cover image Modern Day Yankee

Modern Day Yankee

Alan Lightman. Viking Books, $14.95 (183pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81239-4

Lightman, a physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and a teacher at Harvard, wrote Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipea richly readable book of popular science that clearly stands as progenitor or kissing cousin to the present bouquet of short essays. In his ""senior'' years as a physicist (meaning he has turned 35, the age by which he says all the science greats had peaked and started downhill), Lightman bemoans the fact in an essay that in many ways typifies his writing virtues: Might he begin a new career writing science fantasies? He has a flair for explaining some of the most difficult problems of modern astrophysics with homely, often striking analogies; and, of course, he is on top of what preoccupies physicists and cosmologists today: gravitational waves, the origin and destiny of the universe (Stephen Hawking's heady theoretical extrapolations) and more. Yet the unique charm here lies in his personal sidelights (showing his young daughter the starry night) and his imaginative scenarios explaining paradoxes of scientific theory, along with warm tributes to men like Hawking, Shapley and others. Most of the pieces originally appeared in Science '84 and '85. (December)