The Week in Books

April 17, 2008

The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins, Charles Simonyi chair of the public understanding of science, University of Oxford. Oxford University Press, £20.00, ISBN 9780199216802

"An anthology can serve many purposes. It can introduce new readers to a subject. It can try to establish a canon of definitive readings. It can provide a snapshot of how a particular age views a particular subject. It could, through a perverse selection of readings, throw new light on a subject. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing is none of these. Certainly, there are readings here on the Big Bang theory, on quantum mechanics, on evolution and genetics. But the anthology is less about science as a body of knowledge than it is about the poetry of nature and the nature of the scientific imagination. It is a meditation on how scientists relate to wonders of the world."

Kenan Malik, The Sunday Telegraph

Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema by Robert Bird, associate professor in the department of Slavic languages and literatures, University of Chicago. Reaktion Books, £15.95, ISBN 9781861893420

"What is it about Tarkovsky that drives mere mortals into paroxysms of prolixity? I suspect that it is because his movies are so suggestive, so open-ended and so laden with unexplained symbol that they provoke an eruption of possible meanings and alternate explanations. Bird's text is often guilty of the latter offence, at one stage describing the estimable director's methods thus: 'In a complex weave of synchronizations, Tarkovsky sewed the visible world with seams of time, blocking our desire for continuity with a sensorial resistance that foregrounds the material intervention of the medium itself.' Yes, and he filmed it quite nicely too."

Kevin Maher, The Times

Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century by Philip Bobbitt, distinguished senior lecturer in law, University of Texas. Allen Lane, £25.00, ISBN 9780713997842

"This is quite simply the most profound book to have been written on the subject of American foreign policy since the attacks of 9/11 - indeed, since the end of the cold war. I have no doubt it will be garlanded with prizes. It deserves to be. It is more important that it should be read, marked and inwardly digested by all three of the remaining candidates to succeed George W. Bush as president of the United States."

Niall Ferguson, The New York Times

The Simian Tongue: The Long Debate about Animal Language by Gregory Radick, senior lecturer and chair of the division of history and philosophy of science, University of Leeds. University of Chicago Press, £23.50, ISBN 9780226702247

"Radick's book satisfies far more than it irks. It reminds us with stunning clarity that science is a spiral staircase; new techniques and theories emerge, not always in linear fashion, from the old. It shows, too, science's power to shape ways we humans think of, and act towards, our fellow creatures."

Barbara King, Times Literary Supplement.

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