Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching
for the Soul.
By Naomi Levy.
Sept. 2017. 352p. Flatiron, $27.99 (9781250057266);
e-book, $14.99 (9781250058720). 530.092.
Himself immortalized for his science, Einstein once offered spiritual counseling to a
rabbi distraught over the untimely death of
his son. Through this largely
forgotten episode, Levy—
herself a rabbi—enters an
intense human drama that
draws readers into her own
lifelong inquiry into the nature of the soul. That inquiry
began when as a young college student Levy suddenly
felt the spiritual presence of her murdered
father beside her on a campus walkway, his
spiritual presence ultimately guiding her toward study of the soul as the wellspring of
love and wisdom. Engaged in that study, Levy
discovers Einstein’s letter to the distressed
rabbi Robert S. Marcus, a decorated battlefield chaplain in WWII and a postwar activist
for Holocaust survivors. Perplexed as to why
Marcus sought solace, not from a Jewish religious leader but rather from Judaism’s greatest
scientist, when his 11-year-old son died, Levy
wants to find the letter Marcus wrote to Einstein to establish interpretive context for the
physicist’s reply, an affirmation of a cosmic
unity enveloping every soul. In the inspiring
story of how she finally finds the long-lost letter, readers may glimpse astonishing evidence
that the universe does weave souls together
in one surprising tapestry. A stirring spiritual
journey. —Bryce Christensen
Significant Figures: The Lives and Work
of Great Mathematicians.
By Ian Stewart.
Sept. 2017. 320p. Basic, $28 (9780465096121). 510.
Math is a science that has been communicated, taught, and recorded since the days
of clay tablets in Babylonian times. Mathematician and prolific writer Stewart (Visions
of Eternity, 2013) takes readers on a tour
through the history of math from ancient
Greece to China, India, Europe, and America.
He also brings mathematical discoveries to life
in engaging brief biographies of 25 foundational inventors of mathematical disciplines,
spelling out the significance of their work.
Natural patterns and cycles sparked brilliant
insights about the workings of the universe in
men and women whose intellect was matched
by great curiosity and passion to share their
ideas with others. Stewart considers just how
amazing it is that concepts developed many
hundreds of years ago are as accurate today
as when they were first revealed and that they
are still being used in cutting-edge computer
programs. Part advanced math lesson and part
history book, Stewart’s celebration of seminal
mathematicians and their findings will appeal
to anyone who wants to better understand the
building blocks of many of today’s sciences.
What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other
Animal Adventures in Neuroscience.
By Gregory Berns.
Sept. 2017. 304p. Basic, $28 (9780465096244). 636.7.
For How Dogs Love Us (2013), Emory
University professor Berns drew on extensive
studies in which the canine brain was examined with MRI technology to pinpoint the
neurological foundation of dogs’ attachment
to humans. In this sequel of sorts, Berns
mines the same rich vein of MRI-based
data to explore the seemingly unanswerable
puzzle of what it actually feels like to be an
animal, with dogs as his first furry subjects.
Defying a long-standing philosophical belief
that one can’t possibly fathom the internal
experiences of nonhuman creatures without
somehow stepping inside their minds, Berns
used the latest functional MRI equipment,
which takes moving pictures of brainwave
activity in the presence of smells or commands, to map the similarities between
human and animal cognition. Berns also
peeks into the gray matter of dolphins, sea
lions, and Tasmanian devils, bolstering his
contention that both four-footed and sea-dwelling mammals think and feel much as
we do, a sentiment animal lovers and fans of
books by Jane Goodall, E. O. Wilson, and
Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason will heartily embrace. —Carl Hays
Wild Horse Country: The History, Myth,
and Future of the Mustang.
By David Philipps.
Oct. 2017. 336p. illus. Norton, $27.95 (9780393247138).
The author, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, traces the history of wild horses in
America from prehistoric times to their key
role in the wars between Native Americans
and settlers in the so-called Wild West and
on to their current precarious state as pawns
in pitched battles between the U.S. government, animal-rights proponents, ranchers,
and other interested parties. Philipps, who
has been writing about wild horses for several
years in such publications as High Country
News and the New York Times (where he is a
staff reporter), brings a journalist’s keen eye
for detail and balanced storytelling to this
complicated history in which, distressingly,
the wild horse seems to have evolved from a
symbol of beauty and free spirit to a prize to
be claimed by the victor in an increasingly
contentious war between foes whose interests
seem irreconcilable. —David Pitt
Endurance: A Year in Space, a
Lifetime of Discovery.
By Scott Kelly.
Oct. 2017. 368p. illus. Knopf, $29.95 (9781524731595).
It’s no minor point that astronaut Scott
Kelly chose as his book’s title the name of the
ship Ernest Shackleton used for his expedition
to cross the Antarctic almost exactly a century
before Kelly climbed aboard the International
Space Station, which he would call home for
the next year. Like Shackleton, Kelly was pro-
posing to do what no one
had ever done before, and,
like Shackleton, he had no
idea what challenges were
in store for him, both dur-
ing his extended stay in
space and back home on
Earth. He tells his story in
chapters that alternate be-
tween his life before the year in space (a born
risk-taker, he was a poor student until he read
Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff and discovered
what he was meant to do with his life) and
his life aboard the ISS. For space junkies, it’s
absolutely required reading. The narrative
vividly captures Kelly’s growing excitement
and trepidation as he prepares to spend a year
living in an environment where the potential
for catastrophe or death is a part of daily life,
and once he’s aboard the space station, we feel
as though we’re right there with him. A great
book. —David Pitt
Soonish: Ten Emerging
Technologies That’ll Improve and/or
By Kelly Weinersmith and Zach
Oct. 2017. 368p. illus. Penguin, $30 (9780399563829).
The world of emerging technologies is a
fascinating place, though for the layperson,
the specifics and implications of scientists’
most groundbreaking research can be mind-boggling, if not totally mind-numbing.
Thankfully, husband-and-wife team Kelly
and Zach Weinersmith boil down some particularly juicy advances
and present them in a
and wryly funny way.
Tackling, among other
things, space exploration,
asteroid mining, robotics,
augmented reality, and
the weird world of brain-computer interfaces, the authors explain
core science concepts, offer insights from
researchers, cogently describe how these new
technologies could work, and, as promised in
the title, propose both the benefits and pitfalls each technology could produce. These
potential effects are wide in scope, including
ethics, the environment, geopolitical concerns, poverty, and even the very definition
of what makes a human. Despite the heavy
topic, they always keep it light, with absurd
metaphors, uproarious cartoon illustrations,
and plenty of jokes: “If you’ve ever gone to
the hospital and been stuck in a narrow tube
surrounded by loud noises, you were either
in an MRI machine or being born.” With
infectious enthusiasm, the Weinersmiths
serve up the perfect combination for curious, critical minds. Popular-science writing