Jonathan L. Feng in American Scientist:
A college classmate of mine went to work for a prestigious management-consulting firm right after we graduated. Every month or so he would head out to advise a different Fortune 500 company. When I ran into him a year after he took the job, I asked him how he could possibly provide insights to top business executives when these same people had often spent entire careers immersed in their company’s work. His response? “I usually have no idea how to improve these companies, but they do. And when I come into their office and close the door, they’ll say things to me that they would never tell their colleagues.”
In The 4% Universe, Richard Panek has done something similar, not with business executives, but with physicists and astronomers who are confronting some of the biggest questions in science today. Want to hear a codiscoverer of dark matter say what she truly thinks of her legendary mentor? Want to be a fly on the wall as scientific history is shaped by the backroom dealings of a good-old-boy network? Want to read the e-mails scientists send as they jockey for position in the Nobel Prize queue? Scientists usually share such information only with their closest colleagues, but it’s all in Panek’s book, and it’s placed in enough historical and scientific context to be both intelligible and riveting.