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Light Elements: Essays on Science from Gravity to Levity, Judith Stone

Named after her award-winning column in Discover magazine, Light Elements is a collection of essays that appeared there and a few originals, on topics roughly categorized as either Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, or General. Stone’s style is like crossing Dave Barry, Stephen Jay Gould, and a generic magazine interviewer–and what a party that menage a trois would have been! She has a tendancy to go for the pun, but her word choice while doing so ranges so far across the field, and the informational content between the puns is so high, that you find yourself grinning rather than wincing. The topics are an incredible mixture of commercial science (a microwaveable hot fudge sundae?) to research speculation (the physiological aspects of humor). Just a list of topics is fun: ozone-destroying cattle, mummification of dead pets, thorny security fences (bushes, not bush league), velcro, dental psychology, why people wince at the sound of fingernails on a blackboard, the culture of country music bars (and I bet you thought there wasn’t any), jumping and reeking roaches, the cheese detective and nouveaux punctuation. Donald Norman, who I’ve been raving about recently, even pops up as part of an essay entitled “Voodoo Ergonomics.” As a blurb on the cover says, “If science had been this funny in school, maybe you would have listened.” Maybe you will now.

[Finished 6 August 1993]


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