Timothy Ferris is Emeritus Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His latest book, The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature, was published in February. (March 2010)


A Hero of Science, After All

Frank Oppenheimer with a gyroscope at Pagosa Springs High School, where he taught in the late 1950s

Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up

by K.C. Cole, with a foreword by Murray Gell-Mann
The physicist Frank Oppenheimer is remembered today, insofar as he is remembered at all, as the younger brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the Manhattan Project scientists who built the atomic bomb. Some also recall that Frank was drummed out of academic life for lying about whether he had …

Stumbling into Space

Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report


Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age

by Greg Klerkx
Dreamed up as a kind of hangover cure in the days following the Apollo lunar missions, when the NASA budget was shrinking from over 4 percent of the federal budget to its current level of under 1 percent, the space shuttle was sold to Congress as a cost-effective way of putting humans and satellites in orbit. Taken in by NASA hype, President Nixon assured the nation that “a space vehicle that can shuttle repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back…will revolutionize transportation into near space, by routinizing it,” and President Reagan declared, following three test flights of the first space shuttle, Columbia, that shuttles were now “ready to provide economical and routine access to space.” This was sheer fantasy, as NASA was in a position to know and ought to have admitted.

The Gentleman Scientist

Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II

by Jennet Conant
Amateurs used to make significant contributions to scientific research—as they still do, in astronomy at least—but generally speaking, their roles got small once the sciences got big. This is particularly true for physics, the hardest-core of all the “hard” sciences. Physics had become almost exclusively professional by the dawn of …

Some Like It Hot

The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

by Robert Zubrin

Imagined Worlds: The Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures

by Freeman Dyson
In the sky at dusk some midsummer evenings one could see two lights that evoked distinct lines of thought about the American space program and its uncertain future—Mars, rust-red and unblinking, suspended low in the southwest, and the Mir space station, a white dot that could be seen gliding overhead …

On the Edge of Chaos

The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and Complex

by Murray Gell-Mann
The spectacular success of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, a shard of the true cross that has sold more than five million copies since its publication in 1988, touched off a speculative frenzy among book publishers suddenly willing to back just about any scientist-author who might duplicate Hawking’s …

The Case Against Science

Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man

by Brian Appleyard
Bertrand Russell concluded his 1933 book The Scientific Outlook with a chapter warning what life might be like in “the world which would result if scientific technique were to rule unchecked.” Many of Russell’s prophecies sound quaint today: He feared the establishment of a world government that forbade the public …