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Science  13 Dec 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5601, pp. 2137
DOI: 10.1126/science.298.5601.2137b

The Lunar Men. Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. Jenny Uglow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002. 608 pp. $30, £25. ISBN 0-374-19440-8.

Canals, china, the chemistry of gasses, and the classification of British plants were among the diverse interests of a small group of amateur experimenters who formed the Lunar Society of Birmingham in the 1760s. The loose club, which met when the full moon provided light for the journey home, included Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, and evolutionary theorist; Josiah Wedgwood, potter; James Watt, developer of the steam engine; and Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen. They and the other members shared a desire to improve industry and commerce through science. Most of the group considered themselves free thinkers, believed in moral and material progress guided by rationality, and supported the American and French revolutions. Building on numerous previous studies, Uglow uses the extensive collections of the members' letters to craft a detailed and vivid group biography. She highlights the relations among the men and their worlds, and suggests their importance to both the Romantic writers and the Industrial Revolution.

Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez. A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja's Desert Coast. Andromeda Romano-Lax. Sasquatch, Seattle, WA, 2002. 272 pp. Paper, $16.95. ISBN 1-57061-255-2.

In the spring of 1940, novelist John Steinbeck and marine biologist Edward Ricketts spent six weeks collecting organisms along the shores of the Gulf of California. Inspired by Steinbeck's classic Log from the Sea of Cortez, Romano-Lax and her family traveled by sailboat, kayak, and car to retrace that trip. Romano-Lax blends ecology, philosophy, and adventure in an account that describes her encounters with animals ranging from sea cucumbers to gray whales as well as her impressions of the changes the past 60 years have brought to the Gulf and the people who live along its shores.

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