Book 181: The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson

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The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Finished reading on July 1st, 2015

Rating: 7/10

I picked this book up because of New Horizons approach to Pluto and because I’d want to understand the whole hullabaloo around Pluto’s status change.

The book was interesting, but if you take a side – pro planet Pluto or pro dwarf-planet Pluto, it’ll feel as if you’re in an argument here. And it just feels silly to me. I think it might have to do with me living in Eastern-Europe and Pluto being discovered by an American – my feelings can be put together into one word – “meh”. So reading this book was ok, you do find out more about the situation and the discovery of Pluto and who were supporting Pluto to stay a planet, but you don’t really find out much about Pluto as such (but we will in about a week, right?).

It would be interesting to know what some other people thought of this book or just the topic of planetary status – would you have liked Pluto to remain a planet? Does it even matter when scientists decide that one thing is something else?

Book 180: What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman

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What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard P. Feynman

Finished reading on June 28th, 2015

Rating: 7/10

This is a collection of Feynman stories that mostly weren’t quite as humorous as in “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, they’re rather more sad especially as it was first published a little after Feynman died, so there’s this feeling of gloom in there (or at least that’s what I felt).

In this one you get more stories about Arlene and the Challenger. For a while I felt like I’ve read it all before – if you’ve read “Don’t You Have Time To Think?” then you get basically most of Feynman stories in letter-form, but there were some exceptions in case of Challenger. In other books I haven’t seen it in such detail, and the details here make it really interesting – for example when Feynman’s almost ranting about bullet points that NASA uses :) and you get more of what was going on with the Challenger investigation, and see a different side to the people involved and you’ll actually find out about more problems than just the O-rings getting stiff at low temperatures..

So again – it’s short, and interesting if you haven’t just read the same thing in a slightly different form (the first stories in this book are the same ones that Ottaviani’s “Feynman” starts with).

Book 179: Feynman by Ottaviani & Myrick

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Feynman by Ottaviani & Myrick

Finished reading on June 24th, 2015

Rating: 7/10

If you’re interested in reading a scientists biography in a graphic novel format, then this might be a good choice, although it’s not exactly a biography as such – you just get scenes from Richard Feynman’s life, that you could also find in his stories, but here you get them in a shorter graphic format.

If you already know who Richard Feynman was and have read books by/about him, then it might be a bit boring if you’ve read something just recently, but if it’s been a while since you’ve read about Feynman, then it’s a good reminder.

I like the choice of scenes (There are the essential safe-cracking at Los Alamos, Arlene and Nobel prize etc), the art is nice too, I would have given it a higher rating if I wouldn’t have read so much about Feynman recently.

So in general, if you’ve no idea who Feynman is, pick this book up! It’s a quick read and fun. And it reads almost the same as Feynman stories do, but you get them in a concentrated form.

ATTENTION! – there’s some physics at the end! :)

Book 178: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Finished reading on June 24th, 2015

Rating: 10/10

The only way to start reading a book that is over a thousand pages long is without knowing anything about it and hoping to find out more by actually reading it … right?

I still find myself struggling a little with the idea of actually reading a book holding of which is enough exercise for your wrists for days – it seems unlikely to ever finish a huge long humongous novel.

However as soon as I got through the first pages of the book I found myself being just a tiny bit bored – trains? Seriously? Metal? Oh no…. that’s what I thought at first. But the first time I picked the book up I kept reading for a couple of hours and after the first moment and scare of dying of boredom while reading it, I got hooked on it – there’s a strong intelligent female lead who isn’t afraid of physics and engineering!

And then there is the story itself – you read and read and get used to one part of the story and then there’s an unexpected twist which makes you keep on reading to see what happens.

There’s relationships, there’s philosophy, politics, economic etc in the book and it’s just wonderful with the sense of doom lurking there.

For those who’re looking to find out about the plot: it’s about industrialists for whom life is being made difficult by the government and a time of emergency and ridiculous laws while the whole country is in chaos, could even say that it’s a dystopia where you see a little of why communism wouldn’t work in real life.

The philosophy in the book is fascinating – if you’re not pro individualism, you might not like it…

What I loved was that you see people who love their work and who don’t want to give up no matter what happens, and then there are characters who make work a nightmare for everyone.
It is certainly a book that makes you think about life, people, needs, sacrifices and work.

If you have the time to spare, I’d highly recommend reading this book.

Book 177: Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Finished reading on June 20th, 2015

Rating: 7/10

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I figured I’d look into some more graphic books and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s “Trinity” seemed to me the perfect thing to start with as I’m quite familiar with the topic having read some biographies of the scientists behind the Manhattan project.

This short graphic book strikes me as surprisingly well balanced between history, science, politics and people behind the project- you find out a little about all of it in a way that won’t leave you grabbing for an encyclopedia unless you really really want to.

The black and white artwork is lovely and the historical figures are quite recognizable.

What I found as the biggest problem was that I would have liked it to deal with everything just a little bit longer and in more depth, but I guess that is also one of the better parts of it – you get a taste for it and to find out more you can turn to the books listed at the end of this one.

Book 176: Moondust by Andrew Smith

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“Moondust” by Andrew Smith

Finished reading on June 13th, 2015

Rating: 7/10

If you’ve ever wondered what became of the astronauts who flew to the Moon and landed there, then this is the book that will give you the answers.

This book, first published in 2002, looks a bit at what happened to the Apollo mission astronauts – whether or not going to the Moon changed them and how they deal and have dealt with one trip to the Moon in their thirties being the most important thing they’re known for.

I found the book interesting, as you see the different characters and later life decisions and since the author gives quite a lot of background events that happened at around the time of Apollo missions, you see the astronauts as human beings.

The book did have a quite sad undertone as you see how the astronauts’ marriages fell apart and some of the astronauts took up one business after another not really finding the right thing to do while others did end up finding something like Buzz Aldrin and Alan Bean and John Young.

While Neil Armstrong arguably the most famous astronaut didn’t really communicate much with the media or give autographs or appear in documentaries, Buzz Aldrin is still a space-advocate but who had to go through quite a rough time after coming back from the Moon. As Michael Collins orbited the Moon while his colleagues were on the Moon, he doesn’t get much mention in the book, as it is focused on the ones who actually got to walk on the lunar surface.

Out of the astronauts portrayed I would Alan Bean one of the more interesting ones as he became a space artist depicting what he saw on the Moon. And then there are the more curious characters who got into religion after coming back… Quite a curious bunch of moon-men…. But you can find out more in the book.

In general though it left me with the thought of whether it’s better to have a totally average life where nothing extraordinary is achieved or is it still preferred to have something totally awesome that you’ll be known for the rest of your life, but that you might never be able to outdo?

Book 175: Beyond by Chris Impey

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Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey

Finished reading on June 6th, 2015

Rating: 10/10

If you’re even just a tiny bit interested in or intrigued by space travel then this is definitely a must read that grips with it’s wide scope and fast pace and won’t leave you resenting mathematical equations you don’t want to concentrate on, as there are no ( in fact there’s E=mc2, but that’s all and it isn’t explained) equations you need to pay much heed to.

The book starts with the past and ends up looking far into the future. In the beginning you get a glimpse into the space race between the US and the Soviet Union and even before that into the history of rocketry (don’t worry, you won’t have to understand rocket science to read this part!).

After the first few chapters of bits about history we get to the present and get an overview of basically who’s up and coming on the space scene – how NASA and Roscosmos are faring and how the Chinese are catching up and possibly might lead the way back to the Moon, but you also get to read about the major players in commercial spaceflight and about the people behind it – Burt Rutan, Elon Musk and Richard Branson to name the major players.

At about the middle you get to the prospects for future – is it likely humankind will colonize the Moon or Mars and how can we get there and how would terraforming work anyway? The book dips into technologies that aren’t yet feasible, and also looks at some other interesting topics/problems the future might hold – is there life on other planets? Has humankind survived the most crucial and dangerous part of it’s evolution or is it still ahead of us?

“Beyond” is an excellent book both for it’s choice of content and for the writing – it’s simple enough yet not too basic and the topics follow in a logical order and fast enough so even when you don’t particularly care for history or SETI or any of the smaller topics covered, you’ll be through with it soon enough anyway.

Book 174: Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan

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Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on May 23rd, 2015

Rating: 7/10

This is another one of Narayan’s stories taking place in the fictional city of Malgudi. This time the story is narrated by an aspiring journalist, whose family fortune enables him not to worry about his livelihood.

One day a man in a blue Oxford suit turns up in Malgudi and stays in the train station’s waiting room apparently working ‘on a project for the UN’.
To start off the stranger seems quite annoying, and the station master is trying to get rid of him, as the waiting room isn’t really meant for people to stay there for days on end. The journalist is trying to help and ends up inviting the stranger to stay at his home.

The story gets quite mysterious as one day a woman arrives and tells a part of the stranger’s story, and we hear more of it later on because the journalist goes snooping around in his letters…

All-in-all in this novel we’re dealing with a classical Don Juan – a charmer and a liar, who has many women chasing him for one reason or another.

It is interesting, although mostly I just felt bad for the townsfolk who were fooled by the stranger, and especially for the young girl that falls for him and the poor taxi-driver who hopes to be able to get a fancy car if he keeps driving around the generous stranger.

Book 173: Jason and the Golden Fleece by Apollonius

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Jason and the Golden Fleece by Apollonius of Rhodes

Finished reading on May 23rd, 2015

Rating: 7/10

This is the classic tale of the Argonauts who go out to get the Golden Fleece as Jason was ordered to do. Among his companions are Heracles and the twins Kastor and Polydeukes and countless others whose names didn’t say much to me.

Basically it’s a long naval expedition where the heroes meet quite a lot of challenges and are saved many a time by the intervention of goddesses Athena and Hera who for some reason support Jason.

It was more interesting than I dared to hope and quite clever as well – accidentally leaving behind Heracles, their strongest hero and then coming across a ruler who wants to box with one of the members of the crew.

My favourite part however was where the little boy Eros came in – where he has apparently just cheated when playing with Ganymede – now that’s an ingenious part!

It’s just another one of the stories with a fancy fellowship on a mission, not unlike what came along more than two thousand years later.

Although a piece of classical literature, you shouldn’t be afraid of reading it – it’s a manageable length, although there seem to be hundreds of characters, you don’t really have to follow along with them all.

I’d even consider it quite suitable as a bedtime story if it weren’t for Jason cutting down the earth-born men who grew out of dragon-teeth and Jason and Medea’s wedding night…

Book 172: Genius by James Gleick

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Genius by James Gleick

Finished reading on May 21st, 2015

Rating: 9/10

Richard Feynman is a name that you might most likely have heard if you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory or if you’ve taken a course in particle physics. I can make checks in both :)
“Genius” is one of several biographies of Feynman, who seems to me as the best example of a misunderstood genius, despite being highly acclaimed and having gotten a Nobel prize in physics.

I picked this book up quite soon after reading his correspondence, and as I’ve read “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” last year, most of it didn’t seem new, but it was still interesting and it gave a better idea of Richard Feynman as a person, and it was the first time I could actually read about his contributions to physics.

The thing that strikes me the most about Feynman, was the way he worked – not reading the new paper in physics fully, but only until he got an idea of the problem and then trying to solve it himself and spending a lot of time on questions that he never published anything about, although many others would have. That’s just curious. The first explains his great grasp of physics, the second is just a mystery to me, as in my imagination you’d try to publish any significant results. Maybe that’s just it though- he probably didn’t see it as significant enough or as not a big enough contribution?

The book did change my opinion of Feynman in some ways, as previously I had seen him as an ingenious joker, and now I’m not so sure, as it all seems quite tragic.

I did like that you do see quite a lot of his contemporary physicists, so you won’t get the idea that he was the only one working on it, but you see it as everyone contributing something – some more, some less, and find out about their relationships, and you see Murray Gell-Mann, Julian Schwinger and Freeman Dyson appear in the story – it brings Feynman out of vacuum and gives a broader view of everything.

I feel like there’s no reason for me to actually do a short overview of Feynman’s life, as that’s what Wikipedia is for. Rather I’d just say that if you’ve enjoyed stories about Feynman, this biography might be enjoyable, and if you’re studying physics, it’s also quite motivational. I dare you to start reading this and not want to pick up a physics textbook!

Also, I’d really recommend reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman” before this one.