Review by Choice Review
Dyson (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) is a rare thinker: to his admirers, he is a genius; to his detractors, he is an intelligent gadfly. The sheer breadth of his thought--and his ability to cohere this breadth into intelligible wisdom--is virtually unmatched. A collection of essays originally written for The New York Review of Books, Dreams of Earth and Sky covers topics from global warming to underdogs in history. Throughout, Dyson remains eloquent and opinionated. Though many have targeted Dyson for his controversial views on global warming (he is not convinced that it is necessarily dangerous and is convinced that believers are mistaken), his critical writing on the subject is worth considering if for no other reason than as Socratic inquiry. While Dyson appears unwilling to reconsider his belief that science may not be able to solve all of humanity's problems, (and may even have caused many of them), he remains relentlessly optimistic about scientific progress, causing one to think of Francis Bacon, whose fatal pneumonia may have been contracted while perfomring scientific experiments on freezing to preserve meat. Bacon's rather ironic death and the history of 20th-century science make one question Dyson's unshakable faith. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. --Brian Mitchell, independent scholar
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Physicist Dyson (A Many-Colored Glass), now retired from Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, demonstrates his intellectual breadth, wit, and iconoclasm in this collection of book reviews (one previously unpublished and 19 previously published in the New York Review of Books). The books he reviews focus on the nature, history, and philosophy of science; important scientists from Newton and Darwin to Einstein and Oppenheimer; and principles of warfare. Throughout, Dyson interweaves literature, politics, and public policy with science, bringing his seemingly inexhaustible personal experiences into every review-at times, perhaps, to excess. He certainly is not afraid of being opinionated and provocative, such as when he declares that "environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion," or when he asserts, "If American children could learn more mathematics and French children less, both countries would benefit." Dyson is well aware that many of his positions fall outside of the mainstream or are likely to provoke discussion; as he notes after commenting on Paul Dirac's role in shaping the debate about quantum mechanics, "I am, as usual, in the minority." Although Dyson has no great flair for language, at times producing clumsy sentences and piling up paragraphs without any obvious transitions, his insights, passion, and knowledge make this collection well worth savoring. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A collection of reviews and essays first published in the New York Review of Books, from Dyson (The Scientist as Rebel, 2006 etc.), a celebrated elder statesman of modern science. The themes here are similar to those in the author's previous volume of reviews, which covered his contributions to the NYRB from 1996 to 2006. Although Dyson is a physicist, he predicts that advances in biology will trump those in physics over the next 50 years and that biotechnology will usurp the role presently played by computers. Peering into the future, the author imagines that solar collectors will be made obsolete by highly efficient, genetically engineered black-leaved plants that substitute silicon for chlorophyll. More controversially, he suggests that the computer models on which predictions of global warming are based are too high by a factor of five. These simplifying assumptions, he writes, "neglect some messy processes that they cannot calculate such as the variable input of high energy particles from the sun and the detailed behavior of clouds in the atmosphere." Reviewing a recent book about Manhattan project Director Robert Oppenheimer, whom Dyson knew during his tenure at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the author suggests that Oppenheimer lost his security clearance because he advocated developing tactical nuclear weapons rather than big bombs, an issue then hotly contested between the Air Force and the Army. One of the charms of this book is Dyson's openness to criticism of his reviews, which he excerpts along with his responses. He especially welcomes justified factual correctionse.g., a reference to "David" rather than Daniel Kahneman. Readers who enjoyed the first volume of reviews will be pleased with this follow-up, and new readers will be delighted by the fascinating insider's view of the scientific community and its intersection with the political establishment. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.