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Friday, April 3, 2009

Panic in Level 4 Discussion

Ok, the truth comes out. I loved this book. I found it delightfully fun. It was full of so many interesting things. As a late blooming lover of science and math, I dug in and couldn't stop reading. I was extremely impressed with the author, Richard Preston's style. Being a journalist I had expected a more dry approach. I think it's admirable the way he writes factually, but pays attention to such great details. I think my favorite chapter was the one about the Chudnovsky brothers and their supercomputer. I would love to see their lab. What a fascinating pair.

I first heard about this book when Ira Flatow of Science Friday radio show and podcast interviewed Mr. Preston. Preston was so enthusiastic about his topics and Ira seemed caught up in that enthusiasm. He had read the book of course, and I could tell that Ira loved it. I have come to appreciate Science Friday as a source of knowledge, fun, insight and inspiration in the world of science. I trust Ira's taste in this area. I had read one other book he'd interviewed about and had not been disappointed. Once again, Ira proved his mettle. If you get a chance and haven't heard the show, pop over to and check it out. He promotes science told in every day language to get more people interested and involved. He's got links to experiments you can conduct with your children and tons of great videos and tidbits. Ok, plug done.

Tell me your thoughts on the book.


de said...

I don't regularly listen to Science Friday, but I will try. I'll probably look for some other books by Richard Preston, too.

I also loved this book. I enjoyed the foreword where Preston described how he did his work. What was it he called it? Narrative journalism? He made it sound like the perfect occupation, so I would guess he loves what he does.

The Mountains of Pi was also my favorite segment, I think. I was disappointed when I couldn't find an image of a pi-scape online. I actually felt like I understood their premise, which is a real testament to the author.

I appreciated how each story was inter-connected to the others. Again, in the back of my mind, I thought how satisfying this must be for Richard Preston, to have the ability to investigate these ideas that turn him on, to follow the clues and connections.

I distinctly remember when the woolly adelgid came to Connecticut. For a while, we lived on Hemlock Lane, off of Hemlock Street, and luckily, during that time, healthy trees towered over our little brown ranch house.

I can't believe all the times (OK, not that many, considering how close it is) I have been to NYC, I have never been to the Cloisters. In fact, if it were a Trivial Pursuit question, I probably would have said it was a mansion in Newport. Hah! Anyway, it's a must do next time, as I informed my husband. I want to see those tapestries in person.

And what about that last one? I confess, I did not even look at one of the photographs. Horrific. I was most intrigued by the possible ramifications of deep-brain stimulation.

Overall, I was astonished by this glimpse into fields so far from my daily life. What an incredible world we live in!

meno said...

I also really liked this book. It's unusual to find a writer capable of making things such as the computing of pi out to billions of digits interesting, but he did.

I can't say which chapter i liked best, perhaps the self-cannibalizing one, as it illustrates the complexity of our behavior. We haven't got a chance of understanding how we behave, yet. Maybe when the human genome project finishes. Another way the stories all tied together.

Gordo said...

I couldn't finish The Mountains of Pi. If he went on about the inscrutable nature of pi once more, I was going to scream and pitch the book.

I do find them an interesting pair, though. I love their attitude: well, that's too expensive, we'll just build it ourselves.

I don't know if I have a favourite part, though. I'd like to read more about ebola and the work that's being done with virii.

Clowncar said...

I'll just be impossibly arrogant and weigh in even though I haven't read the book. But
I did read his earlier book on the Ebola virus - The Hot Zone - and it was really good (which is why I'm weighing in). That same infectious enthusiasm for his subject you gys are talking about. Lots of science presented in a very readable manner.

And I LOVE Science Friday. This last Friday (string theory, life on other planets) I thought my head was going to explode.

And once again, thanks for the book club, Maggie. Even if I don't read the book, I learn about boks to maybe read in the future. Plus, you turned me on to one of my favorite books of last year - Sharp Teeth.

Maggie said...

De, I just found The Hot Zone by Preston at my second hand store. I can't wait to read that one too.
I couldn't agree with you more about discovering so much that I never even knew existed, and in a format that is so enticing and readable. An author who can make the Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome chapter something I can't put down has my utter respect.

Meno, I know. I was trying to tell my husband about the Pi story and how much it fascinated me and how excited it made me, he kept saying, but who cares about billions of digits of Pi? Serious mathematicians are doing real stuff. To which I answer, you just have to read this before you make up your mind.

Gordo, I think it was the human side of it that kept me riveted. If it had been solely about Pi and its numbers, I wouldn't have lasted one page, but the brothers captivated my imagination.

Clowncar, you're welcome. I'm having as much fun as you guys with this. I just told De I found the Hot Zone at the second hand store. I am itching to get into it. Sci Fri rah rah rah! I love it. I have learned more about science from this show than any other learning in my entire life and I admire Ira a great deal for his pursuit of making science approachable.