This slim book is a collection of articles written for an Italian newspaper by physicist Carlo Rovelli. As such, it is a very light introduction to soThis slim book is a collection of articles written for an Italian newspaper by physicist Carlo Rovelli. As such, it is a very light introduction to some of the major ideas of modern science – General Relativity, Quantum Theory, cosmology, particle theory, a possible idea to join the Quantum and Relativistic worlds, and why probability and thermodynamics are such important and profound notions, along with a capping article of a more philosophical piece on why we are part of the cosmos and the Earth.
Rovelli certainly has a poetic turn of phrase and a knack for expressing the wonder of these ideas and I think that many people with a very limited knowledge would find their interest piqued enough to seek more information – which is precisely the aim of the book and of the original articles. As such, it is excellent, giving a brief and extremely clear overview of the ideas, with hints of why delving deeper would be worthwhile and fulfilling, and this is what my rating reflects.
However, as someone who considers myself moderately well-read – albeit in a fairly shallow, utterly non-professional manner – I found it a little lacking, largely as I already have gone beyond this level of knowledge and am already infused by the wonder of the universe that Rovelli evokes. I did find it frustrating that he stopped short of giving examples and delving deeper; it’s a fine balance and, of course, one of the deciding factors would have been the very limited wordcount for the original articles.
So, if you are just beginning to test the waters of popular physics this is very much the book for you. All the pieces are a great jumping off point - although a great idea would have been a list of further reading, perhaps graded by level of depth and complexity, for the intrigued reader to wade further.
Helen MacDonald’s book is several things, all of them successful. It is a memoir of her training of a goshawk, which follows her father’s sudden deathHelen MacDonald’s book is several things, all of them successful. It is a memoir of her training of a goshawk, which follows her father’s sudden death and is also, therefore, about her relationship with her father and her coming to terms with this loss. It is concerns another relationship, one across time with T.H. White, best know as the author of the magnificent The Once and Future King. White was himself obsessed with hawking and wrote a book simply called Goshawk about his own experiences training this most difficult of birds.
This is a complex, deeply personal and often somber book. MacDonald is brutal at exposing her own pain and uncertainty and failings, often mirroring them against White’s. In the course of doing so she shows, of course, some of the history of falconry and ends by linking her exploration of her psychology for her attachment with a wider aspect of our relationship with the wild, and with the landscape. ...more
Hecht's examination of how doubt has always lived alongside faith since the earliest times is a fascinating work of scholarship. She takes us from theHecht's examination of how doubt has always lived alongside faith since the earliest times is a fascinating work of scholarship. She takes us from the beginnings of philosophy which grew alongside the earliest recorded organised religions, where the act of questioning and doubting was fundamental to the process of philosophy. This unfaith runs like a bright silver thread through history, although many times religion has sought to obscure the fact and expunge it from the records, or recast the proponents of doubt in a way that portrays them as faithful.
She takes us forward from the Greeks and through Rome, taking in the Jewish tradition - both ancient and medieval - to Gnosticism and throughout the growth of Christianity, branching on the way to bring in the beliefs of Asia and how they had approaches that differed but often embraced doubt far ore strongly than the tradition in the West.
She shows us how the explosion of unbelief that was the Enlightenment was built partly on this questioning, and the gradual acceptance that a lack of faith was not only correct and acceptable amongst the intellectual elite but also held no dangers for the masses. Finally, she shows how the meeting of Western Enlightenment and Eastern enlightenment in the 19th and 20th centuries brought yet more strength to those who doubt, and recaps how the great thinkers and writers who have pushed against or broken outside of the bounds of religion have built upon each other, and managed to find the kernels of wisdom in earlier thinkers time and again, despite the best efforts to obscure or marginalise those dangerous thought.
A wonderful book which has given me far too many new threads to chase down and consume....more
This is a book on the social history of decapitation, which is rather more widespread than you might imagine. Starting with a rundown of the indignitiThis is a book on the social history of decapitation, which is rather more widespread than you might imagine. Starting with a rundown of the indignities heaped on the (severed) head of Oliver Cromwell after his death - kept on a spike for years, stolen, traded and passed around - Larson then goes on to cover various aspects of the way Western society has viewed the act of decollation and the resultant cranium.
And this is about how the Western (largely European and American) culture has both informed the view of the practices and, indeed, affected it. We start with a chapter on the vogue for early anthropologists and collectors to seek out those 'savage' tribesmen who took severed heads as part of their culture, in South America and New Guinea among other places, and how the act of seeking out and collecting these 'cultural artefacts' completely changes the behaviour of the people concerned, almost entirely for the more murderous; the Shuar tribe of Peru, who collected a small number of heads and shrunk them as part of rituals to obtain the glory of that individual massively increased production when offered valuable trade goods by European anthropologists, as did the Maori in New Zealand and others in New Guinea - although many more also referred to these strange white men as 'headhunters' due to their habit of going around asking the locals if they could procure severed heads. Subsequently, a good proportion of those shrunken and tattooed heads in various museum collections, rather than being those of 'native warriors' are those of innocent people, creations made purely for the procurement of incredibly valuable trade goods. Larson continues the chapter tracing the changing attitude toward these collections.
Each subsequent chapter follows a similar pattern, taking a specific aspect of the topic from its inception through its history to the most up-to-date perspective - the guillotine, trophy heads (largely in the Pacific Theatre in WWII), art and medicine - often referring back to previous entries (often done subtly but occasionally with clumsy repetition), the author weaves together stories that are interesting in themselves on a theme that opens up some thought-provoking avenues. I guarantee that some of the ideas - as well as some of the images - will stay with me long after the final page....more
A very nice collection of longer articles from New Scientist on the theme of Nothing in various forms. I particularly like the cosmology (of course),A very nice collection of longer articles from New Scientist on the theme of Nothing in various forms. I particularly like the cosmology (of course), and all there pieces are interesting in informative, although I have issues with the several that centre on the placebo (and nocebo) effects. These do highlight what can sometimes be a weakness of this type of article, that while explaining an apparent phenomenon it is presented in far too uncritical a fashion, which can lead the less informed reader to place too great a weight on the effect., a particular problem when it is picked up by the general media and further amplified or warped....more
A very light book, Forster's review of her life through the houses she has lived in - starting with being born in a council house in Cumbria - is evocA very light book, Forster's review of her life through the houses she has lived in - starting with being born in a council house in Cumbria - is evocative but short on substance, although this may, in part, be to do with the abridgment for the radio. It felt more like a a lengthened piece from a Sunday supplement than a book in its own right, with details of where the author has lived and how it affected her life, with personal details (the relative poverty of her childhood, scholarship to Oxford, marriage, success and cancer), although Forster is a far better writer than the hacks who would write it as a lifestyle piece. Strangely - and, again, perhaps this is an effect of abridgment - after her childhood, other people seem barely there in her life; her husband Hunter Davies is there, and her children get passing mention, but they are shadows on the walls of the properties, flitting by in the odd phrase....more
I had the urge to learn more about Carthage and its enmity with rome and, as a couple of people had recommended Adrian Goldsworthy to me, thought thisI had the urge to learn more about Carthage and its enmity with rome and, as a couple of people had recommended Adrian Goldsworthy to me, thought this would be a good place to start. I have to say that I was disappointed.
Goldsworthy says in the preface that he is a military historian, and it is largely this focus that failed for me; the author focuses on the battles themselves and, within them, on the minutiae of tactics and technologies that made the opposing sides feel like miniatures on a gameboard. I got no real sense of the generals involved - although he does mention them and their supposed attributes this is not done in a way that brings them to life at all. I read thoroughly through the introduction and the first section about the combatants, and then on into the chapters on the First Punic War, hoping that this was leading to more analysis and depth, but soon I found that my eyes were glazing and I was skim-reading, forcing myself to remain interested.
It is not that the history of a conflict cannot be written interestingly, giving a thorough idea of the way the battles themselves were fought whilst bringing to life the cultures, and even the characters, involved - take, for instance, Persian Fire, about the attempted invasion of the Greek peninsula by mighty Persia, including the battles of Thermopylae and Marathon. And, perhaps, this is the main difference; I didn’t think Goldsworthy a very good writer. Aside from being peppered with dry academicisms (“In this chapter we shall see…”) the writing itself is often clumsy (the word “began” used three times in two consecutive sentences) and, I’m afraid, just not engaging. The big disappointment, though, is that I was left feeling I learnt little about the cultures fighting this conflict which would set one up to be amongst the greatest powers the world has ever seen and utterly destroy the other. ...more