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Killer spirals offer wild ride

March 15, 2017

Øyvind Hammer was first seduced by the spiral's charms 20 years ago while studying fossils and with his new book he aims to make others susceptible. After reading it, you'll look for spirals wherever you turn and Hammer will have succeeded in his "evil scheme".

Spirals are formed when a curve winds around a central point, moving away from that point as it revolves. The twist of a tree as it grows, an exploding nuclear missile, your fingers as they release or close around a can of beer: these are just some of the spirals and helices that Hammer describes. He uses mathematical precision as well as the eye of an adoring fan.

Hammer says: "The spiral seems to draw you in through its coils, grabbing your attention, not letting you go. Cyclic but not repeating. Endless but not unbounded. The spiral must surely be the perfect shape. No other shape evokes more strongly a sense of beauty, mystery and eternity."

While the internet provides a mesmerizing web of spiral legends and swirling stories, Hammer's book is based on evidence and includes pretty equations for those who find them interesting. The logarithmic spiral is the most ubiquitous in nature. It has a multitude of surprising and beautiful mathematic properties and has occupied many of the greatest human minds in history. Meanwhile, the Archimedes spiral can be a killer. An imperfect example could be seen in the Norwegian night sky when a nuclear missile test by the Russian military failed to spectacular effect.

Like the spiral itself, spiral stories can continue in perpetuity. At the end of his book, Hammer makes a record of some of the spirals that he didn't write about. They include the curl of a child's hair, the narwhal's tusk, finger prints and compact discs. You get the feeling that he may return to the subject, but for now you can enjoy his wild ride around the vortex of his favorite subject, The Perfect Shape.

Øyvind Hammer is Associate Professor in paleontology at the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo. The main focus of his current research is the fossil record of mainland and Arctic Norway. He is an active teacher and science communicator, with a widely-read popular science blog and frequent public lectures and media appearances.

Øyvind Hammer
The Perfect Shape
1st ed. 2016, XI, 258 p. 169 illus., 115 illus. in color.
Hardcover $19.99, €19,99, £15.00 ISBN 978-3-319-47372-7
Also available as an eBook ISBN 978-3-319-47373-4


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