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The New York Times Book of Science Literacy: What Everyone Needs to Know from Newton to the Knuckleball.

The New York Times Book of Science Literacy: What Everyone Needs to Know from Newton to the Knuckleball. Richard Flaste, ed. MacMillan, $24.95. Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy. Robert Hazen, James Trefil. Doubleday, $19.95. These two volumes join the recent wave of "literacy" books based on the marketing premise that Americans now emerge from school knowing nothing whatsoever.

Most literacy books are the reading equivalent of grazing menus. They contain lots of interesting snippets, brief encapsulations, lists, and so on, all suitable for contemporary short attention spans. The New York Times Book of Science Literacy, written by 21 staffers from the paper's excellent "Science Times" Tuesday section and put together by former "Science Times" editor Richard Flaste, follows this formula. The book is lively and enjoyable, rich in sharp details and clever touches. (One little box asks, "Why don't people who take nitroglycerin for a heart condition explode?") Readers can pretty much dive in anywhere in the volume and skip around at will.

The latter quality, while making for low-input reading, also points to the volume's shortcoming-no controlling thread having to do with science literacy. You'd think a book with a title such as this would begin with a review of basic principles of natural law and the nature of scientific inquiry, and gradually build to advanced notions, Instead we dive right in with five pages on Newton's Principia, then leap immediately to four pages on gravity waves, a speculative concept from astrophysics that makes for entertaining ruminations, but which is pretty far afield from "what everyone needs to know" about science. Apparently this book is a compendium of recent interesting "Science Times" articles-a remix, as a record producer would say.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Easterbrook, Gregg
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:283
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