Friday, April 11, 2008

The Canon by Natalie Angier

The full title of this book is The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Angier is a science reporter who wrote this book as a way of explaining all of those parts of science that every person should know. Covered in the book are statistics, scales, physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, molecular biology, geology, and astronomy. We should know these things because they are integral to our understanding of the world, and they act as a base on which to build, when we read of new scientific discoveries or theories. As Angier puts it: "What should nonspecialist nonchildren know about science, and how should they know it, and what is this thing called fun?"
I was surprised by the inclusion of statistics and scales, as well as by the fact that Angier begins her discussion of science with these topics. But both statistics and a notion of the scope of science are very necessary for every other topic. And they are the most commonly misunderstood. Angier's discussion of the other sciences is well rounded and thorough, and at the same time easy to grasp. She connects them all in a way that makes full understanding possible.
The first chapter of the book, before we even jump into statistics, is about thinking like a scientist. This is the most necessary piece of the puzzle, because too often people think of science as something to believe in, or something to agree with. Science is about evidence, it is not a matter of opinion.
What I loved the most about this book was the way that Angier loves to talk about science. It is obvious that she adores both scientific learning and writing. She seems to take great pleasure in creating clever sentences and fun alliterations. And the reader takes tremendous pleasure in following her train of thought. This book is a fantastic way to introduce anyone to "the beautiful basics of science" and is fun to read on top of everything else.
"Science is not a body of facts. Science is a state of mind. It is a way of viewing the world, of facing reality square on but taking nothing on its face. It is about attacking a problem with the most manicured of claws and tearing it down into sensible, edible pieces. Even more than the testimonials to the fun of science, I heard the earnest affidavit that science is not a body of facts, it is a way of thinking."

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