Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/January 1902/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Professor Newcomb, in the last issue of the 'Science Series' (Putnam), sums up our present knowledge of the stars. The greatest problem which can engage the human mind is the structure and duration of the Universe. This is the problem which the author proposes in the fourteenth chapter, and which he discusses throughout the rest of the volume. The early chapters may be regarded as forming an introduction to this far-reaching investigation. To present a popular statement of the facts of astronomy is no simple task. This the author keenly appreciates, for in the preface he admits that he has failed to satisfy himself. Nevertheless, no one could be better prepared to undertake the work than Professor Newcomb, and the outcome cannot fail to meet with general praise. The author possesses that rare style, which comes from a perfectly clear conception of the subject, and a good command of plain English. He can be exact without the use of technical language.

Among the important subjects, which are discussed in the volume, are the surveys of the stars, which are now in progress. These surveys are of different kinds. There are the cataloguing and numbering of the stars, which are still actively carried on, and by new and novel methods, due to the introduction of photography. To count and fix the positions of the stars is, however, not enough. There must also be photometric surveys, to determine the exact! brightness, and other surveys for the systematic study of the spectra, the parallax, and the motions of the stars. There must also be careful surveys of the nebulae. A most interesting investigation is that of the motion of stars in the line of sight, a study which has reached a wonderful precision at the Lick Observatory, with the great refractor and its spectroscope. This has thrown much light on the subject of double and variable stars. Other subjects of special interest are the great numbers of variable stars, which are found packed into a few dense clusters, and the life history and changes of a star. At present, owing to the incompleteness of the surveys and other studies no entirely satisfactory discussion of the structure of the Universe is possible. The subject, however, is treated in an extremely clear and interesting manner, and all the conclusions are drawn, in regard to the Universe, which the present state of the science permits.


A notable book on Alaska has recently left the press of Doubleday, Page & Company (New York) in the form of a report on the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1900. This expedition was organized by Mr. E. H. Harriman as a means of obtaining definite information concerning the characteristics and resources of the Alaskan coast and interior; and through the cooperation of the Washington Academy of Sciences a strong scientific character was impressed on the work. The personnel included a 'scientific party' of twenty-five specialists, several of them eminent in their respective lines; and every possible facility for original work was afforded these specialists in the course of the voyage and land journeys, so that important records and collections were obtained. The preparation of the material for publication was undertaken largely by members of the Washington Academy, and the papers have been edited by Dr. C. Hart Merriam, one of the leading contributors to the success of the expedition. The report, as now published, consists of two volumes, but others are promised as remaining material is elaborated. The first volume is largely made up of the narrative of the expedition by the litterateur-naturalist, John Burroughs, and an account of the natives of the Alaska coast region by Dr. George Bird Grinnell. The second volume contains memoirs on the discovery and exploration of Alaska, by Dr. William H. Dall; on Alaskan birds, by Professor Charles Keeler; on the forests of Alaska, by Professor B. E. Fernow; on the geography of Alaska, by Dr. Henry Gannett; on the Alaskan atmosphere, by Professor William H. Brewer; on 'Bogoslof, Our newest volcano,' by Dr. Merriam; on the salmon industry, by Dr. Grinnell, and on fox farming, by M. L. Washburn. Each of these memoirs is a substantial contribution to knowledge of the territory; the whole constitutes a standard source of information concerning Alaska and its resources and possibilities. The volumes are no less notable in form than in substance; they are models of bookmaking technique. Convenient in form and size, they are sumptuous in eflfect and finish; typography and paper are irreproachable, the binding is appropriate, and the illustrations are adequate and well distributed. These illustrations are especially fine. There are 39 lithograph plates, showing landscapes, glaciers, flowering and fruiting plants, birds, mammals, etc., with unsurpassed fidelity and refinement; and there are 85 photogravure plates, showing characteristic views of the region with an accuracy and fulness of detail seldom attained and never excelled, some of the pictures of glaciers and bergs, for example, being revelations of the possibilities of photomechanical reproduction. These admirable plates are supplemented by 240 text cuts, mainly reproductions of drawings notable alike for faithfulness to nature and for artistic perfection.


Professor Giddings's new book, 'Inductive Sociology' (The Macmillan Company), is an elaboration of the theories set forth in his previous work on 'The Principles of Sociology.' The present volume covers, however, only one half of the field marked out by the author as general sociology. Its object is, in the author's words, "to present a scheme of inductive method, a somewhat detailed analysis and classification of social facts, and a tentative formulation of the more obvious laws of social activity." Studies of the historical evolution of society and of the deeper problems of causation are deferred for future consideration.

The volume is divided into two books, the first of which deals with social theory, the second with the elements and structure of society. In the first book a new solution is suggested for the puzzling problem of the unit of society. Mr. Giddings maintains that the true unit is neither the individual nor the family but the 'socius.' This introductory book also contains an admirable analysis of the methods of sociology, which is better by far than anything that has been presented since Comte's classification, and is in many respects an improvement upon this earlier attempt. The second book is divided into four parts, dealing respectively with the social population, the social mind, social organization and social welfare. Within each part the material is classified under separate categories, and the special subjects set forth in a series of propositions, distinctions and definitions. To show how sociology can be systematized, a number of statistical tables, formulae, diagrams and maps are presented; and to encourage further investigation along these lines, blank forms are furnished for the collection and consideration of sociological data.