A protean study of proteins and an fertile study of nitrogen – two very readable books about important science followed by an example of what happens when physics overflows into cosmology and reveals his erudition to be on par with a cosmeticians.


Nature’s Robots: A History of Proteins Charles Tanford & Jacqueline Reynolds Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001  Proteins History Hardcover. 1st ed. viii, 304 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 251-295) and indexes. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

Proteins are amazing molecules. They spark the chemical reactions that form the basis for life, transmit signals in the body, identify and kill foreign invaders, form the engines that make us move, record visual images. For every task in a living organism, there is a protein designed to carry it out.

Nature’s Robots is an authoritative history of protein science, from the earliest research in the nineteenth century to the most recent findings today. Tanford and Reynolds, who themselves made major contributions to the golden age of protein science, have written a remarkably vivid account of this history.

The authors begin with the research of Berzelius and Mulder into “albumins,” the early name for proteins, and the range all the way up to the findings of James Watson and Francis Crick. It is a fascinating story, involving heroes from the past, working mostly alone or in small groups,usually with little support from formal research grants. They capture the growing excitement among scientists as the mysteries of protein structure and function – the core of all the mysteries of life – are revealed little by little. And they include vivid portraits of scientists at work – two researchers, stranded by fog in a Moscow airport, strike up a conversation that leads to a major discovery; a chemist working in a small lab, with little funding, on a problem no one else would tackle, proves that enzymes are proteins – and wins the Nobel Prize.

Written in clear and accessible prose, Nature’s Robots will appeal to anyone interested in the peaks and valleys of scientific research.

The world’s greatest fix : a history of nitrogen and agriculture G.J. Leigh Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2004  Nitrogen fertilizers History Hardcover. First edition and printing. x, 242 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 221-231). Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

This gives the very early history of how human ingenuity overcame the risk of famine through productive agriculture. Starting with a layman’s guide to the chemistry of nitrogen fixation, the book goes on to show how humans emerged from nomadic lifestyles and began developing towns and settlements. When they for the first time began planting the same fields year after year, they noticed quickly the need to ensure soil fertility. But how? The method they came up with is still in use to this day.

Theories of everything : the quest for ultimate explanation John D. Barrow Oxford [England] : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1991  Physics Philosophy Hardcover. xi, 223 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

In books such as The World Within the World and The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, astronomer John Barrow has emerged as a leading writer on our efforts to understand the universe. Now Barrow offers the general reader another fascinating look at modern physics, as he explores the quest for a single, unifying theory that will unlock nature’s secrets.

Theories of Everything is more than a history of science, more than a popular report on recent research and discoveries. Barrow provides a reflective, intelligent commentary on what a true Theory of Everything would be – its ingredients, its limitations, and what it could tell us about the universe. Never before, he writes, have physicists been so confident and so eager in the hunt for this “cosmic Rosetta Stone,” as he calls it: “a single all-embracing picture of all the laws of nature from which the inevitability of all things seen must follow with unimpeachable logic.”

He lays out eight essential ingredients for a Theory of Everything and then explores each in turn, tracing how our knowledge has developed and how scientific discovery relates to our changing philosophy and religious thought in each area. Some of these ingredients are obvious – the laws of nature must be explained, for example, as well as its organizing principles – but others may be surprising, such as broken symmetries and selection biases. A Theory of Everything must account for the fact that the universe is “messy and complicated,” he tells us, and for the limitations imposed by the questions we ask and the information we can obtain.

The key lies in the remarkable capacity of mathematics to express the fundamental workings of the physical world – a language that the human mind is uniquely equipped to understand and manipulate. Barrow examines what mathematics actually is and describes how it makes the universe intelligible and provides a path to the underlying coherence in nature – which has led, in fact, to arguments that the universe itself is a vast computer. Yet even the most complete theory, even the most comprehensive mathematical explanation, cannot account for the
uncomputable varieties of human experience and thought. “No non-poetic account of reality,” he writes, “can be complete.”

In a field where the authorities converse in equations and mathematical notations, John Barrow speaks with the voice of thoughtful and knowledgeable humanist. Written with eloquence and expertise, Theories of Everything establishes a new perspective on humanity’s efforts to explain the universe.

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