- - Wednesday, September 21, 2011


By National Geographic
Foreword by Marshall Brain
National Geographic Society, $35, 432 pages

In 1990, the nation’s premier science organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), published a book about science literacy titled “Science for All Americans.” The book contained “a set of recommendations on what understandings and ways of thinking are essential for all citizens in a world shaped by science and technology.” Regarding instructional material, the AAAS publication recommended that for teachers to “be able to bring all students to the level of understanding and skill proposed [by the AAAS], they will need a new generation of books and other instructional tools.”

Enter “The Science Book: Everything You Need to Know About the World and How It Works,” which aims to excite students of all ages about the world of science, technology and mathematics.

To begin, note that “The Science Book,” published by the National Geographic Society, is essentially a rather comprehensive, encyclopedic-style reference book. It is by no means daunting or inaccessible, however. Instead, this concise full-color work is pleasing, inviting and obviously intended by the society to attract both those curious about “the world and how it works” and those otherwise uninterested.

“The Science Book” begins with an engaging foreword titled “Science: The Essence of Cool” by Marshall Brain, founder of HowStuffWorks.com. Like the book he introduces, Mr. Brain has a flare for captivating, concise prose and clear communication. For instance, he does a masterful job of summarizing the current science on the universe from its beginning to the mundane present in just two paragraphs.

“The Science Book” contains six general sections written by topic specialists on the universe, earth, biology, chemistry, physics and technology, and mathematics. Each section is replete with diagrams and photographs that command about as much space as the text. Colorful fold-out pages depicting concepts in evolution and human anatomy are included.

If a quick understanding of mountain building is required, boom, there it is in the “Earth: Origins and Geology” section under “Mountains,” stating: “The most significant mountain ranges are not simply scattered across the Earth at random. Instead, most lie along active plate boundaries and belong to one of the Earth’s two large mountain systems. The Circum-Pacific system … [and] the Alpine-Himalaya system.”

What if your interest is in lactose intolerance, hemophilia or polydactylism (extra fingers)? Turn to the “Biology: Genetics and Heredity” section under “Genetically Induced Diseases.” There you’ll find sidebars, figures and photographs with succinct information on the curious subjects.

Say you have a hankering for enlightenment on the theory of relativity, chaos theory or even the theory of everything. You can see the light and get a better understanding of it in the “Physics and Technology” section.

Today, if students are seeking information on just about any topic, they can download it from the Internet. But it’s good to know that the traditional tried-and-true manual search method involving paging through a reference volume is more alive than ever with “The Science Book.” Simply flipping through it will have you stopping frequently to discover new vistas of knowledge. Besides, “The Science Book” addresses information-search technology - just access “The Google Algorithm” in the “Mathematics” section.

Clarity, conciseness and color describe “The Science Book” as a whole. Not only secondary school libraries and classrooms can benefit from it, but also a student’s entire family. After all, the home is ideally where the love of learning about the world around us and the skillful use of instructional tools are instilled.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and primary author of “Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry” (CRC Press/Lewis Publishers, 2000).

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