Book 232: Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps by Peter Galison

IMG_2165

Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps by Peter Galison

Finished reading on 10th October 2017

Rating: 8/10

What is simultaneity? How can clocks be synchronized? Why do we have 60 minutes in an hour instead of 100? These are some of the questions you’d find answers to in this book.

I wanted to read this book just because of the title – first of all it mentions Einstein, and secondly I remembered Poincaré’s name from one or another physics lecture.

This book starts out with the practical need for synchronizing clocks that was first felt at the observatories and on the railroad. In case of railroads it might sound more practical as it makes sense that even small differences in time can cause accidents in case of fast-moving trains. In the case of observatories however it was connected to the need to find your exact location on a map for cartographers etc.

As railroads covered more and more land surface with their grid it also became important and necessary to think of standardizing time. Which brings the book to the topic of what kind of ideas were proposed and how the Greenwich meridian came to be the one acknowledged as the prime meridian.

In addition to practical need and solutions, Galison goes into the idea of simultaneity as a basic idea in physics and philosophy and how it was approached differently.

It all leads us to the special theory of relativity.

Having read several books on relativity and Einstein before, I felt like this book gave me a different insight into special relativity. Maybe it was just because of the comparison with Poincaré’s ideas, or Galison showing it in the context of contemporary ideas of synchronizing clocks.

This book was interesting from the beginning to the end and approached time from a different perspective than what I’ve encountered before. It’s not a difficult book to get through, but it makes you appreciate having standardized time and accurate clocks, and might also make you think about why couldn’t we have decimal time instead?

Advertisements

Book 231: Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy by Mary Brück

9789048124725Finished reading on May 13th

Rating: 10/10

Who were some women who were known for their astronomical observations, calculations or texts? This is what Mary Brück’s book deals with together with how they got their start in astronomy.

The book doesn’t only include women, who made such discoveries as finding new comets etc, but rather also includes women who made a contribution in a different way, maybe by translating a text, writing a commentary on it or writing popular books to spark the interest of young readers.

It is fascinating and at some times a sad book to read – fascinating in the amazing women in portrays, but sad in the challenges and roadblocks that those brilliant and enthusiastic women faced because of being women.

In it you can read about such famous women in science as Caroline Herschel, Mary Somerville, but also of women who might have been working in the shadow of their husband or brother, such as Annie Maunder.

I found it especially interesting how mostly (with the exception being Caroline Herschel’s mother) the families and parents were supportive in these cases, when their daughter/sisters wanted to learn more about astronomy or science in general, and how brothers would  help their sisters in gaining an education in science. The sad part though ofcourse was to read about how a few of them didn’t really get to practice astronomy in the same way after marriage to a not really astronomy-friendly man, or who had to stop the hobby or work for any other reason.

The book provides short biographies of more than twenty intelligent women who took an interest in the stars. It is just sad to think that now they would have totally different lives, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties in their way, but there would still not be an equal number of male and female astronomers or scientists in general.

Book 230: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

PC360_2017-05-07-16-53-19-104

Finished reading on May 7 th, 2017

Rating: 8/10

I feel like I’ve been slogging through “The Fountainhead” forever. I approached it with curiosity and excitement as I had rather liked “Atlas Shrugged“.

In case of this book however, I made steady progress with it for a while, then hit a roadblock and almost decided to not get back to it at all and left it for months. Until a few weeks ago when I felt like I’ve made my peace with the character’s actions and can go back to it having pretty much forgotten what had driven me away.

But now to the plot and characters and the rest…

We first meet Howard Roark, the main character of the book when he gets thrown out of college, where he has been studying architecture, which remains his calling throughout the book. Another character we meet at the same time is Peter Keating who graduates successfully, already has a great job offer, but really he would rather have studied painting instead of architecture.

Now we get to the main part – one has a passion for architecture, for creating something original and functional and not following in the footsteps of anyone else and trying to reproduce ancient buildings etc. The other wants to be though as a great architect, follow the demands that anyone places on him and steal from historical buildings whenever necessary.

Roark has very high principles whilst Keating doesn’t seem to have any – Keating doesn’t really have the talent to get where he wants to get with his job, but does have a knack for weaselling his way into the good job, making the right connections etc.

At first I felt sad for Roark, because as he wants to follow his ideas and not conform to others in any way, he gets trampled under everyone’s feet with modern buildings that are ahead of their time, and doesn’t appear to be getting anywhere. At the same time Peter Keating is climbing the career ladder.

There are more characters connected to arcitecture in the book, but I’m going to skip over them.

Media and general public play an important role in the book in helping Keating gain what he wants and to keep Roark’s genius at bay by not giving him any slack. The media and general public are however controlled by some powerful and despotic people, whose activities seem to be at the border of insane and quirky. We have Ellsworth Toohey, an expert on architecture, who has a large influence on many successful businesspeople when it comes to choosing someone to design a building for them.

Then there’ Dominique Francon – a columnist at the New york Banner, the daughter of the architect Guy Francon for whose firm Peter Keating starts working for. She is one of the few female characters in the book, another one being Catherine Halsey, and then there’s Peter Keating’s mother…

Dominique Francon comes through as a strong, independent and very intelligent woman. She plays quite a big role in the book, but despite her part as a smart woman I didn’t really take a liking to her at first. There’s a relationship between her and Roark eventually, that drove me away from the book altogether. I had just started to see her as an interesting and relatable character, when something happened that to me seemed ultimately stereotypical taming of the shrew… (I think that I might possibly have been so disturbed by it exactly because I had found Dominique so relatable) and I took a break from reading it.

However eventually I got back to it to read some more of rather strange and illogical actions, that seemed to lead to a real dystopia, where the public’s opinion can be easily molded to a certain limit to accept rubbish as great masterpieces (The Gallant Gallstone and The Skin Off Our Noses), which seem so riddiculous, but scarily possible…

Enough of that though… I felt as if Rand could have been quoting Einstein: “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.” in the whole of the book.

At first it isn’t as obvious, but it does seem to end up with few great geniuses against the easily affected mob of common people. I wonder what was she trying to say with that…

I could almost hear a maniacal lauch when Toohey is explaining to Keating ” If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind”. And “kill his  capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it”. I can see how that is just around the corner… A world full of mediocre people who don’t want things to change or anyone to be different or better…

Toohey’s a real menace. A really scary person, especially if they’re after power and against individualism.

I did end up liking and enjoying the book, and I think I will read it again in the future, since there are so many actions that are undertaken for a variety of reasons that I’d like to ponder on… Like the general lack of female characters, and how all three that are mentioned the most are connected to Peter Keating… Or how Peter Keating searches for Roark’s validation on his paintings… or capturing the spirit of someone or something in a work of art or in a building etc,

 

Book 229: The Guide by R. K. Narayan

pc360_2017-01-26-13-57-19-895

The Guide by R. K. Narayan

Rating: 8/10

“The Guide” follows Raju, who we meet at different times of his life, learning about how he becomes known as Railway Raju, how he works as a guide and meets various people, and how he ends up being called Swami and fasting in hope of bringing down rain on a drought-stricken area.

The characters in the book are fascinating and full of life and very well thought out. I really like how there’s barely any physical descriptions of people or places, but I could imagine the situations and people vividly.

What happens to Raju is all quite unexpected. To me the most interesting part was about Raju’s changing attitude throughout the book.

Sinec I’ve been a guide I found his attitudes towards that great -the excitement and enthusiasm and meeting new people who you only see once, and then there are the few exceptions that might stay in your life for a long time. And the eventual (though maybe not inevitable) decline into pessimism and boredom of having seen it all and talked about it to people who have been more interested in it.

Another bit that just made me chucklewas ofcourse the things that really do come up a lot when you’re a guide – someone’s asking about something you don’t know, you try and guess at the answer, and they obviously know better, or when they’re the one doing all the talking and you’re just learning about what you should have known before.

In general it’s a great Narayan book to read.

Book 228: Welcome To The Universe

pc360_2016-12-21-09-13-52-871Welcome To The Universe: An Astrophysical Tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss and J. Richard Gott

Rating: 8/10

Finished reading on December 18th, 2016

“Welcome To The Universe” is an introductory text to astrophysics and cosmology for the undergraduate student who isn’t learning a science major, or for the well educated adult whose interest in astronomy has gotten further from the usual popular science books that steer clear of formulas and equations.

This book is about some of the ideas in astrophysics and cosmology that are necessary for getting a further understanding of the fields without taking a full mathematical astrophysics or cosmology course.

As such I think it really is perfect book for the intended reader – it doesn’t offend the reader by assuming that equations would go just over their heads, but it also doesn’t get too deeply into them to be of much use for an astronomy major.

The book is quite enjoyable, well illustrated and covers some fascinating topics for an introductory astronomy course. I wish everyone would read this book – you don’t get too much technical details, but just the bare essentials. If you want to find out more – find another book,but this will certainly whet your appetite.

The book has been written so, that you can tell who wrote which chapter, but despite having three authors in makes a complete, an fluid book – you might not even notice that there are three authors, except for when their achievements or work is mentioned specifically.

I got this book right at the beginning of a vacation and I hoped to finish reading it in two weeks, one of which I spent travelling. My book is quite a massive hardcover edition, but I was motivated enough to carry it with me for about three weeks. It was worth it – it was great travel reading in the sense that the beginning chapters are quite simple. However a few chapters in I did start to wonder whether there would even be any new for me information in the book. For a while there wasn’t any. Then there were tiny examples of what was to come – by the end of the book there were fascinating chapters that presented information that I hadn’t read before.

It’s a great book. My rating of 8/10 comes from me not being really one of the intended audience and that I got mildly bored at the beginning of the book (boredom went away by about the middle). It really deserves 10/10.

Book 227: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

PIMG_3184

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Finished reading on September 4th, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I love the idea of a simple life by a pond in a forest in a tiny little house with no other responsibilities than finding food and water and keeping warm. And because I like this idea so much, I picked up “Walden” for the third time in my life.

First time was almost exactly ten years ago, when I was 16, then I read an abridged edition; when I finally realized that it was shorter (and had finished reading it), I picked up an unabridged version and hated the tone of voice that my imagination gave to the extremely patronizing Thoreau in the first 20-30 pages, and it was one of very few books that I had started to read, and hated it from the start and couldn’t keep on reading, because I wholly disagreed with the author.

Now, being closer to Thoreau’s age when he spent time by Walden Pond, I got through the (still disturbingly patronizing sounding) first part, and actually enjoyed some of the later parts, taking pleasure in particular in the part where Thoreau describes sounding the Pond to find out how deep the pond is, and where the deepest part is.

Also another intriguing part in my view was about the colour of water and ice of the ponds in different conditions – so in general I found his observations and detailed descriptions of nature very enjoyable.

I am quite proud of myself for giving Thoreau another try, but I felt like I was having an argument with a highly stubborn older brother, who is a minimalist and can not be persuaded to see a different side of the question (for example in the case of eating meat…), but also has a lot of random bits of information tucked away that he’d randomly take out during a conversation, and talk about classic mythology, or constellations and stars or names of plants etc.

Book 226: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

PIMG_3178

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

Finished reading on September 3rd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Women with a love of mathematics at Jet Propulsion Lab from 1940s to more recent times.
Nathalia Holt looks into the lives and work of the human “computers” at JPL, who did the calculations for the rocket launches and space missions that JPL was doing.

The book was quite fascinating, as first off you get an idea of how difficult it was for women to find a job where they could actually use their talent for mathematics, and when they did find one, how it was highly unlikely to get back to work (in the same area) after starting a family, and how those who did succeed in that, had difficulties with managing life at two fronts.

I think that “Rise of the Rocket Girls” was an excellent book – it is somewhat inspirational, it shows women using their brains and you also get a bit of a timeline in some space missions.

Although I very much enjoyed reading it, I’m not giving it 10/10 because I felt that the beginning of the book goes into much more detail into the actual contents of the computers’ work, whilst later on,  you get an idea what project they were working on, but not so much what part exactly they had in it.

Despite that, I’d recommend this book to everyone.

Book 225: Wrinkles in Time by George Smoot

PIMG_3173
Wrinkles in Time by George Smoot

Finished reading on August 26th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

Wrinkles in Time is a book about an important discovery in cosmology, the team of scientists behind it, the journey to it a for the most part George Smoot’s part in it all.

The discovery in question is the small anisotropies that were discovered by the COBE team that showed that gravity is sufficient to get the structures we see in the Universe now – such as galaxy clusters etc,from the Big Bang.

I’ve had this book sitting in my bookshelf for several years, and as it often-times happens with books that do that, I had forgotten what it was about, why I had wanted to read it,etc.

Now that I’ve just finished reading it, I’d tell the past me that you should have started reading it a lot sooner.
It’s not just another cosmology book written for the general public – it’s much more personal, specific and very interesting.
There is quite a bit of suspense in this book, and adventure, so at times you might forget that you’re reading about a discovery in cosmology that earned the scientists behind it a Nobel prize in physics.

In this book you can read about how the COBE satellite came into being, what was discovered from its data, and also why did the scientists also have to visit a jungle in Brazil and the South Pole, to get to the knowledge we now have.

Just to mention also – you don’t need to know a lot of mathematics or physics to read and understand all of this book, it explains everything relevant you need to know. Do remember though, that the book was first published in 1993..

Book 224: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

PIMG_3168.JPG

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Finished reading on August 22nd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

What would happen if a 19th century industrious person from America were to travel back in time to 6th century England? Soon enough you’d have telegraph lines, newspapers etc. getting mixed up with characters from Arthurian legends.

This is another book that I’ve recently read, that I’ve picked up before, read maybe a chapter or two, and put down thinking it’s rather boring…. But that was about ten years ago.

My motivation in picking this book for reading was my project in getting through as many books based on Arthurian legends as possible (one book at a time), the previous one having been the enormous T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (which I sadly forgot to review here, all I can say is that I preferred Malory to White, and found the first book better and more interesting than the rest).

I think that I appreciated the story as told by Twain more knowing what Malory had written. And I certainly enjoyed reading about the quite ludicrous story. If you’re looking for something hilarious to read, then this novel would be a great pick (there are parts that might not be too funny, but just you wait….)

I loved how Twain had brought to life his own characters, that were in the foreground and the legendary people were mentioned, had tiny but important parts to play, but were essentially the same as anywhere else.

I liked how the protagonist is seen as a wonderful wizard and how he competes with Merlin; how he changes the world and people around him, and especially the part where he and King Arthur go for an adventure in peasant’s clothes, and Arthur keeps thinking of plans to conquer Gaul :).

So in general a nice easy read with a story that will get a lot funnier as you get into it.

Book 223: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

PIMG_3157A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Rating: 10/10

A great short introduction to some fascinating aspects of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, cosmology and relativity theory that is highly readable, doesn’t get into extraneous details and although it was first published in 1987, it is still accurate.

This has been a book that I’ve picked up and put down after reading a couple of pages several times in life – partly because of not being quite certain about what level of knowledge I should have to read it, and partly because I tend to choose books that have been published more recently over older, although classic books of nonfiction.

So if I’d ever have a chance of inventing a time machine in past to try and find out what I know about this book in present I’d say – the book is certainly easy enough reading if you’ve studied physics in high-school, you don’t need to go in search of an encyclopedia to understand what Hawking is writing about, because he mostly explains everything anyway. Also if you’re afraid that a famous scientist’s writing style might be awfully boring and just terrible – don’t fear, you’ll be through the book in no time and in search of another book written by Hawking.

In general I’d highly recommend it. Even if you’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about astronomy,cosmology and physics, this book is still a great and interesting little book to read.