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Read It: Hero Quests

April 25, 2007, 12:00 am
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Math, science and suspense.



PLUTO AND BEYOND: A STORY OF DISCOVERY, ADVERSITY, AND ONGOING EXPLORATION
By Annie Minard
Northland Books ($16.95)
Last year, when the International Astronomical Union declared Pluto was no longer to be categorized a planet, people took it pretty hard (particularly in New Mexico where, thanks to a state memorial, Pluto still is considered a planet). Now that the storm has died down, the plight of poor little dwarf-planet Pluto has been almost forgotten. Pluto and Beyond rekindles love for the little guy and other heavenly bodies through stories of the Flagstaff, Ariz., Lowell Observatory, where Pluto-then "Planet X"-was discovered. The stories go into detail about how Lowell changed astronomy without bogging down readers in difficult scientific terminology.

FERMAT'S ENIGMA: THE EPIC QUEST TO SOLVE THE WORLD'S GREATEST MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM
By Simon Singh
Anchor Books ($13.95)
Following mathematicians and scientists through 350 years of problem-solving is more fun than one might think. One of the oldest puzzles in math, Fermat's Last Theorem, was thought unsolvable at many points in history but, in 1993, one dedicated mathematician finally broke the code. Fermat's Enigma is a well-written ride, full of suspense, disappointment and wild real-life characters, all of which make the mystery a riveting read.

CHAOS: MAKING A NEW SCIENCE
By James Gleick
Penguin ($20)
Chaos begins in the familiar territory of Los Alamos, NM, where bright, reclusive scientists first figured out that there was more to math than anyone had previously guessed. Through examples of formulaic equations and the way creamer dissolves into coffee, James Gleick manages to present complex mathematical theory in a manner that's compelling for science-y types and laypeople alike. The natural world is more elaborate than it seems, but understanding that complexity makes it even more beautiful.

 

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