Book 156: Origins by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

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Origins by Neil Degrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

Finished reading on December 3rd, 2014

Rating: 9/10

“Origins” talks about the beginning of everything – from the Big Bang and how the Universe came to being to how galaxies and stars formed, how planets began and how might life have evolved – all that in about three hundred pages filled with rather easy and fascinating writing by Neil Degrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith.

The book is well set up and follows a certain logic going from cosmology all the way to astrobiology in the end introducing theories that try to explain how astronomical objects form and evolve and in some cases also inform us about we don’t know yet.

I thought the book went into great detail for example in case of stars and their evolution, not a lot of books would mention how the ages of stars can be determined, but “Origins” did and it did it well, which made me wonder why I hadn’t come across it in some other books before – maybe because it’s a specific method…

I’d really suggest reading it if you haven’t before – it doesn’t require a great understanding of mathematics, but there are a few mentions of Greek letters that might confuse the reader, although they’re explained in the book.

Well worth the time I spend reading it.

Book 155: The End of Night by Paul Bogard

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The End of Night by Paul Bogard

Finished reading on November 26th, 2014

Rating:9/10

When you look at the night sky at home, what do you see? Are you able to see the Milky Way or is the sky aglow with street lights and light bouncing off of buildings? This book is about both of them – places that are too bright for astronomers, general public and animals and also about places where you can still have an unobstructed view at the glories of the night sky.

This book deals a lot with light pollution and excessive light during night time looking at different ways it affects us and life around us from disturbing sleep for humans and disturbing the normal life of birds and bats and insects as examples of human activity disturbing nature.

In addition to showing the effects that light pollution has, the reader also finds out more about what can and what has been done in some cases to combat it – from specially designed lights to more smart solutions for street lights during night time – not having the same brightness the whole night through but rather dimming it at times of less human activity or using motion sensors.

Also the author gives some good examples of places where one still can see the night sky, but over all the book paints quite a dark image of the situation.

A particularly interesting part of reducing street lights and the reason it’s mostly opposed to is the fear that criminal activity will increase – as you can find out in the book- there’s really no clear connection between the amount of light and the amount of crime.
Also the fact that the author points out the issue of glare – bright street lights or any other lights that stop you from seeing what is beyond the light in darkness.

I’ve just recently had an occasion to notice that – I was riding my bike to home from work and the street I live in and the next street are well and strongly lit, but just in front of my house is an empty lot where the street lights don’t reach. As I was turning into my street I was strongly startled to hear a dog barking nearby and not being able to see it because of the bright lights shining into my eyes…

But back to the book – it is mostly a downer – although there are good examples of people doing something against light pollution in general the world seems to be becoming a brighter place where the Milky Way can rarely if ever be seen.

Book 154: Tokyo Bay by Anthony Grey

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Tokyo Bay by Anthony Grey

Finished reading on November 3rd, 2014

Rating: 8/10

Tokyo Bay follows events that took place in 1853 during the first official encounter between the US and Japan after the latter’s more than two-hundred-year-long self-inflicted isolation.

It’s a historic novel with fictional characters, one of whom is Robert Eden, a young naval officer who has gotten fascinated by the mysterious Japan that he is about to see for the first time. Eden has learned Japanese thanks to the help of a Japanese fisherman, Sentaro, who had been rescued on sea by an American craft and brought to America.

The book follows the “negotiations” between the US and Japan, as the first one wants to establish trade relations, while the second doesn’t really want to communicate to the outside world and the “hideous barbarians”.

It isn’t going well for the Americans though, and Eden proposes that he could do a short round on the island in the dark f the night and see what is going on. He’s idea isn’t approved of, but he does it anyway and because of that this book also has a bit of a romance and adventure story vibe to it.

I quite liked the book, especially how Mount Fuji is being used as a powerful symbol, and although it’s a rather long book, it’s not slow, everything happens in about a week, there are bits and pieces of real history in between and it is very interesting.

As a European I didn’t learn about the history of Japan, so the book kept me reading to find out what happened.

There was one specific part I wasn’t too fond of though – the romance part between Robert Eden and a geisha – it seemed a bit rushed and unbelievable.

I got access to this book via Netgalley.com

Comic Book 3: Batman, Vol 3. Death of the Family

 

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Batman, Vol 3. Death of the Family, writer Scott Snyder, artists Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion

Finished reading on October 25th, 2014

Rating: 5/10

As I’m quite new to the whole comic book business, I just have to wonder whether it’s absolutely necessary to make the story-line so gruesome, that you’d think it’s been thought up by your elder brother at a camping trip to scare you or lose your appetite…

In this volume of Batman, there is the Joker. I don’t like him (nor other villains either, but he’s just a psychopath isn’t he?) and that’s why I’m not too excited about this volume. Also, because the previous Batman comic books I’ve read have had some mystery, then this one paled in comparison and all the mystery has been substituted with violence and pure horror.

Since in this book the Joker is after Batman’s sidekicks (who are almost total strangers to me), then it was all sort of a blur… maybe with a fan’s commentary I would have liked it more.

I think I’d go back to pink unicorns and butterflies now…

Book 153: Gravity’s Engines by Caleb Scharf

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Gravity’s Engines
The Other Side of Black Holes
by Caleb Scharf

Finished reading on October 21st, 2014

Rating: 10/10

It’s quite rare for me to start reading a book with mixed feelings about whether I’m interested in that particular topic and come out excited to find out more not just about the specific topic but everything!

Before you stop reading this review because the book is about black holes, you should know – if you’d read it, you’re very unlikely to regret it.

The book starts with a historical overview of ideas about dark stars that nowadays are generally known as black holes. It’s quite fascinating how scientists came up with the idea although the physical principles they might have used in their theories might not have been totally sound, but it somewhat of matches the modern theory about black holes.

The whole book is about black holes.

You might think that to read this book one should either be a total astronomy geek and into black holes or someone similar, but that’s not the case. It’s not a dictionary description of what a black hole is, but rather Scharf makes black holes seem less utopian and entirely essential for the existence of the Universe as we know it and maybe even for life.

You can read about differently sized black holes – the ones that have masses slightly larger than the mass of our Sun, or super-massive ones containing masses of millions or maybe even billions of stars. And some of the supermassive black holes are active and might make life impossible in their vicinity or maybe even in the whole galaxy where they reside in…

Just me describing it makes it seem as if the book were as dry as a desert… In fact it’s wonderful and makes you want to find out more about the Universe and our Galaxy.

It’s certainly the best non-fiction book I’ve read recently.

“Breaking just one of the crisscrossing strands of cosmic history and energy that connect us to black holes could subvert the entire pathway to life here on our small rocky planet.” Caleb Scharf in “Gravity’s Engines”

Book 152: Eyes Right by Hugh Barty-King

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Eyes Right – The Story of Dollond & Aitchison by Hugh Barty-King

Finished reading on 12. 10.2014

Rating: 6/10

If you’ve never thought of reading a book about a small family business turned international success, this book isn’t for you.

Though it’s not exactly the tone of the book, but that is what basically happens with the small Dollond optics business that was started in 18th century.

Although I was reading it because of the first hundred years or so of the business, the end wasn’t too utterly boring either (although it was on the edge…), as it gave an insight into spectacle business in Great Britain in 20th century. Not necessarily something one might want to look into, but if you do, you’d better be wearing glasses – as as a non-spectacle wearing person it was a totally strange area for me…

I did like the beginning of the book, as I’m very (to the nth level) interested in the history of optics and astronomy, and I see one more than two-hundred-year-old Dollond telescope every day I spend at work, it was fascinating. Not just because of finding out more about John and Peter Dollond – the father and son who established the business, but also because of the other opticians of the time – Jesse Ramsden and James Short for example.
In some other instances I was saddened though, as there were some errors when it came to William and Caroline Herschel and their observations, but I hope everything about Dollonds was precise.

Book 151: An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield

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An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield

Finished reading on September 15th, 2014

Rating: 8/10

Why would someone want to prepare for all possible worst-case scenarios and why would someone aim to be a zero?

Those are some of the questions the reader gets an answer to in this one-of-a kind book.

I went into this book with a sort of prejudice knowing that it’s not exactly a biography – it didn’t make me too excited about it although I’m a big fan of just about anything to do with space exploration and science and astronautics.

However I should have known better from all the Youtube videos of Chris Hadfield I’ve seen – it couldn’t possibly have been as boring as I thought it might be. It’s probably the “Guide to Life on Earth” part that made me unsure of whether or not I should read it thinking that there must be something better to read….

But my fears weren’t justified. The book is good – entertaining, logical and exciting and it shows how some of the ways that astronauts train or live would in fact make a lot of sense even on Earth and maybe shouldn’t be only reserved for very expensive space travel…

It was curious as it showed astronauts’ life from a different angle than biographies would, and it seemed more intimate and a more in-depth look into the astronaut mind-set even.

Although in the first place I disliked the idea of it being “a guide”, I think in the end I took a liking to it, as the advice seems relevant – for example aiming to be a zero, rather than a plus one and certainly not minus one – plus one meaning you’re a person who’d make a situation better and would be of help in case it’s necessary, minus one being someone who’d make the situation worse and zero being neutral – not making anything worse nor better. I found it interesting as I’d never thought of that option, I guess for me it seems more as if in a given situation I’m either making the situation worse or better, but couldn’t possibly not affect it.

So in general – quite excellent and well thought out, I’d especially recommend reading it to people who are normally not into space-y stuff, but this book might help them get interested in it. ;)

Book 150: A Case Of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

A Case Of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Finished reading on september 7th, 2014

Rating: 8/10

This book starts with a planecrash. And I started reading it in the beginning of a two week vacation in July on a plane. So it was quite appropriate, although when my boyfriend asked me what the book was about, he did get a little nervous when I mentioned an airplane crashing (he thought that explosion and plane crash aren’t appropriate vocabulary on a flight).

The story takes place in Pakistan and follows some months in the lives of several people between whom you wouldn’t think are connections, but even the beginning lets you know that somehow the connections are made.

One of the people is Ali Shigri, who is in the army and a silent drill instructor, whose life takes quite interesting turns when his roommate Obaid disappears.

Another character in the book is General Zia ul-Haq, a dictator, whose too scared to leave his house as he doesn’t know (and the secret service doesn’t know either) who is planning to kill him.

The exciting part is that you find out in the beginning that the dictator dies in the plane crash and Shigri has something to do with it, and all that the reader has to do is find out what exactly happened and why.

And believe me, it’s all quite dark and in some rare parts oddly funny, and although the end seems clear, as it’s in the beginning, the solution came as a surprise, not with a twist but there were some unexpected components.

Book 149: Star Lore by William Tyler Olcott

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Finished reading on August 29th
Rating:8/10

This is (one of) the classical books introducing constellations, stars and planets and the different myths behind them and connections between them.

It was quite an entertaining book although I’ve read similar guides to constellations previously, but the myths are always different! It is really fascinating how according to some authors it was enough of a punishment for the vain but beautiful Cassiopeia to be put high enough into the sky so that she can never touch the sea and wash her lovely hair (although we probably all know what torture it is if you feel the need to wash your hair and for some reason you can’t).

In addition to the classical Greco-Roman myths the book also has a lot of others , so for example you can find which awful stars bear the names that translate to “The Rotten Melon” and “Piled up Corpses”.
If until now you’ve thought that stargazing is “sooo romantic”, then think about gazing at piled up corpses…

A good book.
 

Book 148: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman

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Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman

Finished reading on August 1st, 2014

Rating: 10/10

I got this book on a hot summer’s day, right after which I had to read a whole chapter out loud in a café, as it is really entertaining and quite funny right from the start.

This book is a bunch of stories from the life of Richard Feynman – a well-known physicist, who got a Nobel Prize, and after whom the Feynman diagrams in elementary particle physics get their name.

Although written by a physicist, one might expect all of the stories to have something to do with science, but that’s not so, some have a little bit of science, but mostly they’re just funny and quite unexpected stories (because even I wouldn’t expect a physicist to be that odd and fun at the same time).

However some of the stories do have quite strong points to make about science education, which is rather sad.

In general I’d really recommend reading this book to anyone who isn’t frightened to read popular science books, as some of the things that you can encounter in the book include: the map of a cat, playing bongos, drawing models in the nude and life at Los Alamos and working on the Manhattan project.

It’s a joy to read!