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Sigma Xi Chapter #519 Science Book Club

The Sigma Xi Chapter #519 Book Club was organized to link individuals who are interested in reading general-interest books on a science theme. The goal is to enhance understanding of and appreciation for science through books that can read and enjoyed by the non-specialist. While the club sometimes meets in person, generally interactions consist of e-mail messages giving recommendations of books put forward by members of the Club.

Anyone with an interest in science reading may join the list by contacting Susan Weiler, weiler@whitman.edu.

Individuals with a book to recommend should send a message to Susan Weiler giving the name, author, number of pages, and brief description of the book. See samples below.

Representative books recommended in the past include:

NOAH'S FLOOD: The New Scientific Discoveries that Changed History. William Ryan and Walter pitman, 1998
Review by John Noble Wilford, The New York Times:
"Long before the splendid palaces and minarets of Istanbul lined its shore, the Bosporus was little more than a narrow spillway where fresh water from the ancient Black Sea flowed out to the Aegean Sea and on to the Mediterranean. Then rising sea levels worldwide brought about a cataclysmic reversal. Suddenly, sea water cascaded through the Bosporus with a force 400 times mightier than that of Niagra Falls, the terrifying sound carrying for at least 60 miles.... Could it be, Dr. Ryan and Dr. Pitman speculate, that people driven from their land by the flood were, in part, responsible for the spread of farming into Europe and advances in agriculture and irrigation in the South, in Anatolia and Mesopotamia?... Could it also be, they ask, that the Black Sea deluge left such enduring memories that this inspired the story of a great flood described in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh.... If a memory of the Black Sea Flood indeed influenced the Gilgamesh story, then it could also be the source of the Noah story in the book of Genesis."

GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL, Jared Diamond, 1996
Back Cover: This is a brilliantly written, passionate, whirlwind tour through 13,000 years of history on all continents - a short history of everything about everybody. The origins of empires,religion, writing, crops and guns are all here. By at last providing a convincing explanation for the different developments of human societies on differeent continents, the book demolishes the ground for racist theories of history. Its account of how the modern world was formed is full of lessons for our own future. After reading the first two pages, you won't be able to put it down." Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University.

Back Cover: Ferris delights in detailing the eccentrics and explorers who took time out from their busy wokdays amid raging battles and virulent epidemics to squint and strain and take their sightings for science...This is the best book about the cosmos since Carl Sagan's Cosmos. (Chicago Tribune)

BEAK OF THE FINCH, Jonathan Weiner, ISBN: 0-679-73337-X
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it answers the question, "where's the evidence for evolution?"
Back cover: On a desert island in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago, where Darwin received his first inklings of the theory of evolution, two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, have spent twenty years proving that Darwin did not know the strength of his own theory. For among the finches of Daphne Major, natural selection is neither rare nor slow: it is taking place by the hour, and we can watch.
In this dramatic story of groundbreaking scientific research, Jonathan Weiner follows these scientists as they watch Darwin's finches and come up with a new understanding of life itself. The Beak of the Finch is an elegantly written and compelling masterpiece of theory and explication in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould.

MOODY GENES: Hunting for Origins of Mania and Depression, Samuel Barondes
Amazon review: It's official. Our tendencies to be happy or sad come in part from our genes. Samuel H. Barondes is a neurobiologist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, and his direct involvement with the subject lends friendly authority to the book. Examining manic depression as a case study, Barondes shows how this strange condition--thought to have been instrumental in the ups and downs of Dickens, van Gogh, and Newton, among others--is definitely heritable. Although the specific gene or genes associated with the disorder haven't been identified, Barondes's account of the search is fascinating.

LONGITUDE: The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific question of his time, Dava Sobel
Amazon review: The thorniest scientific problem of the eighteenth century was how to determine longitude. Many thousands of lives had been lost at sea over the centuries due to the inability to determine an east-west position. This is the engrossing story of the clockmaker, John "Longitude" Harrison, who solved the problem that Newton and Galileo had failed to conquer, yet claimed only half the promised rich reward.

Amazon review: Everyone knows that Galileo Galilei dropped cannonballs off the leaning tower of Pisa, developed the first reliable telescope, and was convicted by the Inquisition for holding a heretical belief--that the earth revolved around the sun. But did you know he had a daughter? In Galileo's Daughter, Dava Sobel (author of the bestselling Longitude) tells the story of the famous scientist and his illegitimate daughter, SisterMaria Celeste. Sobel bases her book on 124 surviving letters to the scientist from the nun, whom Galileo described as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and tenderly attached to me." Their loving correspondence revealed much about their world: the agonies of the bubonic plague, the hardships of monastic life, even Galileo's occasional forgetfulness....

Back Cover: Changes in the Land, winner of the 1984 Francis Parkman Prize, offers an original and persuasive interpretation of the changing circumstances in New England's plant and animal communities that occurred with the shift from Indian to European dominance. With the tools of both historian and ecologist, William Cronon constructs a brilliant interdisciplinary analysis of how the land and the people influenced one another, and how that complex web of relationships shaped New England's communities. This is enthno-ecological history at its best...American colonial history will never by the same after this path-breaking, exciting book. Wilbur R. Jacobs, University of California, Santa Barbara


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