DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

science

Oct 11 2013

Bill Bryson

by Jesse M

Although the majority of my reading material tends to be fiction, I like to mix it up every once in a while with a good nonfiction book, and in today’s post I’ll talk about one of my go-to non-fiction authors, Bill Bryson.

Bryson writes on a number of topics, ranging from science, history, and etymology, but he is perhaps best known for his travel writing (he has actually been mentioned before on this blog in that context). Whatever his topic of choice, Bryson thoroughly explores the subject with his trademark wit and humor, using a writing style that is easy and pleasant to read (and listen to as well; he even narrates many of his own audiobooks!).

Interested readers can find the majority of Bryson’s output in the DCPL catalog, but if you’re new to his work, allow me to recommend some of my favorites:

A walk in the woods coverA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering the Appalachian Trail describes his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, interspersed with discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people. It is as much a book of personal discovery as it is an exploration of the Appalachian Trail, and it is hard to say which aspect of the book I enjoyed more.

In a sunburned country cover In a Sunburned Country, written in a similar style to A Walk in the Woods, details his travels by car and rail throughout Australia, with asides concerning the history, geography and ecology of the country, along with his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality. This book has the distinction of being the funniest that I’ve read by him, which is saying something since all of his work is quite humorous.

A Short History of Nearly Everything coverA Short History of Nearly Everything deviates from the travel guide style of the previous two books, instead focusing on the history of scientific discovery and an exploration of the individuals who made the discoveries. In this fashion he covers a variety of topics including chemistry, geology, astronomy, and particle physics, moving through scientific history from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics. The book has won multiple awards, claiming the Aventis prize in 2004 for best general science book and the Descartes Prize the following year for science communication.

At home coverAt Home: A Short History of Private Life is a history of domestic life told through a tour of Bryson’s Norfolk home, a former rectory in rural England. The book covers topics of the commerce, architecture, technology and geography that have shaped homes into what they are today, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life. Possibly my favorite of Bryson’s many works, this is a must read for anyone interested in the fascinating history of everyday things whose existence most of us take for granted. To get an idea of the breadth of what the book covers, take a look at the wikipedia page.

One Summer coverBryson has recently published a new book, titled One Summer: America, 1927, which examines the events and personalities of the summer of 1927, a momentous season that begins in May with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and ends with Babe Ruth hitting his then-record-setting 60th home run on the last day of September, amongst many other notable events. Bryson will actually be in Decatur this evening (Friday, October 11 2013, 7:00 pm—9:00 pm) at First Baptist Church Decatur as part of the Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers series to promote the new book. For more details visit this page.

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Aug 20 2010

ShareReads: Bugged Out

by Jimmy L

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

About a month ago, I was poking around my crawlspace when I noticed a lot of dark crickets jumping around like popcorn as soon as I got close to them.  Wondering whether they were harmful, I looked online and found out that they were called camel crickets (but also sometimes known as cave crickets), and completely harmless.  They like dark damp spaces, eat detritus, and are completely silent, so you won’t hear them chirping at night.   The little things looked so cute, the 5 year old in me thought about raising a few in a cage so I could observe them.

Then last week, I was in a used bookstore and I came upon a book through pure luck— Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugs by Sue Hubbell.  A cursory glance through the contents revealed that each chapter is about a different insect, from much loved ones like the butterfly and the ladybug, to ones we consider pests like gnats, silverfish, and flies.  I put it in my huge pile of finds that day and took it to the checkout counter.  It wasn’t until later that I saw the title of the last chapter—Order Orthoptera: Camel Crickets.

I’m still reading this book, slowly, savoring it chapter by chapter, and I’m reading it impulsively rather than in order, skipping to katydids or dragonflies just because I suddenly feel like it.  But, obviously, I started with the camel crickets.  I found out so much more about these little critters than Wikipedia could ever be able to tell me.  Hubbell writes from a personal angle; she is not a bug expert, just someone who’s very enthusiastic about them, so I was able to get that same sense of excitement and discovery that she did.  She presents you with amazing tidbits (did you know that the daddy longlegs uses his legs as a kind of cage to trap other insects underneath him as he feeds?) that never feel dry.  Her approach with each insect is different.  With the ladybug, she followed ladybug harvesters (because they sell them now for people who want them in their gardens), for the daddy longlegs and camel crickets, she raised some of her own in cages and observed them, for the butterfly, she followed a few taxonomists, helping them count the different varieties in the Beartooth Mountains.

Sue Hubbell has written many other books, some of which are available at the library.  A Book of Bees… And How to Keep Them is about beekeeping, A Country Year: Living the Questions is a book about living and exploring nature, and Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones is a book about invertebrates.  I’m excited to check these books out too, once I finish with this one.

Have you read any books lately that make you feel like a giddy 5 year old?  Any books that satisfy an odd curiosity?  Please share in the comments.

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Jul 28 2010

Lives In Nature

by Dea Anne M

Today marks the birthday of Beatrix Potter who is perhaps best known as the author/ illustrator of such charming classics as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tailor of Gloucester. What you may not know is that Beatrix Potter was very well known during her lifetime as a naturalist. She was highly respected as a mycologist and was one of the first people to suggest that lichens were composites of fungi and algae as opposed to autonomous organisms. In spite of the esteem in which her scientific work was held, her paper “On the Germination of Spores of Agaricineae” had to be presented to the Linnean Society by her uncle since women were barred from attending meetings.

Beatrix Potter came of age during the Victorian Era, a period of time characterized by sweeping social reforms, increasing industrialization, and widespread curiosity about the natural world.  Women shared in this curiosity, and though restricted by law and custom from taking center stage, quite a few Victorian women made a name for themselves within the realm of the natural sciences. Some of these women include:

Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909) – Scottish painter and naturalist.

Mary Treat (1830-1923) – American naturalist and correspondent of Charles Darwin.

Margaret Fountaine (1862-1940) – British lepidopterist and world traveler.

Perhaps the most unusual of these sisters in science was Mary Anning (1799-1847) a British fossil collector and paleontologist. Unlike many of the other women pursuing scientific studies during the Victorian era, Mary Anning had limited financial resources and was largely self educated. Still, she was widely recognized during her lifetime for her work with fossils and she made many important finds. Her very interesting life has made its way into works of fiction including The French Lieutentant’s Woman by John Fowles and, most recently, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracy Chevalier.

For more on Beatrix Potter, check out these titles from DCPL.

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear.

The Journal of Beatrix Potter, 1881 to 1897 compiled by Leslie Linder.

For more about women in science, check out:

Hypatia’s Heritage:  a History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century.

She’s Such a Geek!: Women Write About Science, Technology, & Other Nerdy Stuff.

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Jun 28 2010

The Zooniverse

by Jesse M


When I was younger, I had aspirations of making a career in science. Initially I was most fascinated by paleontology (the study of pre-historic life) but as I grew older I became more and more interested in the space sciences. Originally this manifested as the relatively common childhood desire to be an astronaut, though as time passed I realized it was unlikely that I would ever have the opportunity to become one. As the years progressed I maintained an interest in the space sciences and continued to consume related media on a casual basis, but my choice of courses in high school and college sent me on a career path in the social sciences rather than the astronomical fields I’d been interested in as a youth. These days, my enthusiasm for space science is mostly evidenced by my love of science fiction novels and short stories. Library work is very rewarding, but there isn’t much opportunity to advance the cause of science while on the job. Luckily for me, there is a website called Zooniverse which simultaneously satisfies the desire of amateur enthusiasts like myself to contribute in some fashion to the scientific community while also utilizing the power of crowdsourcing to assist scientists and researchers deal with the flood of incoming data they receive from astronomical instruments.

How does it work? Just head over to the site and check out the list of active projects (such as classifying galaxies or exploring the lunar surface). Select one that you’d like to participate in, watch the tutorial, and get started!

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May 29 2009

The Universe Scale

by Jesse M

universescale-logo

The internet is full of many fascinating resources which combine educational material with a dynamic and entertaining format that can capture the interest of individuals of all ages. A great example of this is the Universcale. It is an animation which allows us “to view all entities, from the microworld to the universe, from a single perspective. By setting them up against a scale, we are able to compare and understand things which cannot be physically compared.”
Truly epic in the scope of its examination, it begins with the largest objects (the known universe, galaxies, etc.) and descends down to the infinitesimal extremes of the subatomic level. The animation illustrates the incredible range of size across the spectrum of existence, allowing us a unique perspective on the diversity of our reality by going to the edge of and beyond the limits of normal human perception.

microaliens-coverIn a similar vein, the DCPL catalog boasts materials in a variety of media covering subjects ranging from the microscopic (Life on a Small Scale, Microaliens) to the astronomical (The Universe DVD series).  Expand your mind by exploring our universe.

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Nov 6 2008

Go Ahead, Play With Your Food

by Ginny C

Miss Manners would surely disagree with the title of this post.  I believe she’s on record as being against playing with your food.  However, experimenting with food is a fun way for kids (and adults) to learn about science.  Now, I’m not talking about food fights or lobbing handfuls of mashed potatoes across the dinner table.  (Unless you’re studying the trajectory of those mashed potatoes, but that’s not the kind of experiment we’re interested in here.)   Check out the following books for lots of great experiments and recipes for kids to try on their own or with adult supervision.

More Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb: Experiments with food demonstrate various scientific principles and produce eatable results. Includes beef jerky, cottage cheese, synthetic cola, and pudding.

The Science Chef: 100 fun food experiments and recipes for kids by Joan D’Amico and Karen Eich Drummond:  Can one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch?  Why does popcorn pop?  Lots of fun recipes and experiments.

The Science Chef Travels Around the World: fun food experiments and recipes for kids by Joan D’Amico and Karen Eich Drummon: Introduces fourteen countries, including Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, describes an experiment related to some basic food ingredient typical for each country, and provides a recipe for a complete meal based on each food.

Everyday Science Experiments in the Kitchen by John Daniel Hartzog:  Provides experiments that explore scientific phenomena occurring in the kitchen.

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For many students at DeKalb County Schools, it’s science fair season. Fortunately, your neighborhood DeKalb County Public Library branch has some resources for you. There are three places to look:

Reference Books – Ask the Librarian!

These are the books we keep at the library so everyone has a chance to read them. Please leave your test tubes and microscopes at home!

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Science Experiments on File
(older editions here and here)

IndexaspxHistorical Science Experiments on File – Perform for yourself science experiments that made history.


Books to Check Out – You’ll Need a Library Card

The call number for science project books is 507 (or J 507 in the juvenile section). Here are some standouts:

Anything by Robert Gardner – we have 75 books on many different types of science projects.

Janice VanCleave also has a great many options for science projects.

Online – Using Your Library Card at Home

The Library subscribes to the Student Resource Center, which is available on our Databases Page.

You can use this inside the library, or from home. Either way, once you’re in the Student Resource Center, type in “science experiments” in the search box to bring up all the many options we have.

Have fun, but try not to blow anything up!!Images

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McGraw-HIll’s Encyclopedia of Science and Technology is one of the newest reference series to make its way onto the Tucker Library shelves. Here are just a few of the subjects described in this 20 volume set:

Robotics

Hydrolysis

Chemical Energy

Macromolecular Engineering

Each article contained within this 20 volume set contain detailed (yet comprehensible) articles on a vast array of subjects.

Scattered throughout the Encyclopedia are charts, diagrams, pictures and photographs (many in full color). This is ideal for someone who is doing a report on a specific scientific topic and needs some basic information to get started.

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