Books on the Fringe

Books on the Fringe

2022 Library Acquisitions

Some people may think librarians have the best job in the world. We get to buy books…professionally. It is pretty great, but we can’t and don’t just buy whatever tickles our fancy. We work hard to make sure the books we’re buying for the collection support the action, whether that’s purchasing what scholars near and far recommend to us, trying to predict the future to acquire what scholars of tomorrow may want, or supporting the work our colleagues do at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives or Center for History of Physics. The last thing we want is for the books we buy to fly onto the shelves (yes, that’s how processing and cataloging work, let’s pretend just for now) and never get pulled down again. We want them to be read and used and dogeared (only in your imaginations please, we’re happy to supply you with bookmarks). Though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how research happens all over the world, and increasingly people are accessing information virtually, we know there’s still a place for the gorgeous smell of a new or used book. Not just to have them, but to use them. These are just some of the books we purchased this year and why we purchased them. 

Émilie du Châtelet Acquisitions

Émilie du Châtelet portrait by Latour

Émilie du Châtelet portrait by Latour

Every summer, NBLA and CHP are lucky enough to get to sponsor a Society of Physics Students intern. In 2022, we worked with the amazing Emma Goulet. SPS interns always inspire collection development, and this year was no exception. Emma produced a teaching guide and several articles about French natural philosopher and mathematician Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet (1706-1749), better known simply as Émilie du Châtelet, whose intellectual accomplishments have often been overshadowed by her love affair with Voltaire. We bought these books to support her research: 

Zinsser, Judith, Emilie du Châtelet: Daring Genius of the Enlightenment, 2007

A biography about the great lady. From the publisher: “Although today she is best known for her fifteen-year liaison with Voltaire, Gabrielle Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise Du Châtelet (1706-1749) was more than a great man's mistress. After marrying a marquis at the age of eighteen, she proceeded to fulfill the prescribed-and delightfully frivolous-role of a French noblewoman of her time. But she also challenged it, conducting a highly visible affair with a commoner, writing philosophical works, and translating Newton's Principia while pregnant by a younger lover. “

Gunderson, Lauren, Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, 2010

In this play, Gunderson explores Emilie’s life through the questions: Love or philosophy? Head or heart?
Does a play have a place in a history of physics library? We firmly believe that fiction and the arts are ways to explore the history of physics. We’ve been growing our offerings in these areas, and this is not our first play in the collection, and indeed not our first Lauren Gunderson! In 2019, we went to see a local production of Gunderson’s Silent Sky, which is about American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt; read Digital Archivist Audrey’s “Curating the Sky” post.

Brading, Katherine, Émilie Du Châtelet and the Foundations of Physical Science, 2019

Here is a selection that doesn’t focus on du Chatelet’s love life! A book of philosophy of science, it argues that Du Châtelet put her finger on the central problems that lay at the intersection of physics and metaphysics at the time. 

du Châtelet, Emilie, The Art of Happiness: The Reflections of Madame du Châtelet, 2017

Originally written by Mme. du Chatelet at the age of 40 in 1746, this English translation gives readers a personal look into her thoughts and feelings. How does one stay happy, in and out of love, with old age creeping in, as a woman in 18th century French society? Many of her thoughts are still very relevant today. This book is a special favorite of Corinne’s.

To be happy, we need to strip away our prejudices, be virtuous, enjoy good health, have tastes and passions, be susceptible to illusions, since we owe the majority of our pleasures to illusion, and unhappy is the person who loses that capacity

Émilie du Châtelet quote: "To be happy, we need to strip away our prejudices, be virtuous, enjoy good health, have tastes and passions, be susceptible to illusions, since we owe the majority of our pleasures to illusion, and unhappy is the person who loses that capacity."

Quote text: "To be happy, we need to strip away our prejudices, be virtuous, enjoy good health, have tastes and passions, be susceptible to illusions, since we owe the majority of our pleasures to illusion, and unhappy is the person who loses that capacity." - Émilie du Châtelet, The Art of Happiness 

Continuation of quote: “Far from seeking therefore to make it disappear by the torch of reason, let us try to thicken the veneer that it places upon the majority of objects. Illusion is even more necessary to them than are care and adornments to our bodies.”

Hagengruber, Ruth (Ed.), Emilie du Châtelet between Leibniz and Newton, 2011

This book is a compilation of essays about Emilie du Châtelet’s philosophy. From the publisher: “The contributions in this volume… analyze the nature and motivation of Emilie du Châtelet's synthesis of Newtonian and Leibnitian philosophy. Apart from the Institutions Physiques they deal with Emilie du Châtelet's annotated translation of Isaac Newton's Principia. The chapters presented here collectively demonstrate that her work was an essential contribution to the mediation between empiricist and rationalist positions in the history of science.”

AV Acquisitions!

This year, we embarked on an A/V mini-project in the library. This category of library materials, which includes (but is not limited to) CDs, tapes, phonographic records, DVDs, VHSs, and more, has been somewhat haphazardly collected by the library over the years since NBLA was founded in 1962. Our librarians collect published A/V materials and house them in our open stacks (can be browsed by the public), whereas, in a separate collection, our archivists tend to collect A/V materials that are unpublished (like the William F. Meggers Home Movies Collection) or that come in with other donations and house them in the closed archives stacks (a staff member must retrieve these for patrons). Our archival collection of A/V materials has been well-established over the years, in contrast to the library’s A/V holdings. The project in 2022 consisted of:

  1. Evaluating our existing library A/V items
  2. Establishing cataloging procedures for library A/V items and correcting cataloging of existing A/V items as appropriate
  3. Rehousing a good chunk of library A/V items so they will not get lost on the shelves
  4. Seeking out and purchasing new library A/V items 

We welcome you to send us your recommendations for A/V or books to add to our collections through our recommendation form!    

A few DVDs purchased for the library this year include: 

Women in Engineering DVD, 2007

Women in Engineering DVD, 2007 

Women in Engineering DVD, 2007 

The subtitle says it all: ”the best kept secret to changing the world.” From the publisher: “Featuring women engineers from companies all over the United States, this video offers women encouragement to pursue engineering.”

Rock N Learn: Physical Science DVD, 2008

This one fits in our physical science educational materials collection development objective. From the publisher: “Marko the Pencil makes understanding science easy and fun! Join Marko the Pencil as he takes students on a fascinating journey to his Super Science Station where it's easy to grasp science concepts. Designed for students in 5th grade, but learners at all levels will find the information fun and informative.”

Bold Visions: Women in Science and Technology DVD, 2008

From the publisher: “A glimpse into the lives of women who are dispelling the myths commonly associated with professionals who work in the fields of science and technology: a research scientist searching for genetic causes of diseases, an astronaut who applies her engineering expertise in space, and a technologist who is as agile leading a team of colleagues as she is playing soccer with her sons. Their work is exciting, collaborative, and makes a difference to the quality of our lives.”

Meteorology Acquisitions

In the mid-2010s, NBLA staff made the decision to expand one of its collection areas: meteorology, or the branch of science that focuses on the atmosphere and the prediction of weather. We collaborated with an expert to curate a bibliography of works that would help us to achieve this goal. This list includes both rare and non-rare books, which we have been steadily purchasing since 2015. In 2022, we crossed a few of the rare books off of the list, including The Climate of London. *Check out the photo gallery at the end of the post for images

Howard, Luke, The Climate of London, Deduced From Meteorological Observations Made in the Metropolis and at Various Places Around It, second edition, 3 vols, 1833


The Climate of London is sometimes considered to be the first textbook in English on climatology, and indeed, the three volumes (expanded from the two volumes of the first edition) describe and analyze climate in general, not just the climate of London. Its author, Luke Howard (1772-1864), was the first person to name various cloud types. Our copy is inscribed by him to his grandson on the title page. If you can’t make the trip to College Park to look at our copy, take a look at the International Association for Urban Climate’s free online edition.

Reid, William, An Attempt to Develop The Law of Storms by Means of Facts, Arranged According to Place and Time: and Hence to Point Out a Cause, 1846

Sir William Reid became obsessed with hurricanes in 1831 when he was assigned to assist with the reconstruction of Barbados after the Great Barbados hurricane. An Attempt to Develop The Law of Storms the result of his study of tropical storms, including scientific ideas developed with William Redfield. Internet Archive has a digitized copy of an earlier edition of this work. William Reid was also Governor of the Bermudas, the British Windward Islands, and Malta during his lifetime. My personal favorite accomplishment, however, is his founding of the Bermuda National Library in 1839.  

Blodget, Lorin, Climatology of the United States: and of the temperate latitudes of the North American continent, embracing a full comparison of these with the climatology of the temperate latitudes of Europe and Asia, and especially in regard to agriculture, sanitary investigations, and engineering : with isothermal and rain charts for each season, the extreme months, and the year, including a summary of the statistics of meteorological observations in the United States, condensed from recent scientific and official publications, 1857

Lorin Blodget is often considered to be a major early figure of American climatology. In the years following its 1857 publication, Climatology of the United States circulated widely and was well-received in Europe. The book has 12 folding maps and charts and is one of the first comprehensive American works on climatology and meteorology. Find a digitized version of the US National Library of Medicine’s copy of this book on the Internet Archive.

Garriott, Edward, Ed., Weather Folklore and Local Signs, 1903

This book is a US Government Printing Office publication. The first part of the book examines different topics of weather (birds, clouds, seasons) through the lore of various authors and through oral tradition. The second part contains weather station reports to the chief of the US Weather Bureau, arranged alphabetically by town name, making it an invaluable resource for anyone studying climate change and the history of the climate.

Miscellaneous Acquisitions

We purchased some of these because they're always something we'll want, some were used for research projects, and others were recommended through our recommendation form

Gordin, Michael, On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience, 2021 

Gordin, Michael, On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience, 2021

Michael Gordin’s book on the connection between science and pseudoscience heavily influenced the Initial Conditions episode on Pseudoscientists and was purchased on Justin Shapiro’s recommendation. You can listen to episode 5 of Initial Conditions, Was Einstein Wrong?? here and then read more in his blog for Ex Libris here.

West, Gladys, It Began with a Dream, 2020

West, Gladys, It Began with a Dream, 2020

Maura Shapiro requested we purchase this book for a potential Initial Conditions podcast episode on Gladys West, an African American mathematician who spent her career at the Naval Proving Ground programming satellites. Maybe in season 2!? We’d love to hear more about Dr. West’s fascinating life and career and how she helped develop the satellite model that led to our current (and very necessary to daily life) Global Positioning System (GPS). 

Liger-Belair, Gerard, Uncorked: the Science of Champagne, 2013 

Liger-Belair, Gerard, Uncorked: the Science of Champagne, 2013

If this doesn’t make you want to listen to an entire podcast season about the science behind wine and winemaking (can we throw in cheese making for good measure?) then I don’t even want to know you. Maura Shapiro recommended we purchase this book for research on a potential podcast episode for Initial Conditions.  

From the publisher: “Uncorked quenches our curiosity about the inner workings of one of the world’s most prized beverages. Esteemed for its freshness, vitality, and sensuality, champagne is a wine of great complexity. Mysteries aplenty gush forth with the popping of that cork. Just what is that fizz? Can you judge champagne quality by how big the bubbles are, how long they last, or how they behave before they fade? And why does serving champagne in a long-stemmed flute prolong its chill and effervescence? Through lively prose and a wealth of state-of-the-art photos, this revised edition of Uncorked unlocks the door to what champagne is all about.

Providing an unprecedented close-up view of the beauty in the bubbles, Gérard Liger-Belair presents images that look surprisingly like lovely flowers, geometric patterns, even galaxies as the bubbles rise through the glass and burst forth on the surface. He illustrates how bubbles form not on the glass itself but are “born” out of debris stuck on the glass wall, how they rise, and how they pop. Offering a colorful history of champagne, Liger-Belair tells us how it is made and he asks if global warming could spell champagne’s demise. In a brand-new afterword, he updates the reader on new developments in the world of bubble science and delves even more deeply into the processes that give champagne its unique and beautiful character.

Bubbly may tickle the nose, but Uncorked tackles what the nose and the naked eye cannot—the spectacular science that gives champagne its charm and champagne drinkers immeasurable pleasure.”

Bolton, Sarah K. Sarah K. Bolton: Pages from an Intimate Autobiography. Edited by Her Son, 1923

Bolton, Sarah K. Sarah K. Bolton: Pages from an Intimate Autobiography. Edited by Her Son, 1923

Sarah K. Bolton wrote Famous Men of Science (we’re still searching for a copy of this book to add to our collection) which included biographies of physicists such as Galileo, Newton, and Sir William and Caroline Herschel. The section of the book on Caroline Herschel includes such gems as: “She was now twenty-two; an untutored girl, with a bright, eager mind, and a heart that went out to her brother in the most rapt devotion. History does not show a more complete, single-hearted, subservient affection, nor a sadder picture of a woman's sorrow in later years, in consequence of it.”

And: “The longed-for time to see more of her brother never came to Caroline, except as she finally grew into his life-work, and became his second self.”

While Bolton is clearly not a feminist in any modern sense of the term, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a 19th century woman writing a biography of an 18th century woman physicist must belong in the NBLA’s collection. 

Brück, M. T., Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics, 2002

Brück, M. T., Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics, 2002

Have you ever heard of Agnes Mary Clerke, an astronomer from the mid-19th century? We hadn’t! Which is exactly why we snatched up this book as soon as we found out about it. Yes, we’re about 20 years behind the times, but it’s never too late. 

From the publisher: “Born in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, Agnes Mary Clerke achieved fame as the author of A History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century. Through her quarter-century career, she became the leading commentator on astronomy and astrophysics in the English-speaking world. The biography of Agnes Clerke describes the life and work of this extraordinary woman. It also chronicles the development of astronomy in the last decades of pre-Einstein science, and introduces many of the great figures in astronomy of that age including Huggins, Lockyer, Holden and Pickering; their achievements and their rivalries. The story follows her friendship with William and Margaret Huggins, and her prolific correspondence with eminent astronomers of the time. This biography will fascinate scientists, and anyone who admires intellectual achievement brought about through love of learning and sheer hard work.”

Markel, Howard, The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick, and the Discovery of DNA's Double Helix, 2021

Markel, Howard, The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick, and the Discovery of DNA's Double Helix, 2021


Though ostensibly a book of medical history, this title intersects with biophysics and physical chemistry and is just a fascinating subject. Plus, we will purchase almost anything about Rosalind Franklin, an amazing but very short-lived crystallographer who was treated infamously poorly by her colleagues. This hits two notes for us, both a book about a woman scientist and one about the interdisciplinary nature of the physical sciences. 

From the publisher: “James Watson and Francis Crick’s 1953 discovery of the double helix structure of DNA is the foundation of virtually every advance in our modern understanding of genetics and molecular biology. But how did Watson and Crick do it—and why were they the ones who succeeded?

In truth, the discovery of DNA’s structure is the story of five towering minds in pursuit of the advancement of science, and for almost all of them, the prospect of fame and immortality: Watson, Crick, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and Linus Pauling. Each was fascinating and brilliant, with strong personalities that often clashed. Howard Markel skillfully re-creates the intense intellectual journey, and fraught personal relationships, that ultimately led to a spectacular breakthrough. But it is Rosalind Franklin—fiercely determined, relentless, and an outsider at Cambridge and the University of London in the 1950s, as the lone Jewish woman among young male scientists—who becomes a focal point for Markel.

The Secret of Life is a story of genius and perseverance, but also a saga of cronyism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and misconduct. Drawing on voluminous archival research, including interviews with James Watson and with Franklin’s sister, Jenifer Glynn, Markel provides a fascinating look at how science is done, how reputations are undone, and how history is written, and revised.

A vibrant evocation of Cambridge in the 1950s, Markel also provides colorful depictions of Watson and Crick—their competitiveness, idiosyncrasies, and youthful immaturity—and compelling portraits of Wilkins, Pauling, and most cogently, Rosalind Franklin. The Secret of Life is a lively and sweeping narrative of this landmark discovery, one that finally gives the woman at the center of this drama her due.”

Stark, Johannes, Adolf Hitlers Ziele und Persönlichkeit, 1930

Stark, Johannes, Adolf Hitlers Ziele und Persönlichkeit, 1930

This title translates to Hitler's Aims and Personality. Adapted from Wikipedia: “Johannes Stark was a German physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1919 ‘for his discovery of the Doppler effect in canal rays and the splitting of spectral lines in electric fields’. This phenomenon is known as the Stark effect.

Stark was a supporter of Adolf Hitler starting in 1924. During the Nazi regime, Stark attempted to become the Führer of German physics through the Deutsche Physik ("German physics") movement (along with fellow Nobel laureate Philipp Lenard) against the theoretical "Jewish physics" of Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg (who was not Jewish). He stressed that scientific positions in Nazi Germany should only be held by pure-blooded Germans. He was appointed head of the German Research Foundation in 1933 and was president of the Reich Physical-Technical Institute from 1933 to 1939. In 1947 he was found guilty as a "Major Offender" by a denazification court.”

Hymers, John, The Elements of the Theory of Astronomy, 1840

Hymers, John, The Elements of the Theory of Astronomy, 1840

Hymers’ book was recommended to us by our historians as part of our collection focus on 19th century astronomy. Hymers himself was a mathematician who wrote textbooks for his students at Cambridge. 

Yarba, Victor, Here and There, or There and Here A Physicist's Recollection: Science in the midst of political turmoil in the USSR and USA, 2022

This book was recommended by an anonymous member of the public through our Suggest a Book Purchase form.

From the submission: “I am recommending a book by Victor Yarba for your collection.  He came to the US from Protvino, Russia where he was deputy head of the high-energy physics laboratory there. In addition, he held important roles in the Russian science establishment. He came to the US to work on the SSC and later was invited to work at Fermilab. He worked in the Technical Division for many years in various leadership roles.

He has written a fascinating memoir of his work in Russia and in the US. Beyond his work in physics his book is a valuable historical document of several decades of particle physics research in Russia and the US. The book has been published in Russian and has since been translated into English. 

A copy of this valuable book belongs in your collection.”

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About the Author

Allison Rein

Allison Rein

Allison Rein is the Associate Director of Library Collections & Services. She has a B.A. in history from UMBC and an MLS from the University of Maryland. She spent nearly 10 years working in libraries and archives before coming to AIP. She manages the book collection at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives and if she had to pick a favorite book in the entire collection it would be Radium Girls by Kate Moore. Her favorite thing about working at the Library (and any institution she’s ever worked) is how much she’s constantly learning. 

Caption: Maria Goeppert Mayer posing in a bat costume

See all articles by Allison Rein

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