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


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?


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 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


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


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

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 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.

Book 220: The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott


The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott

Finished reading on July 7th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

“The Cosmic Web” is about the largest structures in the Universe, how it was discovered, who were behind it, what were some other competing ideas and how we see it all now.

In this book Gott tells the story of his and some other cosmologists’ part in discovering the structure of the universe that could be called a cosmic web, but has at other times been referred to as a cell-like structure etc.

In the book you can learn more about what were the early ideas of how the great structures in the Universe might look like, and what would be necessary for their formation, and we see that from two perspectives – from the US school, where the so-called meatball theory prevailed and also from the Soviet school where the ideas took more of a pancake shape that all lead to more of a Swiss cheese type of structure.

The book gives a lot of details and background information about the structure’s discovery and what led to it with a few detours to Gott’s own life in science, which makes for nice pauses between the more mathematical parts of the book.

As a book on a specific topic in cosmology, it’s interesting and illuminating, but definitely not an easy read, but you do go over some of the cosmic microwave background surveys, the accelerating inflation of the universe and the inflation theory and the possible end of the Universe as well, so you see the context of the main theme better.

It was really a great book, just it requires a bit of effort from the part of the reader.

Book 218: Astronomy for Amateurs by Camille Flammarion

24508458Finished reading on July 5th, 2016
Rating: 9/10

This book was first translated into English and published in about 1904, whilst it was originally published in French with a title that would translate to Astronomy for Women.

I started reading this book on a particularly hot and sunny day while showing the Sun to passers-by through a H-alpha telescope. I just really wanted something to do while there wasn’t anyone around, and I couldn’t really just stand in the scorching Sun and observe it for hours.

Astronomy for Amateurs talks about pretty much everything that you’d need to know when first dipping your toes into stargazing – what are constellations, how to find a specific one, how to find the planets, how do they look like, when to expect a meteor shower, what comets are, etc.

All of it is written (and translated) with a beautiful style that at first did seem a bit patronizing and strangely pointed – Flammarion starts out with a long tirade about female astronomers and their exploits and with telling how the young mothers should guide their children’s interest towards astronomy and that there’s nothing difficult in it. – That was all quite baffling until I got to the note that said that the original work was titled Astronomy for Women.

Well it was the beginning of 20th century, so it’s quite an achievement in itself that there was a book aimed towards women.

As for the actual information that you can get from the book – there are obviously some things that are outdated, but it’s not the majority of the work, but rather just bits and pieces – the basics (distances to planets and their sized for example) are mostly correct, although there’s the occasional bit where he writes that the largest object between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is just about 100km in circumference, whilst Ceres in reality is about ten times that.

I liked the experience of reading it, even though some things were just plain funny – like Flammarion’s description of Lunar craters as volcanic craters (there are some volcanic features on the Moon, but most of the craters are impact craters from meteorite collisions), and how the Sun gets its energy.

If you’re interested in the level of knowledge and the style of a popular science guide book of ca 1900, it’s a good choice for reading. But if you’re just wanting to know more about astronomy – choose something a bit more current.

You can finf Astronomy for Amateurs on Project Gutenberg.

Book 216: Vulcan’s Fury by Alwyn Scarth


Vulcan’s Fury: Man Against The Volcano by Alwyn Scarth

Finished reading on June 15th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

Volcano eruptions to someone who lives quite far away from any active (or non-active for that matter), seem like a distant and not too great of a threat – you might hear of them in the news or hear them mentioned in some context, but I guess they’re really relevant when you live right next to one.

I’ve never had to really think of the dangers of volcano eruptions and the hundreds of ways that a “fire mountain” can kill someone, but this book brought some of the deadliest eruptions right to me in very vivid graphic descriptions that also included ones from eyewitnesses.

Scarth doesn’t go into great depths about volcanoes in general, but gives the basics and then dives into some of the most famous (and some that seemed quite obscure) eruptions, what the people living in and near the danger-zone saw and felt and how it disturbed life elsewhere.

As you get to the eruption events you also get more specific information about the volcano at hand – Vesuvius, Stromboli, Laki, Pinatubo etc, to name just a few. The events are at a chronological order, so you can also feel how times change and living conditions change, and how that influences how people act etc.

The descriptions were very interesting, but what was most fascinating to me was how many times darkness was mentioned – that’s a detail that I wouldn’t have thought of; and also psychology – why would people who know of something is going to happen soon, wouldn’t leave their homes.

Great book, well illustrated, not technical at all.

I read this book for work purposes, but I imagine it would be fascinating for any intelligent person 🙂

The closest I’ve been to volcanoes has been on my trips to Italy and to Iceland. In case of Italy I didn’t actually see any, but that’s still closer than normally, when they’re about 1500 km away. In case of Iceland I could see several in the distance on a Golden Circle tour and also when flying over Iceland.


Hekla in the distance, one of many Icelandic volcanoes not in the book, but you can’t have them all, right? Photo from my 2015 trip.