip around forgotten America. He ably guides us through triumphs and horrors: the Oregon caves where the continent's oldest human DNA was radiocarbon dated; California's Sonoma Developmental Center, where thousands were sterilized in the name of eugenics; the Massachusetts cherry tree where rocketeer-to-be Robert Goddard dreamed of interplanetary travel; and much more.

Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined

Scott Barry Kaufman Basic Books (2013)

Hearing difficulties and a low IQ score left the young Scott Barry Kaufman labelled learning disabled. Now a cognitive psychologist, he charts his journey from judgement by metrics to a deeper understanding of human intelligence. Gathering research on areas from nature–nurture interplay to the psychology of motivation, he presents a convincing “theory of personal intelligence”. But what emerges most clearly is how all children — gifted, disabled or simply humming with untapped abilities — need a fine-tuned, holistic education to shine in their own extraordinary ways.

The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger

Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter Profile Books (2013)

Writer Michael Blastland and risk specialist David Spiegelhalter offer a fresh take on the hot topic of risk. They explore chance and probability through the characters Prudence, Norm and Kelvin, who represent the spectrum of risk-taking behaviour. Even as the authors offer innovative tools for measuring acute and chronic risk, they remind us that data have limits. If you want to know the odds on shrinking your lifespan by imbibing that second glass of wine or being hit by an asteroid, take a gamble on this book.

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