The Edge of the Unknown: 101 Things You Don't Know about Science - And No One Else Does, Either

James S. Trefil, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $23 (355p) ISBN 978-0-395-72862-8
Overlook the fatuous subtitle; here is a competent and sometimes fascinating tour of the frontiers of scientific inquiry. Trefil, a physicist with 20 previous popular science titles to his credit, has chosen an interesting premise: drawing from all the major disciplines, he presents 101 scientific questions, their theoretical underpinnings and likely resolutions, each in no more than three pages. Lay readers will appreciate being able to satisfy their curiosity about the likelihood of time travel, the causes of cancer and the future of the computer with this user-friendly resource. Trefil has a gift for constructing useful analogies--it is no mean feat to explain quasars or dark matter or the intricacies of the human immune system in just a few pages. However, the book lacks an overarching theme, unless it is a pervasive admiration for the accomplishments of the scientific community, and lacks connective tissue between sections and chapters. Readers may wonder how fuzzy logic, treated in one chapter, relates to the binary functioning of computers, discussed in several others. But they will come away sharing the author's respect and awe for the achievements of those who scan the geometric surfaces of viruses and construct molecular remedies for deadly diseases, probe the chaotic system of the earth's atmosphere and even try to save us from our genetically encoded craving for fat. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1996
Release date: 10/01/1996
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