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

PIMG_4942Star Lore by William Tyler Olcott

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!

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 146: The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri

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The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri

Finished reading on July 8, 2014

Rating: 9/10

There is a man dying on the landing of a building that is shared by several different families, who mostly don’t get along.

The man who’s dying is Vishnu (it’s not a spoiler, that happens in the beginning), who would usually help the families with small things like doing the dishes and in exchange he gets tea in the morning and old parathas and lives on the first landing of a house full of many colorful characters.

The book shows the lives of the people who live in the house and what they go though in a couple of days, while there’s a dying man there outside their building…

The book was very interesting, the characters were realistic and several of them were quite awful, as for example there are two neighbors – Mrs Pathak and Mrs. Asrani, who share a kitchen and don’t get along, as one thinks her hot water is stolen by the other and the second one thinks her ghee is being stolen every day by the first woman…

As I was reading it, I constantly felt exasperated as it seemed no-one really cared about the fact that there’s a man quietly dying and they went about their lives. But then you can also read about their past and Vishnu’s past and it all makes for a sad read, as there seem to be broken dreams all around. For me one of the saddest characters was Mr. Jalal, who is an intellectual type and who wishes to understand faith, as his wife is a proper Muslim woman, but Mr. Jalal is trying to go about finding faith in a secretive fashion and in somewhat odd way. And of-course there has to be some quarrel between the Hindus and Muslims in the book…

It was a good read, although I did get quite exasperated in places as some characters seem to exist in the story just for the sake of causing more trouble and pain for others.

Book 145: An Acre of Glass by J. B. Zirker

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An Acre of Glass by J. B. Zirker
Finished reading on June 30, 2014
Rating: 8/10

If you’ve ever had the need to be able to say something about each and every large or historically significant telescope, then this is the book for you!

Occasionally I feel that kind of need and because of that I really liked reading this book as it starts from about 19th century telescopes and continues to some telescopes that are still in the planning phase (and where so also at the time when the book was published in 2005).

It was interesting as there are many telescopes and telescope makers that you can read about, although the book concentrates (or was it just an illusion I had?) on mostly telescopes in the US, or that were built and used by Americans, with a few mentions of some European telescopes. Which is understandable to a limit since they built most of the large telescopes last century.

Also it’s not just about optical telescopes, radio telescopes have some space in the book and infrared telescopes as well, and even some space telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel and the not-yet-launched James Webb Space Telescope (no X-ray or neutrino telescopes though)

In addition to some of the stories of how the telescopes were built and how the money was acquired for the building, you can also read a bit about the science and art of telescope building and astronomy as well.

So in general it’s the kind of book that you’d recommend to someone who’d be really interested in cars but for some reason they’re interested in big tubes with tons of glass in one or both ends and how they can be moved or used.

I love books about telescopes. And telescopes. :)

Here’s an extra for those who like things like these (because I like the music and the optimism and grandeur of it all)..

Book 144: Collider by Paul Halpern

Collider by Paul Halpern

Finished reading on June 23rd

Rating: 8/10

Halpern’s “Collider” tells the story of how scientists over the past century or so have discovered elementary particles, at the same time introducing the scientific methods and the people behind the discoveries.

It is an informative read, and definitely a good introduction to the topic.

It makes for interesting reading, as the book starts with Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and elementary particles and the hunt for the Higgs boson, but on the way to the end of the book one can also read about how and why research in high-energy physics is important for cosmologists and astrophysicists.

The book is written so that one doesn’t need a background in mathematics or physics to understand most of the text.

I quite liked how the chapters seemed almost to melt into one another, and Halpern doesn’t stop on one topic too long so the reader won’t get bored reading for example about only one particle’s discovery or one detector in the LHC.

In “Collider” you get an impression of the scale of the instruments that are needed for cutting-edge research, and the accelerators mentioned are a good example of something that costs a lot for the tax-payer, although it’s not quite evident how the general public will (if ever) benefit from the research similarly to astronomy and ever bigger telescopes.

In the end of the book Halpern also tackles the topic of some of the fears that people have had concerning LHC and the possibility of creating miniature black holes, strangelets and magnetic monopoles and whether or not they’d even have any effect on Earth.

It would be good additional reading when studying elementary particle physics, to get a better feeling for the background etc.