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In lucid prose that’s a real pleasure to read, Karen Rader and Victoria Cain’s new book chronicles a revolution in modern American science education and culture. Life on Display: Revolutionizing U. S. Museums of Science & Natural History in the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, 2014) guides readers through a transformation in American science and nature museums as museums moved from a nineteenth-century focus on research and specimen collections to a twentieth-century emphasis on public engagement and display. Written collaboratively over nearly a decade, Life on Display simultaneously develops an argument for a “renegotiation of the relationship between display, research, and education in American museums of nature and science,” and opens up an archive of fascinating (and at times hilarious and moving) stories of members of the museum-going public (some of who gifted dog fleas and dead pets to their local museums), non-human inhabitants of interactive museum displays (including an owl with a penchant for riding in cars and “trim, up-on-their-toes cockroaches”), and museum professionals who painted, debated, made dioramas, invented “Exploratoria,” and occasionally wrote limericks. This is a book for anyone interested in American history, museum studies, visual culture, science studies, the history of education, grasshopper surgery, or Jurassic Park (among many, many other fields it contributes to). It’s a wonderfully engaging history.


S. Lochlann JainMalignant: How Cancer Becomes Us

January 15, 2015

[Cross-posted from New Books in Medicine] Cancer pervades American bodies—and also habits of mind. Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us (University of California Press, 2013) is a sharp, adventurous book by the established legal anthropologist, S. Lochlann Jain. The book simultaneously complicates and clarifies the multiple ways in which cancer and patient-hood gets appropriated, embodied and reproduced through seemingly quotidian activities—from opening [...]

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Frank PasqualeThe Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information

December 24, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Technology] Hidden algorithms make many of the decisions that affect significant areas of society: the economy, personal and organizational reputation, the promotion of information, etc. These complex formulas, or processes, are thought by many to be unbiased and impartial and, therefore, good for automated decision-making. Yet, recent scandals, as well as information [...]

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Clapperton C. MavhungaTransient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe

December 14, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Technology] Words have meaning. More specifically, the definitions attached to words shape our perspective on, and how we categorize, the things that we encounter. The words of “technology” and “innovation” are exemplars of how definitions impact perspectives. Ask most people what they think of when they hear these words, and most often [...]

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Dániel MargócsyCommercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age

December 9, 2014

Dániel Margócsy’s beautiful new book opens with a trip to Amsterdam by Baron Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, and closes with a shopping spree by Peter the Great. These two trips bookend a series of fascinating forays into the changing world of entrepreneurial science in the early modern Netherlands. Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture [...]

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Carolyn L. KaneChromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code

December 3, 2014

Carolyn L. Kane’s new book traces the modern history of digital color, focusing on the role of electronic color in computer art and media aesthetics since 1960. Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code (University of Chicago Press, 2014) places color at the center of media studies, exploring some amazing works of [...]

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Janet K. ShimHeart-Sick: The Politics of Risk, Inequality, and Heart Disease

November 27, 2014

Janet K. Shim’s new book juxtaposes the accounts of epidemiologists and lay people to consider the roles of race, class, and gender (among other things) in health and illness. Heart-Sick: The Politics of Risk, Inequality, and Heart Disease (New York University Press, 2014) integrates several kinds of sources into a theoretically-informed sociological investigation of inequality [...]

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William J. TurkelSpark from the Deep: How Shocking Experiments with Strongly Electric Fish Powered Scientific Discovery

November 13, 2014

“In a sense, all life consists of the colonization of an electric world. But to see that, we have to go back to the very beginning.” William J. Turkel’s new book traces the emergence and inhabiting of an electric world through the span of human history and beyond. Embracing a “big history” approach to the [...]

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Alon PeledTraversing Digital Babel: Information, E-Government, and Exchange

November 7, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Technology] Failure by government agencies to share information has had disastrous results globally. From the inability to prevent terrorist attacks, like the 9-11 attacks in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, to the ill-equipped and ill-fated responses to disasters like the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, and Hurricane Katrina, a common denominator [...]

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Ethan ZuckermanRewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection

November 6, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in World Affairs] In the early days of the Internet, optimists saw the future as highly connected, where voices from across the globe would mingle and learn from one another as never before.  However, as Ethan Zuckerman argues in Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (Norton, 2013), just because a connection is possible does not [...]

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