One of the great things about book clubs is having a motivation to break out of your old reading habits. For example, I love science and I love books. So it’s no surprise that I read a lot of books about science. But all those pesky years of training in biology have left me with the boringly predictable habit of selecting popular science books that are outside of my sub-specialty, but ultimately still about biology.
Enter the Black holes, Beakers, and Books science book club at the Carnegie Library in Oakland. I went to a meeting this past summer to discuss George Johnson’s The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, which describes ten historic moments of experimental elegance in science. The experiments Johnson chose were mostly from physics and chemistry – areas I don’t normally bother to read about, because I figure I won’t understand them.
In fact, I loved the book. I also discovered that I love the history of chemistry. Who knew? You should definitely check out the BBC’s amazing 3-part series Chemistry: A volatile history if you have even the slightest suspicion that you might love history of chemistry too. Or if you like setting things on fire.
Where was I? Right, Book clubs. The theme of the Carnegie science book club for the next three meetings is Physics: Past, Present & Future. The club is open to anyone, and meets at 3:30 pm in the Director’s conference room (turn left on the ground floor as you walk in the main entrance).
Past: How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser, which seems to be about the Fundamental Fysics Group, a counterculture collective whose kooky mixture of quantum physics and mysticism helped stimulate more mainstream advances in physics. November 20, 2011
Present: The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, which rumor has it is the most accessible book about the multiverse that you will ever read. (Why do I still feel nervous?) January 22, 2012
Future: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku. This is a book of full of gee-whiz predictions from Kaku, a popular TV futurist and real-life string theorist, in conversation with some of the world’s most respected scientists. March 25, 2012
On the topic of turn-of-the-century predictions, last weekend, after buying a coffee at the Crazy Mocha in the lobby of the Carnegie Library in Oakland, I bought a book for $1 from the second-hand book display. The book was the 1967 reprint of Here Comes Tomorrow! Living and working in the year 2000 by ‘the staff of the Wall Street Journal’. I’ll leave you with a few quotes to whet your appetite for Kaku’s predictions.
In the year 2000 there will be more than six billion people in the world, double the present total.
(according to the UN, it was 6.1 billion in the year 2000, and will be 7 billion on Monday.)
By the turn of the century, there will be 220,000 computers in the United States, RCA forecasts.
(In August 2000, 54 million US households reported owning one or more computers)
On the modern housewife’s dramatically expanded leisure time (thanks to the disposable dishes prepared by a kitchen appliance from powdered plastic before each meal):
Her morning coffee klatch, for example, could forsake gossip to watch a video tape of King Lear rented from the local library and displayed on a big three-dimensional television screen on the living-room wall. Perhaps joined by her husband, who will also have more leisure because of a shorter work week, she could spend a late-afternoon hour studying a programed course in small-boat handling and navigation piped into her house from a computer at an adult education center.