Book 11: My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall

My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall

Finished reading on 31.10.2012

Rating 8/10

A short autobiography of Jane Goodall. As such it is suitable both for adults and children – reads well and is interesting if you have any interest at all in nature and chimps. I liked it and can’t wait to start reading something more specific and maybe longer and more scientific. This one only scratches the surface and believe me it will keep bugging to just leave it at that.

It is inspirational and might make you want to go take a walk in a forest or go and get a dog… or live with chimpanzees.

Maybe you’d want to read the book after watching this video:


Book 10: Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars by Patrick Moore

Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars, Fourth Edition by Patrick Moore (Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Finished reading 30.10.2012

Rating for practical purposes 8/10, for entertainment as something to read 3/10

If you ever need to find something in the night-sky, then this book would probably help you. It has all the naked-eye objects and also the things for which you need binoculars, the latter being really the reason for the book’s existence.

It starts out with the basics, giving spectral-types and different types of variable stars. Then there’re the brightest objects you can see using binoculars for each constellation.

Reading that part reminded me of the time when I used to read English-Estonian or German-Estonian dictionaries just for fun. It stopped being fun after a couple or ten pages, and it’s a good way to remind yourself of something you’ve always wanted to do and never had the time for. Reading about all those objects was a bit like that.

Since it should be actually used more as a handbook and for example for planning observations, then it’s really useful, the charts for each constellation and how to find the constellations are helpful (reminded me that I was supposed to learn the southern constellations a while back…).

After the constellation guides, in which there are the brightest stars, variable and binary stars; open, diffuse and globular clusters; and galaxies, there’s also the Moon in different phases, so even for observing the Moon, it’s great. And it ends with planets, asteroids and comets, of which only the comets are something that might be interesting to look at with binoculars.

For those wondering, why would there be separate books for observing the sky with binoculars, here are the reasons:

1. The magnification with binoculars is usually somewhere between 7 and 20, while with a telescope you’d usually use a magnification upwards from 30 or so.

2. Good binoculars cost less than a good telescope

3. It makes more sense to start off by observing with binoculars to get to know the brightest objects in the night sky and how to find them, rather than to buy an expensive telescope with which you’ll have difficulty finding anything more interesting than the moon or planets (unless it’s automatic, in which case “Run! The machines are taking over the… sky!!”)

4. It will hurt your face to hold one of your eyes shut for hours. You don’t need to do that when using binoculars or just stra-gazing without any optical instruments.

So to sum up – if you’re bored and it’s daytime and this is the only book you have, you might do well to have a pillow nearby in case you fall asleep. If it’s nighttime and the sky is clear, get a red flashlight, and go outside and try to find Waldo… or Vega or Achernar.
In the night-time it would be really useful, though that might be the time when you actually have a pillow around…

It’s a good book for people just starting to learn about the night-sky, but it’s a little beyond basics.


Book 9: Symmetry and the Monster by Mark Ronan

“Symmetry and the Monster” by Mark Ronan (Oxford, 2007)

Finished reading on October 29, 2012

Rating: 8/10

Such a great book.

I think that almost every subject deserves a chance. And mathematics is actually at least in my top five favourite subjects to read about… although since astronomy, physics, history of science and geology are the top four, maths rarely gets a chance.

“Symmetry and the Monster” is, as the title suggests, about symmetry and a mathematical group called the Monster. It tells the story of the latter’s discovery and does it so well that the book seems to be almost a mathematical detective story.

Although I must warn you, it contains mathematics, and I believe I’ll have to return to the book at least once more to gain even a little understanding of what the Monster means to mathematicians.

It had a lot of funny/interesting stories or anecdotes incorporated and also a little about some of the mathematicians who worked on group theory and the Monster, (Galois, Lie and Conway for example).

I liked it, because it made me want to dive into group theory, although I imagine it as a stormy sea and even in real life I’m not too good at swimming, thus it seems like something I might do only with a support-group, life-vests and when there are bigger dangers on land than in the sea… But it’s still a thought…

It was a great read, but not something I’d recommend for light reading, choose a popular physics book instead!

Book 8: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (Melville House, 2011)

Finished reading on October 28

Rating 8/10

There was a sentence on page 25 that captured me:

“The intensity of a person unafraid of death at the end of his rope.”

Usually it’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly when a book got interesting for me. But with “The Lake”, it was with that sentence. It gave off some kind of clarity and purpose.

The Novel tells a story of a man and a woman who live across the street from each other. They meet standing looking out of their windows, not really saying anything, just nodding at each other when they see the other person. That’s how it starts. The woman, Chihiro, is an artist, the man, Nakajima, a student at a medical school. The woman’s mother has just died and it seems to give a push forward to Chihiro’s and Nakajima’s relationship. Nakajima is a mystery, or rather the mystery, which is lurking around in the book until on the final pages it jumps out.
But what it is, you’ll find out if you read it yourself.

I liked it.

First it was because of how the main characters meet. And the way Nakajima says he feels empty, when Chihiro’s window is dark.

I know that feeling, even if the window has been just a random one I can see from my window. Being awake at a late hour all alone is somewhat sad, but seeing that some other neighbour is up as well makes it feel a little better, though seeing the last window go dark is almost as if having to say goodbye to a person you haven’t seen for a long time, who you have to leave just after having said hello…

And sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a real window, might be a window on some chat or instant messaging program.

In the end it was good because of it’s melancholy, it seems cold and strange, but it all will start to make sense.

Book 7: What If the Earth Had Two Moons by Neil F. Comins

What If the Earth Had Two Moons? by Neil F. Comins (2011, St. Martin’s Griffin)

Finished reading on October 28

Rating 6/10

Having come across a reference to another Comins’ book, “What If the Moon Didn’t Exist?” and not having found one in my vicinity, I picked up this one instead. It took me a lot of time to actually really start reading it, although the last 200 pages or so went past pretty quickly on a cloudy cold night. Finishing it at 2 am this morning was a relief though, because although the concept of the book is great, not all the stories were that interesting.

There are 10 scenarios of slightly different solar systems.

My favourite was one forming 15 billion years from now, not because it would be particularly exiting to live at that time, but because with each story the author also explains some of the underlying astronomy and physics, and an Earth-like planet forming in a different galaxy that much later required some explanations of cosmology and difficulties in interstellar travel, so that was awesome. If you’d want to know some of the reasons why it’s difficult to colonize other worlds, read it!

The other stories weren’t bad either, but they did seem to stretch time longer and longer… And I fell asleep at least twice while reading the book and I’m not usually one to be found sleeping with my nose in a book.

I think this book would be a good read for anyone who hasn’t already been saturated by reading too many popular science books dealing with astronomy. However it’s not really a book every astronomy buff should or must read, you’d survive without it.

Besides, this book seems to deal slightly with the Rare Earth hypothesis. It’s probably just me though, no-one else might even notice it, but it has similarities to Ward and Brownlee’s “Rare Earth”, only the latter is better.

Book 6: Night & Low-Light Photography by Jill Waterman

Night & Low-Light Photography by Jill Waterman (Amphoto Books, 2008)

Finished reading on October 24, 2012

Rating: 7/10

Whenever I find a book that covers exactly the subjects I’m interested in, I get really exited. The sad part comes along quickly, because the expectations get really high, as with this book.

I love night photography. And the book does give lots of examples of different photographers’ works and various methods that I might some night want to try out. Actually there was a bit of trouble with reading this book at night-time – it is somewhat inspirational/motivational, so I’d just stop reading, grab my camera and go outside to try and take as good pictures as I could… since I’ve still got to learn to actually implement some of the techniques used in the book.

It’s rather informative though it does seem a little impersonal, the pictures especially. Not that photos should always tell a story, but at some point it gets a bit tiresome reading all the technical details of a picture…

Otherwise it’s good, I think if I hadn’t been into night photography before reading it, I would have gotten interested in it by now.