Sunday, October 5, 2008

Goldilocks Optimum for Science Books

There's a delicate balance in science books for the “general” public between being too technical for casual reading and being too wand-waving for readers with a scientific background. I've been lucky with some of my choices over the last few months: The Best of All Possible Worlds, The PoincarĂ© Conjecture, Microcosm, and Ice, Mud and Blood. I'm now two-thirds through D. S. Richeson's Euler's Gem on the history and consequences of Euler's famous V - E + F = 2 formula for spherical polyhedra. I spent quite a bit of time with planar graphs and this formula when working on my first research work, on automated graph layout, but I never knew or I have forgotten some of the tastiest parts of this story, for example some of the formula's most elegant proofs. Richeson's book is just right for me, with enough detail about arguments, analyses and proofs to teach me (or remind me) of important ideas, but light enough to read a chapter or two before sleep.