The Canon

It’s been 20 years since I last thought about Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species (for us humans, it goes: Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Primate, Hominidae, Homo, sapiens). Sapiens are the only living species in our genus (we possibly killed off the Neanderthals 28k years ago in a fit of disgust). The Canon is responsible for bringing it all rushing back, along with other science basics.
Angier dissects the major sciences into basic terms- physics, chemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, geology and astronomy. She asks scientists in all these fields the same question, “What do you wish people knew about science?” and weaves their responses in with sometimes witty banter, but is always entertaining, always imparting knowledge.
Some of the chapters reminded me of why I dropped science in the first place– my mind was spinning with electrons and protons, the strong force vs. gravity (strong force wins!), atoms, DNA, molecules, etc. But most of the chapters fed a need to learn more– the evolutionary chapter particularly helpful in understanding Darwinism and natural selection.
Random cool facts:
* The quark was named after a James Joyce line from Finnegan’s Wake, “Three quarks for Muster Mark!”
* A bat’s wing, a penguin’s flipper, lizard’s leg, human arm all house the same set of bones: humerus, radius, ulna, and carpal.
* Full moon always rises at sunset
* When you look at Jupiter in the night sky, the image you see is what the planet looked like 30 minutes ago, Saturn’s image is 70 minutes old, the light in Polaris is from Shakespearian times.
Extremely readable book– recommended for the knowledge-thirsty.

auth=Angier, Natalie
sub=A whirligig tour of the beautiful basics of science