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A selection of gift books for science and nature buffs

Intellectual Mastery of Nature, by Christa Jungnickel and Russell McCormach. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Volume 1, 350 pp. $55. Volume 2, 456 pp. $65. This two-volume treatise on the development of modern research takes the evolution of theoretical physics from 1800 to 1925 in Germany. It explores the maturing of physics as part of the academic pursuits of a university: the first seminars, the development of journals, government-sponsored science, and the legitimization of research as part of a university's activity.

More than a history of the rise of science in German society, or the history of some of the world's best-known scientists, these two volumes chronicle the marriage of science and society in the 19th and early 20th century.

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A scholarly, complete, and ``must'' book for the serious student of research and the well-informed researcher. Here the roots of modern academic practice, investigation, and possible future development are carefully examined. The History of Statistics, by Stephen M. Stigler. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 361 pp. $25.

We all use numbers.

``Statisticians have an understandable penchant for viewing the whole of the history of science as revolving around measurement and statistical reasoning. This view, which stops far short of insisting that science is only measurement, is not entirely parochial, many distinguished scientists and philosophers have shared it,'' Stephen Stigler tells us.

In this well-written account, the progress in statistical analysis - from its first uses and discovery in astronomy through the struggle to use it in the social sciences through 1900 - is told. The progress of statistics and measurement uncertainty (whether due to error, changes in circumstance, or other causes) continues to play an increasingly important role in mankind's efforts to use intelligently the abundant amount of data now accumulating in our computers.

Stigler's book reminds us how we have gotten this far. The International Encyclopedia of Astronomy, edited by Patrick Moore. New York: Orion Books. 448 pp. $40.

The 2,500 A-to-Z articles with an in-depth collection of essays in this reference form an inviting introduction to some of the important current topics in astronomy. Any encyclopedia on astronomy needs to have first-rate graphics and easy-to-find and use information. This text succeeds on both counts. Both obscure and well-known terms and concepts are listed and explained.

With science becoming increasingly diverse, this dictionary on astronomy will be useful to those beginning a study of astronomy, those occasionally needing to clarify a term, and the professional looking for a way to explain or understand the work of a colleague. Meditations at Sunset, by James Trefil. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 240 pp. $16.95.

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James Trefil writes science for all to read. This book follows the successful pattern of his others.

In this text he treats us to a description of such things as sunspots, ball lightning, colors in the sky, and the joy of wet rocks compared with the disappointment of dry ones (as far as beauty is concerned). It's a book for young adults as well as those just interested in what is going on around them. The Bird of Time, by N.W. Moore. New York: Cambridge University Press. 266 pp. $49.50, cloth; $15.95.

N.W. Moore recently retired from the Nature Conservancy in Britain. His recounting and analysis of the science and politics of nature conservation in Britain from the end of World War II to the present will interest conservationists on both sides of the Atlantic.

The approach is like Paul Ehrlich's ``The Machinery of Nature,'' in that it goes from very detailed examination of one topic to quite general conclusions on the experience. Moore's concern with maintaining a world in which evolution can continue because we have allowed for a diversity in nature forms the central theme of the book.

``The Bird of Time'' captures some of the successes, failures, promises, and shortcomings of the conservancy system in Britain. Some of these may well work in other countries. At the least, one man's efforts and experience are related in a thoughtful, helpful, and interesting way.

Moore feels that ``nearly all the effective actions ... were due to determined efforts of individual people, who identified themselves with particular problems and promoted them until they had achieved their objectives.'' Moore has captured his experience for us all.

Paul A. Robinson Jr. is a staff scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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