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 201: The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

PIMG_1057The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

Finished reading on January 31st, 2016

Rating: 8/10

This book is quite small and short and tells of the history of the non-existing planet Vulcan, why some astronomers thought it existed and how it finally disappeared because of Albert Einstein’s General Relativity.

I found the book an easy read, the beginning is rather detailed – you find out more about the astronomer Le Verrier and some of the astronomers who tried to see Vulcan transiting or tried to see it during an eclipse.

You get the idea of why there had to be a planet according to Newtonian gravity, and later you sort of get it also why according to Einstein’s there really is no need for another planet to explain Mercury’s orbit.

It’s great for some light reading.

Book 200: A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin

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A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin

Finished reading on January 29th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

I simply loved this book. Not having lived at the time when Apollo missions were actually happening, this book made me feel as if it all were happening now. It’s wonderfully detailed and interesting – you see the Moon through the eyes of the astronauts who went there and also see what the general public thought of man’s greatest adventure.

It was fascinating even though I’ve been reading quite a lot about Apollo missions, but this book was excellent – it’s not at all technical, it’s more reminiscent of travel journals.

You get an idea about the people and find out more about the Moon. It is sad though if you think of it all and realize no-one else has even sent a manned mission to orbit the Moon.

Book 199: Measuring the Cosmos by D. H. Clark and M. D. H. Clark

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Measuring the Cosmos: How Scientists Discovered the Dimensions of the Universe by David H. Clark and Matthew D. H. Clark

Published in 2004 by Rutgers University Press

Finished reading on January 24th, 2016

Rating: 8/10

If you’re interested in how exactly scientists have come to understand the size and distances in our Universe, then this is a great book to read, as it starts from the beginning and gets to almost the present day in a speedy fashion without delving into the biographies of the various connected scientists for too long.

In the book you can find out who tried to measure stellar parallax and why some were more fortunate than others in doing so, how astronomers figured out that there are other galaxies and how big ours is and you get all the way through the competing big bang and steady theory to the inflation, dark matter and dark energy.

The authors don’t go into too much detail, but if you want to read more, you’ll find a helpful bibliography at the end of the book.

I did enjoy rushing through the book more as a reminder. At some point I did feel as if I’ve read this book before, but I’m sure that it’s just because of the same topic that you can come across in several books about the history of cosmology.

If you’ve never read anything about the history of cosmology, this book would be a great start if you don’t mind that it was published twelve years ago.

Book 198: Island on Fire by A. Witze and J. Kanipe

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Island on Fire by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

Published in 2014 by Profile Books

Finished reading on January 23rd, 2016

Rating: 9/10

This book’s main topic is the 1783 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki that caused a lot of death and destruction in Iceland and might have been a reason behind the hot foggy summer  and cold snowy winter in Europe that year.

In addition to covering Laki, you can also find out more about some of the other volcanoes in Iceland and also some other deadly volcano eruptions across the world and how they influenced the weather patterns etc.

I found the book excellent reading material – interesting details and detours and you’re not stuck in Iceland the whole book. You get quite a good idea of how volcanoes can affect climate and how climate change can cause quite difficult times everywhere.

It was interesting, but it’s also something you might not want to read right before bedtime, as there are rather scary descriptions of deformities caused by ingesting fluorine from water or food polluted by volcanic ash etc.

The book makes you see that we live on a very active planet with lots of fire mountains just waiting to cast their ash cloud over normal everyday life.

 

Book 197: First Magnitude by James B. Kaler

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“First Magnitude: A Book of the Bright Sky” by James B. Kaler
First published in 2012  by World Scientific Publishing Company

Finished reading on January 22, 2016
Rating: 7/10

I first spent a Sunday at work reading this book and getting through the parts about planets and getting into the brightest stars, but then it took me two weeks to get back to it and finish reading the book in a total of two sittings.

The book covers all the brightest phenomena you might chance across in the night (and sometimes day) sky starting with the obvious planets, stars etc and also giving the reader an idea about what magnitude in brightness in case of stars and planets actually means and when is a star first magnitude and when second and so forth.

In case of the objects mentioned in the book, you get a bit of information about it’s nature, position in the sky when applicable and when it’s best to observe.

It’s quite a straightforward book without detours to obscure topics and sticks to the title. By the end of the book you’ll be left wondering when you’ll get to see a bright comet, nova or supernova yourself.

I found it quite enjoyable read, I wasn’t surprised by it and didn’t get too much new information, but it’s good as a reminder of what you should know about brightest objects if you’re into observing the sky.

Book 196: Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking

Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking

Finished reading on December 20th ,2015

Rating: 7/10

Time-travel at the last minute, planting chips in people’s brains and solving murder cases plus lots of lucky escapes – those would be the important parts of this story that starts with someone in a fridge. As you might imagine, a fridge isn’t a place to stay if you’d like to stay alive. In the first pages of the book we meet a woman in the year 2023, who has to solve a murder case in a hurry.

This book has interesting twists, fascinating technology (without too many details of-course) and mysterious characters.

I found it slightly challenging to follow what was happening at every moment, there aren’t too many characters to make it difficult as such, but the unusual situations and flash-backs.

The great thing about this book- it was interesting from the beginning to the end – there isn’t a moment when you’d have answers to all the questions that the plot brings up without new ones popping up unexpectedly.

Book 195: Under The Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan

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Under The Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan

Rating: 9/10

This is a short story collection by the South-Indian writer R. K. Narayan (you can find more of my reviews of his works here).

The stories vary in length from a couple to more than twenty pages. They all have great characters in quite fascinating situations – in one you can find an old man looking out for his two goats by a clay statue meeting an American who wants to buy the statue – of course neither speaks the others’ language so the end result is quite funny. In this collection there is also a story of Swami that is also in “Swami and Friends”, but that was the only one that I had read before.

The stories are perfect length for a short reading brake and they leave you thinking of the characters.

Book 194: Things To Make And Do In The Fourth Dimension

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Things To Make And Do In The Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker

Rating: 10/10

If you ever happen to be in the search for a book that would show the fun in mathematics, then this book is a great contender for it.

Although I’ve never doubted that maths is fun, but I was surprised how when I first picked this book up in a bookshop with no intention of buying anything, I got sucked into it and spent about an hour on the spot reading it and had to get it to finish reading it.

With a conversational style and good choice of topics, you’ll get from prime numbers and Platonic solids to several dimensions in no time -maybe not without a stop though, as you can try some of the things that are mentioned in the book yourself – I got sidetracked for the longest while with the Tower of Hanoi (you can play a flash version of it here ).

I found it fun and the topics varied enough, I might have liked a little bit more of history of mathematics in it though, but I guess that would have slowed the book down considerably.

Book 193: Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass by Marvin Bolt

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Finished reading on December 12th, 2015

Rating: for a telescope enthusiast: 9/10,  for a general reader: 7/10

I have decided to try and get my hands on as many books about the history of telescopes and historic telescopes and their makers as possible, and this book is going to be one in a series of books.

This book was published when an exhibition of the same name was opened at Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. You can certainly tell from the descriptions of the objects – they give the basic gist of the object and/or it’s maker without going into long tales about it – although I would have liked that about equally as much as I like shorter descriptions (bite sized pieces of information on very beautiful scientific instruments).

I found this book quite enjoyable – but historical telescopes are part of my job, so I can see how it might not appeal to everyone as it functions as an exhibition catalog. In case of museums the objects I enjoy looking at the most are telescopes, so it was very interesting. The info about reproductions of some images from astronomer’s works was also quite interesting, but rather general.

Most of the telescopes in the book are very elaborate with draw-tube telescopes,that even use  ivory and even platinum on the grip and most were probably never used for science – I think that shows an interesting side to this invention – it can be a professional science instrument but also a luxury item.

I had never read about trumpet-shaped telescopes before, so that was something new, and also the fact that some quite small telescopes had several integrated eyepieces that you could switch between very easily and some even enabled observing the Sun through a special filter, was fascinating.