Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Gift Recommendation - Ponderables - Books for those who like to think!

I love giving books for Christmas!  And when my kids were small, I thought I'd struck gold when I happened across books that entertained as well as educated!




I wish the new series of entertaining and educational books, Ponderables: 100 Breakthroughs That Changed History, had been around back then!  But lucky for parents today, they are here now!

There are three book currently available in this series -

  • The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table
  • Mathematics: An Illustrated History of Numbers
  • The Universe: An Illustrated History of Astronomy


Each of these books are coffee-table sized, full of out-of-this-world photographs, and equally as full of fascinating information on subjects that might be considered a little weighty.  The editors of these books have put together mesmerizing stories, intriguing facts, and lavish illustrations to make these books not only useful but keepsakes for future generations as well!

Here is a breakdown of what each book is about:


THE ELEMENTS: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table



In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev presented the world with the Periodic Table. It contained 63 elements, many more than the four—earth, water, fire, and air—established in the ancient world, but less than half the total in our modern table. Mendeleev believed there were many elements still to come.
He was right.

In this essential guide to the Periodic Table, we track the history of the powerful yet elegant tool that lays bare the building blocks of the Universe. The journey begins just as the first cities are forming, and follows the contributions made by philosophers, alchemists, industrialists, and great scientists as they gather force to create this masterpiece of accumulated knowledge. The story includes Democritus of ancient Greece who said that the four elements of nature—earth, water, fire, and air—must be made of atoms, otherwise our world is just an illusion, and the French aristocrat Antoine Lavoisier, who was the first to show that water is not an element at all. With over three hundred illustrations, it opens a window into the very stuff of nature—stars, rocks, life, and more—and shows us the way to make even smarter technologies.
 
From the ancient Greek philosopher who noticed the unusual force exerted by amber, to the alchemist who boiled urine until it glowed in the dark, to the British inventor who described the powerful effect of electricity on a dead body to Mary Shelley (before she wrote Frankenstein) to the theologian who observed mice becoming unconscious when dangled over brewing beer, the discovery of the elements is a story with many chapters, each adding to our understanding of these basic substances that make up the world around us. The thoughts and deeds of great thinkers always make great stories and here are a hundred of the most significant. Each story relates a confounding puzzle that became a discovery and changed the way we see the world. We call these Ponderables.
 
Includes a removable fold-out concertina neatly housed in the back of the book. This fold-out provides a 12-page Timeline History of the Periodic Table that embeds the story of chemistry in historical context and shows Who Did What When at a glance. On the reverse side is a 12-page Chart of Elements in Atomic Order providing scientific data for all 118 elements, as well as their primary source and use.



MATHEMATICS: An Illustrated History of Numbers



Legend has it that the first magic square, where all lines and diagonals add up to the same figure, was revealed more than 2,000 years ago when a river turtle appeared to have ancient Chinese numerals inscribed on sections of its shell. Patterns are everywhere in nature, and counting, measuring, and calculating changes are as old as civilization itself, as are many of the theorems and laws of math. The Pythagorean Theorem was used to plot out fields for planting crops before the ancient Greek Pythagoras was even born, but the story begins long before that, with tally marks on rock and bone surviving from the Stone Age.

Here is the essential guide to mathematics, an authoritative reference book and timeline that explores the work of history's greatest mathematicians. From the teasing genius of Pierre de Fermat, who said he knew the answers but rarely gave them up, to the fractal pattern discovered by Waclaw Sierpinski now used to plan the route a mailman takes, here are 100 landmark moments in this intensely rigorous discipline, seen through the eyes of the people who lived them.
Glimpse the abstract landscape of infinite numbers and multi-dimensional shapes as you learn about the most famous math men of all. Pythagoras had a love of numbers so strong it led to a violent death. Then there is Fibonacci, whose guide for bookkeepers changed the way we add and Descartes, who took inspiration from a fly to convert numbers into shapes and back again, changing math forever.
 
Over many centuries, great minds puzzled over the evidence and, step-by-step, edged ever closer to the truth. Behind every one of these breakthrough moments there's a story about a confounding puzzle that became a discovery and changed the way we see the world. Here are one hundred of the most significant and we call these Ponderables. In Mathematics: An Illustrated History of Numbers, you'll get a peak into the Imponderables, too, the mysteries yet to be solved that will one day lead great thinkers forward to an even greater understanding of the universe.
 
Includes a removable fold-out concertina neatly housed in the back of the book. This fold-out provides a 12-page Timeline History of Mathematics that embeds the story in historical context and shows Who Did What When at a glance. The reverse side features some of the greatest mathematical enigmas and interesting facts about the world of numbers.



THE UNIVERSE: An Illustrated History of Astronomy



Astronomers today believe that the Universe may have begun 13.7 billion years ago, when its entire energy, mass, space, and even time, expanded out from a single point. New, empty space was lit by innumerable baby stars and infant galaxies, their light finally reaching Earth many billions of years later. Every scientific discovery about space and the stars—their beginnings as well as our own—derives from this ancient light.

Here we track the history of the Universe and our quest to find our place within it. The story begins among the rough-hewn rocks of ancient megaliths such as Stonehenge, when they are positioned to catch the rising Sun. It continues when the Greek genius Aristarchus pictures the geometry of Earth, Moon, and Sun, revealing the huge empty spaces between them; when Edwin Hubble shows that the Universe is getting ever larger; and when Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky finds that most of the Universe is missing. These moments were turning points, times when years of accumulated thought converged upon one astronomer's obsession, to turn a confounding puzzle into a discovery that changed the way we see the world. We call these Ponderables.
 
Here you'll find the life and works of great astronomers as they watch the night sky, build observatories, discover galaxies, spot new objects and send probes into space. Together the insights of these great thinkers create an increasingly precise picture of an ever-expanding universe, one still full of mystery.
Today, the largest telescopes ever designed are probing farther into the Universe, deeper into the past, looking for clues to constantly evolving questions. What are today's Imponderables, mysteries yet to be solved? Where will they lead? What will be the next discovery?
 
Includes a removable fold-out concertina neatly housed in the back of the book. This fold-out provides a 12-page Timeline History of the Universe that embeds the story in historical context and shows Who Did What When at a glance. On the reverse side is a 12 page Star Chart of the Night Sky of the northern and southern hemisphere for every month.



RECOMMENDATION:

I think these books would make great additions to any home library for kids of all ages!  After all, you're never too old to stop learning!

A Note:  Three more books in this series will be available soon - Physics, Philosophy and Computing!




My thanks to Newman Communications for supplying the review copies of these books. I was not compensated for my opinion.

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