Tom D. Crouch. Lighter than Air. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. 192 pp. $35.
Reviewed by Andrew Mangravite
Lighter Than Air is a well-written, beautifully illustrated short history of lighter-than-air travel, from the first unmanned aerostats to the awe-inspiring rigid-frame airships. Tom D. Crouch shows the original aerostats facing ridicule for failure and punishment for success. He reveals that it wasn’t until the balloon became the airship, with a rigid frame, motors, and the ability to be navigated independent of the wind that it was seen as having a future. Crouch clearly has an affection for this area’s visionaries— like Fra Bartolomeu Laurenco de Gusmao (mockingly called “O Voalor,” The Flying Man), the Montgolfier brothers, and Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin—though his discussion of their work can’t overlook the fragility of the technology upon which their dreams were built.
Jie Jack Li. Triumph of the Heart: The Story of Statins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 224 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by Hilary Domush
Jie Jack Li chronicles the history of statin drug development by focusing on Pfizer’s blockbuster drug Lipitor in Triumph of the Heart. The early chapters provide a historical and chemical overview, but instead of then transitioning to the crux of the statin story, Li sidetracks into the development of the pharmaceutical industry before settling on Lipitor. Arguing that the golden era of drug development has passed, Li claims patent-protection laws and generic drugs endanger the pharmaceutical industry and its blockbuster products. It is unclear what level of familiarity with the subject readers are expected to have as the main story is muddled by smaller vignettes on pharmaceutical history, leaving the reader wondering whether the story of statins alone was not enough to engage an audience.
James Trefil. Why Science? New York: Teachers College Press, 2008. 208 pp. $14.96.
Reviewed by Victoria M. Indivero
James Trefil promises great things in his book Why Science? but he doesn’t quite deliver. His mission to discuss scientific literacy is noble one and deserves conversation, but Trefil repeats himself throughout the book and does not deliver any firm conclusions until the last chapter.
Trefil describes scientific literacy in the second chapter as “the matrix of knowledge needed to understand enough about the physical universe to deal with issues that come across our horizon, in the news or elsewhere” (p.28). This is a clear definition—and many of Trefil’s analogies are very good. However the book reads like a newspaper column, as many references to Trefil’s personal experiences take away from the meaningful content of the book.
Throughout Why Science? Trefil makes excellent points when he compares arts and humanities studies in American colleges to science studies. He notes that many humanities courses offered to nonmajors give students a broad overview of the subject, while nonmajor science courses are often called something like “Rocks for Jocks,” also known as Geology 101. These science courses do not offer students the broad overview of the sciences that perhaps would be most beneficial to U.S. students and the general U.S. public alike.
Trefil begins an important conversation that needs to be more formally addressed. In a world where many scientific issues stir a fair amount of debate, it is critical for citizens to have a base knowledge with which to begin the discussion.
RCA electron microscope, 1950
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