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

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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?

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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 202: The Accidental Species by Henry Gee

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The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution by Henry Gee

Finished reading on February 9th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

If you’ve ever marveled about the strange and wonderful creatures that are humans, this book might be of interest to you.
In this book Henry Gee talks about some of the most common things that people believe about evolution of the human species and also separately of evolution and of humans themselves.
It was a great book where you certainly get a better idea of human evolution than you might in a high school level biology (that’s where you’d be taught about evolution, right?) class – not in a textbook style at all but as a narrative.
The book deals with such problems as the small amount of fossil finds of hominins and the in general incomplete fossil record of anything really. You get an idea of how much we still don’t know about how humans came about to evolve in the way they did and end up such strange big-brained bipedal creatures with little hair and no tail who resemble birds in several ways in their social behavior rather than great apes.

I very much enjoyed reading this book – you get a little bit of background on the fossil finds and the main point – that humans are not special compared to any other species of animal or plant in any other way except for the fact that (probably)we happen to represent the species.

The book was fun, very informative and was over way too quickly.

I’d highly recommend reading this book to anyone who feels that they also represent the same unfortunate species.

Book 158: What If? by Randall Munroe

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What If? by Randall Munroe

Finished reading on December 31st, 2014

Rating: 10/10

If you like science mixed with comics,then “What If?” is the book you should find. Written by the XKCD web-comics author Randall Munroe, the book is a compilation of “what if?” questions and answers to them accompanied by some Munroe’s stick-figure comics.

With questions from such varied areas of science as genetics, rocket science, chemistry and astrophysics, there’s something for everyone and the answers are so humorous that even if you might have hated chemistry in high-school or despised anything to do with physics, the book shows that they’re actually harmless and quite interesting if well explained.

The book took me about six hours to read from cover to cover and I was quite sad to reach the last question, as the book certainly leaves you wanting more of that nice proper humorous sciency fun 🙂

My favourite question was one about a bullet as dense as the matter in neutron stars and what would happen if it went through the Earth or was near the ground and also one about draining Earth’s oceans.

If you’ve read it, what was your favourite question/answer?

Book 147: Einstein’s Cosmos by Michio Kaku

Einstein's Cosmos

Einstein’s Cosmos by Michio Kaku

Finished reading on July 21st, 2014

Rating: 9/10

Kaku’s “Einstein’s Cosmos” fits Albert Einstein’s life and work into less than 200 pages of highly readable story that gives insight into Special and General Relativity and also his try to find a Unified Field Theory without going into too much detail about the physics nor about Einstein’s private life… although you can read about Einstein not wearing socks.

In general I found it enjoyable and more of a book that’s good as an introduction to Albert Einstein or for getting a historical context for better understanding his work and it ends with some of the more important examples where Einstein’s work had great influence and some of the solutions to Einstein’s equations such as time travel and black holes.

Although I’ve previously read some biographies/ books about Einstein’s life and work I still found this quite interesting, although most of it was repeating things I’d already read about, but the writing is just excellent.

Book 66: Discoverers of the Universe by Michael Hoskin

PIMG_9783Discoverers of the Universe by Michael Hoskin

Finished reading on August 15, 2013

Rating 9/10

“Discoverers of the Universe” tells the story of William and Caroline Herschels life and work. William Herschel is most famous for his discovery of the planet Uranus, which he actually named Georgium Sidus, or George’s star in honour the then reigning British monarch. Uranus, that’s what most people know. William Herschel was also a telescope maker, he made the best reflectors in his time and also the biggest, he observed binary stars, planets and their satellites, nebulae and a lot of other objects.

Caroline Herschel was William’s younger sister, who became William’s assistant – marked down his observations and did a lot of paperwork. But she did her own observations as well – she discovered nine comets and was one of the first female astronomers to get paid for her work.

This book tells it all in detail, about where and when they lived, how much Herschel actually used his 40 foot reflector, how until middle age Herschel had been a musician etc.

It’s a wonderful book, and I’m sure would be nteresting even if you haven’t heard of William Herschel before.

Book 48: Collapse by Jared Diamond

PIMG_3875Collapse by Jared Diamond

Finished reading June 11, 2013

Rating 10/10

This book took me about two weeks to read, filling every day with another society that collapsed.

This books presents you with a variety of societies in different locations and conditions and ages of the world that for some reason failed after a shorter or longer time of sustainability.

The writing and the low of the book are excellent. It’s kind of an eye-opener, as much as the other book by Jared Diamond that I read last year – “The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee“.

You can read about the history of some of the cultures, the likely reasons for their downfall and how those same precursors for collapse are still in the game in the world today.

Although it seems to have been categorized as history, which it certainly is, it is also about the environment. It has a really strong message, which seems to suddenly creep up to the reader by the end of the book. A part of it is that although in historical times societies fell in relative isolation without much impact on other parts of the world, then at the present time the globalized world could and should be viewed as one intertwined society, that is influenced by the activities of all the world’s population and politicians, miners, fishers etc.

Having just finished reading the book about an hour ago I’ve got a feeling that I’ll be still thinking about it a week from now.

A TED talk by Jared Diamond on the same topic: