Book 162: Totality: Eclipses of the Sun by Mark Littmann, Robin Walker, Fred Espenak and Ken Willcox

7774075

Totality: Eclipses of the Sun by Mark Littmann, Robin Walker, Fred Espenak and Ken Willcox

Finished reading on January 17th, 2015

Rating: 7/10

I was searching for a book about solar eclipses that would be manageable in length. This book was one the first results in a search and hence the one I turned to.

My interest in solar eclipse books comes from the fact that in March of this year there will be a partial solar eclipse visible where I live and I had to do some research on the related mythology for work.

The book was a quick read with many interesting topics – in addition to myths and legends, that I was mainly after, there’s also talk about the science and history of eclipse observations and what humankind has found out thanks to solar eclipses – all quite fascinating, as previously I knew only about observations of the corona and the search for a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury and of-course the famous observational proof for Einstein’s General theory of Relativity. But it turns out there are more!

For those more practically minded -the book introduces safe ways for observing and photographing a solar eclipse and gives ideas about what kind of equipment you need and also how to later process your images.

And a book about solar eclipses wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the past solar eclipses and the ones coming up in the next twenty or so years, so you can plan your vacations a bit. For Americans – there will be a total solar eclipse visible in 2017 in some of the states, in the others it’ll be partial. Unfortunately for my location, the next total eclipse is in 2126, so I’ll actually have to go chasing the shadow of the Moonmyself, to see a total one in my lifetime. Good to know :)

Though there was something disturbing by the end – although it is mentioned so many times in the book, how extraordinary seeing the totality is, and how you can’t express it in words and can’t really capture the emotions in photographs or on video, at some point I did catch myself thinking “meh, just the Moon in front of the Sun and the sky is dark… big deal” So obviously it is necessary that I’d actually see it myself, otherwise I’ll be as any person who’s never seen Saturn through a telescope and would just shrug about seeing a planet that is so beautiful and so far away yet visible through two correctly shaped pieces of glass in a tube….

So possibly that is what I came away with – you have to see it to actually understand it better.

Book 161: The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf

PIMG_6929

The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf

Finished reading on January 6th, 2015

Rating: 9/10

Nicolaus Copernicus, a 16th century astronomer showed that the Sun is in the centre of the Solar System, and the Earth only goes around it, hence joining the other planets and in some ways losing its importance as a special place.

Discoveries in later centuries have shown that there’s barely anything special about the Earth’s location in the Universe – we circle around a rather average star (although more massive than 75% of other stars, but still a dwarf star) in a rather average spiral arm of a giant galaxy, the like of which are numerous in the Universe.

But if you leave all that aside, there seems to be something that might make Earth a tiny bit special – it’s the only place thus far that we know of that has life.

In “The Copernicus Complex”, Scharf takes a look at exoplanets and the search for life and the mathematics that might possibly give us an estimate as to whether or not we are alone – as soon as we get some more data points.

The book goes through several topics – biology, statistics and astronomy and manages to show how the Copernican Principle – the idea that we don’t occupy a special time or place in the Universe is at the same time wrong and right.

I found the book dipping into some interesting themes – such as celestial mechanics and how although we can predict the motions of planets around the sun in the near future and past, we can’t do so for millions of years hence. Another was the look at how maybe we exist in a special time, when it is (or so it seems) possible to correctly characterize the Universe – it’s age and size – whilst billions of years hence when the Universe keeps expanding, life on a planet in some far distant future planet, might look at the sky, and not see anything else besides their own galaxy.

In general it was a very enjoyable read, especially because of the wide array of themes covered.

If you’ve read Scharf’s previous popular science book, “Gravity’s Engines“, the style is quite different, but in a good way, as the topics aren’t really similar anyway, but I’m sure you’d enjoy reading “The Copernicus Complex”.

Book 160: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

PIMG_6524
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

Finished reading on January 3rd, 2014

Rating: 8/10

I’m pretty sure there are many people who love movies about food (although they make you hungry), books about food are kind of the same thing, only you get the hungry feeling for a longer time…

This book is about several topics – cooking, traditions, and strong personalities.

The book starts in India, Mumbai, where the reader gets to know a little about the Haji family, who own a restaurant. Because of some events involving religious and financial differences between people who live near the restaurant, the Haji family leaves India and moves to London and then travels in Europe and ends up in France.

There, the head of the Haji family decides to open a restaurant in just the perfect place for one, except for the fact that there is an excellent restaurant at the hotel a hundred feet across the road.

The story continues with several “battles” between the owner of the fancy classical French restaurant, Madame Mallory and Papa Haji, but also with the story of one of the Haji kids – Hassan, who has a talent for cooking, and learnt to cook from his mother.

Lots of cooking, learning and fighting ensues…

That’s about it for what the book is about.

It is certainly interesting, as you don’t know what is gong to happen from one page to the next… the characters stay the same despite the fact that the whole book takes place in about 20 years or so.

The only thing I found curious was that Hassan doesn’t return to Indian cooking until later in the book (maybe because his sister does keep cooking some Indian foods for him?).

Now, there is a movie (you can watch the trailer here), that is (I’d say rather loosely) based on the book. I watched the film about twelve hours after I finished reading the book and I was quite disappointed, since I did like the book, but in the movie things are very different. It might be good though – if you’ve seen the movie, read the book, you’ll be surprised as to how much more happens in the book.

Book 159: Sextant by David Barrie

PIMG_6517

Sextant: A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans by David Barrie

Finished reading on December 31st, 2014

Rating: 9/10

If you enjoy a good travel journal, then this book might be for you… on the other hand, if you’re interested in celestial navigation, this book is definitely worth a read.

In “Sextant”, throughout the book you can read about the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a yacht in the 1970s and in addition you get to read about different expeditions through centuries where navigation was obviously very important and either made the expedition a success or a failure.

It was quite fascinating, I would have even liked to read a bit more about the explorers like Flinders (who explored the coast of Australia) or George Vancouver, who explored the coast of Alaska and in general the northwestern Pacific coast of North America or Robert FitzRoy who was the captain of HMS Beagle and took Charles Darwin with him on an expedition…

When I was in my early teens I got obsessed with explorers – not just any explorers though – they’d have to be polar explorers. I was fascinated with the cold and the snow (and in my 58 degrees north location, there are winters where temperature can fall to minus 30 degrees Celsius) and the people who would want to spend months on skies to cross Greenland (Nansen) or spend months aboard a ship wintering in sea ice… or defy the Southern seas and a continent covered in ice and aim for the South Pole – even in my essays I’d be writing about Scott and Amundsen or Shackleton. I’ve still not quite gotten over that obsession. But now I also enjoy reading about expeditions to other locations.

This book does mention Shackleton, as in his expedition it’s easy to imagine how errors in navigation would have made the already bad situation even worse.
In case of other expeditions as well – the stories are presented in only a few pages, but you get a glimpse to the importance of celestial navigation at the time and why just having a map doesn’t help you on the sea if you don’t know exactly where you are. In my case it was something I’ve never really thought about (except on a cruise ship going to Stockholm and imagining how could ships get there before modern technology)…

As I enjoy finding out where there are empty spots in my knowledge, I found the book excellent. It gave me lots of ideas what to read next (I just have to read some expedition diary… any suggestions?) and in general several times made me think “oh, that’s so fascinating!”

In general I’d say there are several good reasons for reading this book:
1. gives an idea how mariners navigated on the sea, what methods they used and what were some problems associated with them
2. gives several examples of naval expeditions and some of the hardships the people had to overcome
3. you won’t take knowing your location or precise maps for granted.
4. you might just catch a little wanderlust bug…

Oh and it’s 2015 in the Eastern hemisphere, so happy new year!

Book 158: What If? by Randall Munroe

PIMG_6516

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 157: The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker

unnamed
The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker

Finished reading on December 22nd,2014

Rating: 9/10

This is a book about a scientific expedition to South America in the eighteenth century that ended with one of the scientist being killed at a bullfight and one getting married to a Peruvian girl who later in life travels across the Andes and down the Amazon to reach her husband, whom she hadn’t seen for more than twenty years.

This book is packed with adventures and even a bit of intrigue and politics, as you can read about the difficulties that a French team of scientists had to face – not just because of the rough terrain and high mountains, but also because of bureaucracy and human relations.

I found it a very interesting book to read – you find out more about the method that was used to find out the exact shape of the Earth that was still a subject of discussion in the beginning of eighteenth century, but also about the nature, native people and the colonial rule.

In addition to the scientific expedition you can read about a woman’s struggle to finally meet up with her husband, having to cross a whole continent to do so and face a number of dangers and losses on her way.

I would really recommend reading it if you enjoy survival tales or expedition diaries and also if you’re interested in geodesy or Southern America in the eighteenth century.

Book 156: Origins by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

PIMG_6457

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

P1IMG_6393
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

Print
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

 

PIMG_6195

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…