Books in brief

Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.

From the Great Wall to the Great Collider: China and the Quest to Uncover the Inner Workings of the Universe Steve Nadis and Shing-Tung Yau. International Press of Boston (2015)

9781571463104

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Europe's particle-physics lab, CERN, has witnessed game-changing discoveries, not least the Higgs boson in 2012. Now, rival ideas for successors are evolving (see Nature 511, 394–395; 2014). In this forcefully argued history-cum-manifesto, physicist Shing-Tung Yau and writer Steve Nadis make the case for a “Great Collider” 100 kilometres in circumference to be built in China — an engineering marvel on a par with the Great Wall, but designed to lure hordes in for “rousing research collaboration”.

Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider Michael Riordan, Lillian Hoddeson and Adrienne W. Kolb. University of Chicago Press (2015)

9780226294797

The termination of the Superconducting Super Collider project in 1993 sent more than US$10 billion down the drain and left the US high-energy-physics community reeling. In this in-depth tome on that “epochal transition”, science historians Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson, with Fermilab archivist Adrienne Kolb, cover all the bases leading to that bitter end — which, they conclude, was down to a “cold-war mindset” and the untenable cost of going it alone.

Lady Byron and Her Daughters

W. W. Norton (2015) 9780393082685 | ISBN: 978-0-3930-8268-5

In the bicentenary of computer pioneer Ada Lovelace (R. Holmes Nature 525, 30–32; 2015), it is salutary to remember her brilliant mother Annabella, estranged wife of volatile poet Lord Byron. Dubbed by him the “princess of parallelograms”, Annabella was a talented mathematician — but also a radical educational and social reformer, as Julia Markus reveals in this lucid biography. Annabella's abolitionism sparked the admiration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), who launched a fiery feminist defence of her in the face of virulent criticism from Byron's hagiographers.

The Hunt for Vulcan

Random House (2015) 9780812998986 9781784973971 | ISBN: 978-0-8129-9898-6

A science-fiction flavour clings to this real history of a nonexistent planet that sneaked into the annals of science, and the scientific icon who ushered it out again. Thomas Levenson wonderfully tells the story of Vulcan — the planet hypothesized (and 'observed') around 1860 to explain a wobble in Mercury's orbit — as a frame for Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which killed the putative planet stone dead. Looping through science history from Isaac Newton onwards, Levenson elegantly reveals the evolutionary nature of scientific thought, and the marvel of the revolution that Einstein wrought.

We Are All Stardust Stefan Klein, translated by Ross Benjamin. Experiment (2015)

9781615190591

The dazzling clutch of scientific minds caught in mid-thought here makes for a read that provokes thought in its turn. Translated from German for the first time, this collection sees science writer Stefan Klein interview the likes of anthropologist Sarah Hrdy and astronomer Martin Rees. Delights abound. Rees uses the analogy of a department store to illustrate the emergence of life in a multiverse, while psychologist Alison Gopnik likens the intensity of babyhood to a first-time trip to Paris, revved up on Gauloises and espresso.

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Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 528, 191 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/528191a

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