Book 149: Star Lore by William Tyler Olcott

PIMG_4942Star Lore by William Tyler Olcott

Finished reading on August 29th

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


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


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

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.

Book 143: Spacefaring: The Human Dimension by Albert A. Harrison

6161817 Spacefaring: The Human Dimension by Albert A. Harrison

Finished reading on May 31st, 2014

Rating: 8/10

What can go wrong on a space-mission? How to choose a crew and why did the soviet space mission managers send their cosmonauts on month-long car-trips across the Soviet Union?

This book deals with some of the most fascinating aspects of spaceflight – everything that has to do with the human passengers. It was quite a fascinating read – finding out about some of the things that have gone wrong in the history of spaceflight, but also finding out more about life in space in general.

For me it was interesting to read that there had been a noise problem on a space station – in my imagination (fueled by videos of ISS astronauts talking about their life there) space station would be quiet, but apparently it hasn’t been like that always, or is it quiet even now, with all the computer buzzing and life support certainly makes noises too…

I’d say it is an illuminating book for space enthusiasts, though it is more than ten years old, from a time when ISS wasn’t yet finished nor continuously inhabited and space shuttles still flew, and Columbia hadn’t disintegrated, so while in this book a lot of examples come from the Russian Mir space station,  the conditions on ISS are somewhat different, and we’ve learned a lot more about life in space in the mean time.



Book 142: Sophie’s Diary by Dora Musielak

718869Sophie’s Diary by Dora Musielak

Finished reading on May 17th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

Sophie’s Diary is a work of fiction depicting a few years in the life of Sophie Germain, a female French mathematician, physicist and philosopher who lived from 1776 to 1831.

This book starts in 1789, when Sophie is thirteen years old and has decided that she will become a mathematician, as she has been fascinated by numbers since childhood. The diary shows how Sophie goes about studying mathematics, where she starts with it and where she ends up in five years despite everything that is going on in France.

A solid part of this work of fiction is Sophie’s education – we see how she’s finding her way around in mathematics and also physics (or natural philosophy at the time), studying books written by ancient and historic mathematicians (starting with Euclid and Archimedes and ending with Euler, Newton and Leibniz), and translating some of those to French from Latin despite not having learned Latin.

Another part is Sophie’s struggle in the beginning of the diary, to be allowed to study mathematics, as her mother doesn’t consider mathematics appropriate for a girl to study, but at the same time Sophie’s father is supportive and helps her find the necessary books etc.

In addition to Sophie’s life, there are descriptions of event that were afoot in France from 1789 to 1784 – the French revolution, imprisonment of Louis the XVI and queen Marie-Antoinette and their subsequent deaths, the violence on the streets, the changes in society, etc.

It is a great book, as it introduces a lot of mathematics and history in a simpler context, while being interesting and showing someone who is excited about learning algebra and geometry, which makes the book also motivational, as I think all books where the main character is working on self-improvement are.

Although the diary is fictional, it was a fascinating read, since the mathematics and history in it are real.

Book 141: The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio

The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio

Finished reading on May 12th, 2014
Rating: 8/10

The Golden Ratio is a book about the irrational number phi, that is also called the Golden Ratio or the Golden Section and a lot of other names as well, as it has crept up in a lot of places.

Livio tells the story of Phi – about the first mathematicians who noticed it or estimated the value of Phi, but also about some others whose work has had something to do with Phi – for example Leonardo Fibonacci – who is best known for Fibonacci numbers (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,… etc). Apparently the Fibonacci series has quite a lot to do with Phi – for example 21/13=1.61538, 34/21=1.61904, 55/34=1.61764 – the further down the line of Fibonacci numbers you go, the closer you get to the value of Phi.

But that wasn’t the only awesome thing – there are lots of other connections between phi and other mathematical concepts, science and art.

Overall it’s a very illuminating read. Although it’s about mathematics, and numbers, it isn’t as scary as one might think – all in the levels of decency, it’s a highly readable book and should be of interest even if you’re not into science, but for example art – as you can also read about whether or not some artists have used Phi in their artwork, the same with poets and composers.

It was a truly fascinating read, as there are a lot of examples, if you’re that way inclined you can do some calculations while reading it, but you’ll definitely find out some interesting facts about the history of mathematics.

Book 140: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

41804 I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Finished reading on May 11th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

I, Robot tells a story of the rise of robotics from the point of view of Dr. Susan Calvin, a robot psychologist, who is being interviewed after a long and eventful life about her experiences with different kinds of robots throughout the late 20th century and first half of 21st century, as she is telling about the past in about the year 2050.

It is a science-fiction novel, with interesting characters and deep philosophical questions about artificial intelligence.

The book is a compilation of short stories about different robots, all of which have for some reason played a part in Susan’s life.

For example there’s a robot, who is a nursemaid for a small girl. The girl doesn’t want to play with other children, but rather prefers to spend time with one of the most advanced household robots of the time, but troubles arise when the girls mother decides that in order for her to grow up normal, they have to get rid of the robot, which leads to questions such as can a robot or artificial intelligence (AI) be someone’s friend, should or could it be treated as a person or as a household appliance?

As time passes, there are more advanced robots developed – one who can read minds for example,  or an AI that can build a spaceship for interstellar travel. They aren’t random characters in the book, but rather every incident and robot raises questions, as they all have to obey the three laws of robotics, which Asimov constructed. That aspect makes the book a thrilling psychological piece, as the reader is following the robot psychologist’s thoughts and actions, and we see what kind of problems might arise.

Certainly an enjoyable book, especially as one of the main human characters is a strong and smart female figure, who is in a lot of cases the one who comes up with a valid reasoning or solution for a situation.

Although the collection was first published in 1950, and the stories themselves separately between 1940 and 1950, it doesn’t read as too implausible, although that level of technological achievement doesn’t seem to have been achieved just yet.

I found it interesting, as some of the “robots” are in fact really powerful computers, but they still obey Asimov’s laws of robotics, most importantly the robots seem able of individual thought. Having just last week seen the movie Transcendence, I find myself thinking whether or not there will ever be such level of technology that could actually follow Asimov’s laws of robotics, and in case of the singularity (not the physical kind, but the technological where AI becomes smarter than a human brain) in the movie – is that an AI and could be considered a robot, or is it still a human and more like a cyborg although stuck in a computer?

To get back to the book – it’s an excellent read, I’d highly recommend reading it.

Apparently the 2004 movie “I, Robot” was inspired by this book, I haven’t seen it myself, but from what I’ve read of it, there are some of the characters who make an appearance in the book, but otherwise isn’t anything like the book.