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This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson

This is a work of art, teaching tool, pop-up toy and book that will delight playful lifetime learners.

This Book Is a Planetarium–as well as a musical instrument, a decoder ring, a spiralgraph and more. With a smartphone or small LED light, the galaxy comes to your living room. Graphic designer Kelli Anderson exults in the science and the art in the everyday, here playing with the powers of paper. This short but engrossing large-format book is at once an art object and a collection of teaching tools. Each page pops up and moves, dynamically demonstrating lessons from physics, geometry and astronomy. Brief explanations in small print further expand the didactic element. While the text is written for adults, not children, a little grown-up assistance (and supervision of removable parts) could make this an educational toy for all ages. Sensory play involving touch and sound as well as sight is too often left to the kids, but This Book Is a Planetarium is a physical object and absorbing interactive experience for all curious and young-at-heart readers.


This review originally ran in the November 21, 2017 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 strings.

book beginnings on Friday: Origins of the Universe and What It All Means by Carole Firstman

origins of the universe

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

I’ve just begun a new memoir, about the author’s relationship with her decidedly eccentric father, a gifted biologist with poor social skills. It’s a little playful with formats within the book, and ranges from the personal to the broad. It’s called… Origins of the Universe and What It All Means.

What a title, right? Wait til you see the opening page. I’ve zoomed in, but this is the entire content of page one and chapter one:

one

“In the beginning there was darkness.”

Don’t worry, though, it’s justified & appropriate for this book. Do I have your attention now? Stay tuned…

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss

Superb illustrations accompany fascinating tidbits about weather and the world in this lovely, distinctive book.

thunder lightning

Lauren Redniss (Radioactive) offers a gorgeously rendered and singular piece of work with Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future. Her original artwork is stunning, dreamy and evocative, the perfect complement to facts about weather and carefully selected interview excerpts and quotations.

Redniss’s “Note on the Art” describes her media: copper plate photogravure etchings and photopolymer process prints, hand-colored, and a few drawings in oil pastel. She comments on the artistic tradition that inspired her: artist/scientists whose devotion to precision and accuracy have historically paired with “a sensation of strangeness, wonder, terror.” Her work is certainly worthy of that tradition; drawings of wildfires recall Picasso’s Guernica, and the chapter entitled “Sky” contains only striking illustrations and no text. These drawings are both otherworldly and very much of our world.

Redniss’s text, based on scientific research and cultural traditions, riffs on weather phenomena rather than offering a comprehensive study. Her chapters cover conditions (cold, rain, heat, fog) as well as concepts (dominion, war, profit), and span the planet and various peoples throughout history. She considers weather that has been blamed on witches or credited to gods; the use of cloud seeding as a weapon by the United States against Vietnam; and weather derivatives and insurance. Redniss’s subjects are quirky and entertaining; her chapter “Forecast” is as concerned with the Old Farmer’s Almanac as with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That tone of marvel and whimsy, plus exquisite illustrations, make Thunder & Lightning both remarkably beautiful and pleasingly informative.


This review originally ran in the November 10, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 gorgeous interpretive hand-colored prints.

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

A comprehensible survey of poisons and a celebration of the Queen of Crime.

a is for arsenic

Chemist Kathryn Harkup combines her scientific expertise and love of a good mystery in her first book, A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. B is for belladonna, and C is for cyanide, as Harkup works her way through 14 mysteries and 14 discrete poisons, with meticulous and informed explanations of the science behind each toxin’s effects (an appendix contains chemical structures). Each chapter also details famous real-life cases involving these deadly substances, including those that might have inspired–or been inspired by–Christie’s work, and analyses of how accurately the Queen of Crime represented the science within her stories. Generally the renowned writer does very well: as Harkup explains, Christie worked as a volunteer nurse in World War I and showed such aptitude that she was encouraged to continue her education and training as a pharmacist. By the Second World War, her work as a dispenser left her ample time to pursue her other profession, writing bestselling stories and novels.

Harkup’s writing style is accessible to the lay reader, although she does become technical when discussing poisons’ actions on the body, with full detail at the cellular level. She keeps these explanations short, however, and general readers will be able to follow along. For Christie fans, the review of famous mysteries is great fun, and the few spoilers come with ample warning. A Is for Arsenic is both informative science and a spur to read or reread the most popular mysteries ever written.


This review originally ran in the September 25, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 grains.

Teaser Tuesdays: Thunder & Lightning by Lauren Redniss

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

thunder lightning

This is a lovely, gorgeous art book, you guys, and isn’t weather fascinating? Clear win all around, and I can’t wait to share my review with you. For now, I couldn’t help but indulge in these lines, which cracked me up, in a men-Mars-women-Venus sort of way.

Look at men’s and women’s boots. The first chill in the air in September or October, women’s boot sales go right through the roof. Now, the weather’s still nice at that time of year in a lot of the U.S. Men’s boot sales don’t budge. Men’s boot sales move much later in the season, in late October or November when it’s really cold and really wet and men’s socks are getting wet.

(From a lengthy quotation by Frederick Fox, CEO of Planalytics.)

Even with intriguing and whimsical text, the visual art is the best part. Sign up for your copy now.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change by M Jackson

A scientist’s personal reflections on climate change and personal loss.

while glaciers slept

“I cannot untangle in my mind the scientific study of climate change and the death of my parents.” M Jackson is a scientist, National Geographic Expert and glacier specialist, but her memoir While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change rarely takes a scientific perspective and never claims objectivity. Rather, Jackson tells the story of losing both her parents when she was a young woman just embarking on life, and the trauma and extended grieving process that resulted.

Following a brief, lovely foreword by Bill McKibben, Jackson poetically conflates her loss with the slow and still mysterious effects of anthropogenic climate change. Her scientific background and explorations of fascinating places–Denali and Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, Zambia with the Peace Corps–inform her writing and yield striking images, as she runs on spongy Alaskan tundra or contemplates cryoconite holes atop glaciers. But it is the personal side of her narrative that allows Jackson to address society’s psychological difficulties with climate change.

Each chapter of While Glaciers Slept is a finely braided essay, considering an aspect of her parents’ lives or deaths alongside a facet of climate change’s challenges. Jackson mourns her mother with the help of Joan Didion’s writing; windmills offer possible “undulating answers” and comfort her on her drive home upon learning that her father is dying. She employs a disordered chronology that slightly disorients her reader, just as Jackson was disoriented. The effect is an evocative, lyrical work of musing and allegory rather than a scientific treatise.


This review originally ran in the September, 4, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 check marks in a dictionary.

Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid

The science of criminal detection from a writer with expertise and connections in the field.

forensics

Scottish crime writer Val McDermid (The Skeleton Road) expands on her considerable experience with Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime. In it, she studies the fields encompassed by forensic science and the large role that such detailed evidence plays in the modern judicial system.

In writing fiction, McDermid routinely consults professionals in law enforcement and scientific experts; here, she delves into their worlds to examine the history and challenges of their work. Chapters focus on crime and fire scenes, entomology, pathology, toxicology, forensic psychology and anthropology, the courtrooms and legal systems of various countries and more. McDermid visits with experts in each of these fields, exploring their personal and professional experiences, which can include trauma as well as deeply stimulating and important work. She also covers specific criminal cases, ranging from serial killings and rape to common burglary, that illustrate the science in question, and offers impressions of her own.

McDermid is not a perfectly impartial judge of the professions she considers; the tone of Forensics is more admiring than journalistic. She provides a great service in reducing complex science to a narrative easily understood by laypersons, and thereby allows fans of television crime drama and detective novels a heightened appreciation of the genre. Details are often predictably graphic, but never gratuitously so, and should be well within the tolerances of murder-mystery buffs. Forensics is an easy-reading introduction to the science behind criminal detection and a fine companion to fiction like McDermid’s.


This review originally ran in the July 17, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 pairs of gloves.
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