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The Ig Nobel prizes : rewarding the world's unlikeliest research
Abrahams, Marc.
Adult Nonfiction Q173 .A18 2004

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Each year, the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research awards 10 Ig Nobel prizes to assorted scientists, professors and ordinary folk for their projects and accomplishments, some of which are "commendable-if perhaps goofy," and others simply baffling. Written by AIR editor Abrahams, this book entertainingly immortalizes dubious, but real, endeavors, such as the study of electric shock treatment's effects on rattlesnake bites; the proposition (from a Maharishi Univeristy faculty member) that meditation would reduce violent crime in Washington, DC; and the British Royal Navy's budget-driven directive to have its sailors shout "Bang!" instead of using live cannon shells. A list of past winners reveals that in 1991, Dan Quayle was honored with an Education Ig Nobel "for demonstrating, better than anyone else, the need for science education," and that in 1992, former L.A. police chief Daryl Gates (who was forced to resign in the wake of the Rodney King beating) was awarded a Peace Ig Nobel "for his uniquely compelling methods of bringing people together." Abrahams also describes the annual ceremony to honor these awardees-where Nobel Laureates are invited to bestow the prizes, paper airplanes are tossed from audience to stage and back, and 30-second limits on lectures are enforced by baseball umps ("Anyone who exceeded the time limit was thrown off the stage. This proved popular with the audience")-which has become a surprise hit. This is a delightfully weird little volume for those with an irreverent attitude toward accomplishment. THE LAST SORCERERS: The Path from Alchemy to the Periodic Table Richard Morris. Joseph Henry, $24.95 (236p) ISBN 0309089050 Though the stories in this volume have been told before in other books, Morris (The Evolutionists; Time's Arrow) manages to make the history of the periodic table's conception fresh and quirky one more time. He does this by focusing his narrative on the early alchemists, who were among the first scientists to investigate the composition of metals and who were widely perceived to be near-sorcerous practitioners of mysterious arts. Bernard of Treves, for one, squandered his life and money questing for the secret that would turn ordinary metals into gold. Another alchemist, Paracelsus, was the first to use the word "chemistry," though his egomania and his devotion to the truth earned him nothing but trouble. Hennig Brandt collected buckets of human urine trying to make gold and instead ended up producing phosphorus. In Morris's account, even Robert Boyle, "generally considered to be the founder of modern chemistry," was an alchemist. It wasn't until the 18th century, Morris writes, that "alchemy was supposedly superceded by chemistry." Thus the more familiar legends of chemistry-featuring scientists like Humphrey Davy, Joseph Priestly and Antoine Lavoisier-appear later in this volume, which recounts the formation of our basic ideas about chemical compounds, elements and molecules. Dimitri Mendeleev, the organizer of the periodic table, gets special treatment. Morris finishes up this delightful tale of science history by sweeping through the 20th century chemists whose discoveries were beyond the wildest imaginings of the ancient Greeks, but who still couldn't make gold from lead. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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