Book 226: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

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Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

Finished reading on September 3rd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Women with a love of mathematics at Jet Propulsion Lab from 1940s to more recent times.
Nathalia Holt looks into the lives and work of the human “computers” at JPL, who did the calculations for the rocket launches and space missions that JPL was doing.

The book was quite fascinating, as first off you get an idea of how difficult it was for women to find a job where they could actually use their talent for mathematics, and when they did find one, how it was highly unlikely to get back to work (in the same area) after starting a family, and how those who did succeed in that, had difficulties with managing life at two fronts.

I think that “Rise of the Rocket Girls” was an excellent book – it is somewhat inspirational, it shows women using their brains and you also get a bit of a timeline in some space missions.

Although I very much enjoyed reading it, I’m not giving it 10/10 because I felt that the beginning of the book goes into much more detail into the actual contents of the computers’ work, whilst later on,  you get an idea what project they were working on, but not so much what part exactly they had in it.

Despite that, I’d recommend this book to everyone.

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Book 223: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

PIMG_3157A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Rating: 10/10

A great short introduction to some fascinating aspects of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, cosmology and relativity theory that is highly readable, doesn’t get into extraneous details and although it was first published in 1987, it is still accurate.

This has been a book that I’ve picked up and put down after reading a couple of pages several times in life – partly because of not being quite certain about what level of knowledge I should have to read it, and partly because I tend to choose books that have been published more recently over older, although classic books of nonfiction.

So if I’d ever have a chance of inventing a time machine in past to try and find out what I know about this book in present I’d say – the book is certainly easy enough reading if you’ve studied physics in high-school, you don’t need to go in search of an encyclopedia to understand what Hawking is writing about, because he mostly explains everything anyway. Also if you’re afraid that a famous scientist’s writing style might be awfully boring and just terrible – don’t fear, you’ll be through the book in no time and in search of another book written by Hawking.

In general I’d highly recommend it. Even if you’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about astronomy,cosmology and physics, this book is still a great and interesting little book to read.

Book 208: Cosmos by Carl Sagan

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Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Finished reading on April 9th, 2016
Rating: 10/10

I have had this book for ages. And it took me ages to read. I just wonder how do other people manage to read big format hardback books? It’s too heavy to hold up for reading just before going to sleep, it’s too big and bulky to take with you while travelling or going to work or school…

Cosmos deals with some of the most fascinating aspects of astronomy from ancient myths to the insides of stars and galaxies etc.

I love Sagan’s style of writing, and reading the book brought into my mind the “Cosmos” TV series, and Sagan talking about pretty much the same things, not exactly but almost same.

The initial problem I had with even the idea of reading “Cosmos” was that the edition I have was published in 1981. Since that time a lot of new information has become available about the planets and stars and the Universe, and I was afraid that it would be obviously outdated. It wasn’t.  All of it is so general, that you can only feel that it was written a while back is when Sagan mentions the USSR doing something or mentioning that there hasn’t been a Mars mission with a rover yet and we haven’t sent a mission to land on a comet nor to Titan. But that was actually a fun part to read, because there are several rovers on Mars 35 years later, a spacecraft has landed on a comet and on Titan.

Something that I noticed in the beginning half or so in the book was the proportion of illustrations that were paintings or artist’s visions. It makes sense when you think about the space telescopes that only came into being later on, and now you’d most likely have the same objects as photographed by the Hubble space telescope  for example.

I would recommend reading it – it does carry a bit of a sense of the time when it was written – the dark cloud of nuclear weapons making it’s way into the book, but it is really very enjoyable. (Although slightly depressing)

 

Book 139: Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

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Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

Finished reading on May 7th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

What if one of the main driving forces for evolution has been the changing level of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere? How could we find out? That is the fascinating way forward in this book.

In the beginning of the book we get acquainted with different respiratory systems – different types of gills and lungs, that will naturally have an important part to play in this book as the author traces changes in the atmosphere’s oxygen content from about 540 million years ago to the present and even a little bit further while looking at how evolution has shaped life to be sustainable under different conditions.

Out of Thin Air comprises of chapters that trace the changes in certain lifeforms with some hypotheses how it might have a connection to atmospheric oxygen content. For example one of Ward’s hypotheses is:

“Reduced levels of oxygen stimulate higher rates of disparity (the diversity of body plans) than do high levels of oxygen” (p.47 Hypothesis 2.1)

The reasoning behind it being that it is easier for animals to survive at high levels of oxygen and they wouldn’t develop any coping mechanisms or ways of using even more oxygen than they already use, but during low levels of oxygen animals have to evolve to adapt to the conditions.

It is certainly a fascinating book (if me rating it 10/10 didn’t give a hint before), as it deals with different lifeforms that have had gills to lungs, from mollusks and fish to dinosaurs and birds.

Very interesting, I’ll be reading it again at some point, it definitely makes one look differently at what might be some of the driving forces of evolution, and maybe even think of how it might end up totally different on a far-away Goldilocks planet….

And the book has dinosaurs, what else can you want?

 

Book 116: The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson

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Would you dare to live in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant? Do you think the world will end in a nuclear holocaust?

The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson

Finished reading on March 17th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

The Age of Radiance starts quite plainly with the discovery of radiation, and the history of nuclear physics beginning with Röntgen and Becquerel and the Curies and continuing to some of the uses of radioactive elements in atomic and hydrogen bombs and in nuclear power plants. The book also depicts the three best-known nuclear disasters – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

It presents a comprehensive history, that sheds light to some of the aspects that normally remain hidden from the eyes of the general public – for example how much did radiation actually influence the health of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or what happened on Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant of which is still in operation.

The Age of Radiance was a very interesting and in some ways enlightening read, combining history, science and eye-witness accounts.

One of the goals for this book was that it would dissolve some of the fears concerning everything that has the world “nuclear” or “atomic” in it, and I think it fulfills that goal, although it is difficult to see why some-one with radiophobia would even want to know more about what they’re afraid of.

However I think it’s definitely worth a read, the writing is clear and easy-to-follow.

Although it was a very good read, I was slightly repulsed by the part about Pierre and Marie Curie. For one, I don’t consider it necessary to have such graphic descriptions of a definitely tragic death under the wheels of a carriage – the gore in that chapter exceeds everything else in the book, which is definitely not what one would expect from a book about radiation that has so many other possibilities for awful and disgusting death and sickness….

The second was Marie Curie’s love affair, which in my opinion was totally unnecessary to even mention it in this book, not just because of the seriousness of the general topic and themes in the book, but because it has no obvious connection to the rest of it.

Except for those two little disturbances the book was excellent.

I received this book for review purposes from NetGalley.

Book 20: By The Seat Of My Pants

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By The Seat of My Pants, edited by Don George

Finished reading December 18, 2012

Rating 7/10

It’s a collection of short stories by travel writers, which as the subtitle says, are dubbed as humorous.

I was reading it Monday morning on a bus ride home, just because it seemed like something nice to do – read about other people’s travels while being bound to the same old route between Tartu and Tallinn.

Reading it was easy and fun, however some of the stories are “lough out loud” funny, so I found it wasn’t the best idea to read it while there’s some stranger sitting next to me – it was difficult to stifle the laughter and not be annoying (I know how disturbing it can be, when there’s a random person next to you, reading and laughing – there’s the eternal question of whether the laughter is to get your attention and make you ask something about the book, or something else and the person would rather sit on top of a cactus than talk about the book. ) .

In general one could say that it serves its purpose well – it’s good fun and it’ll probably make you want to go traveling and avoid incidents the like of which you can read about in “By the Seat of My Pants”.

Book 18: The Code Book by Simon Singh

The Code Book by Simon Singh

Finished reading on November 24, 2012

Rating 10/10

This is the best book I’ve read in 2012. It’s interesting to the level where you’re reading with your jaw dropped to about your knees if you’re tall, and if you’re me, then to the ground (no logic necessary).

The topics in this book are not something that I would originally have considered interesting, but rather “cute”.

Singh starts out with some simple cryptographic devices and codes, and examples of their historical usages and evolution. The book ends with quantum and public key cryptography.

There’s also a really fascinating detour into translating long dead languages by using same methods as for cracking codes. Even if you’re  not at all into codes and such, but you happen across this book, I’d highly recommend reading the chapter that deals with Egyptian hieroglyphs (translating the rosetta stone!) and Linear B.

Reading it made me want to encrypt some of my communications, just as when reading about Leonardo Da Vinci, I learned mirror writing.

One of the reasons, why The Code Book gets such a high rating from me, is simply because similarly to physics, you have mysteries, for which you’re trying to find answers, in physics the questions arise from the nature of the universe, in cryptography it’s mostly human nature and language combined with statistics and mathematics.

Another one’s the fact that it’s one of those books that makes you want to find out more about the topics covered (or hidden ;)).

 

Book 17: Longitude by Dava Sobel

Longitude by Dava Sobel

Finished reading on November 21, 2012

Rating 8/10

I finished reading this book while trying to watch Star Trek the Original Series at the same time. Couldn’t get too far that way though, so I now all that’s stopping me from watching Star Trek is writing this blog post and the fact that it’s past 2 am.

Now, “Longitude” – it’s a nice sort of book – short, small and not too technical. And the content’s are fairly interesting also – the quest to find a solution to finding the longitude at sea.

If you’d read just about any book on the history of astronomy, they’ll usually mention it, and sometimes they’ll have a whole chapter about it. So now it was good to read a bit more about it, although, it didn’t seem as if I’d gotten much smarter by reading it.

John Harrison, his chronometers and Nevil Maskelyne are some of the main topics. Historically it had been suggested already in the 16th century that one could use observations of the Moon to find out their longitude. Unfortunately at the time there wasn’t many observations of the Moon and no-one really understood the Moon’s movements that well yet, to predict it’s position precisely enough to determine their longitude by observing it, unless there was a lunar or solar eclipse.

Now the Moon was just one of the possibilities, but there were also the moons of Jupiter, that could be used for the same purpose.

If you’ve heard the joke about Niels Bohr and the barometer, then Harrison’s method of solving the longitude problem was a bit like that. In the beginning of the 18th century, there was a foundation founded for finding the solution to determining the longitude. The founding members were mostly astronomers. And so the fact that Harrison could solve something, for which they (and foremost – Maskelyne) wanted an astronomical solution, by using mechanics, is easily understood as something the foundation wouldn’t want to recognize as prize-worthy.

As far as I’m concerned, then I see it as clever and sneaky at the same time. And the story is interesting precisely because of that.

There’s also a two-part film (you can watch the trailer here) made after the book. I haven’t seen it yet, but seems ok.

Book 15: Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane

Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane (Scribner, 2007)

Finished reading November 13, 2012

Rating 9/10

I started reading it in bouts in the end of last week while watching several sci-fi movies. I took this book up because in Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars”, she writes that if you only ever read one astronaut’s biography, then this one should be it.

I’m not sure yet, whether this would be the definitive astronaut’s biography, but I’ll know that when I read something by other astronauts. However I think it is a truly great book. And it might be the characteristic space shuttle astronaut’s story. I just loved it. It’s funny and serious and exciting from the beginning to the end.

Plus it gives a good idea of what the astronauts have had to suffer to get into space. It covers the astronauts selection process from the candidates’ point of view, there’s Mullane’s childhood and how he became an astronaut. He flew on three shuttle flights. The most exciting part for me was the description of the first launch of Discovery… or well tries to launch Discovery – they aborted a few times.

You can also read about the Challenger’s last flight.

In general I think it might have a bad effect on some people – they’d want to become astronauts themselves.

While I’m not yet in that kind of danger – I’d rather wait until they start the space elevator business, I really found Mullane’s description of the shuttle’s descent a bit worrying and I don’t think that coming back down in a capsule sounds any better… so spend my whole life in orbit or wait? I’ll have to settle for the last one for now. Especially since there aren’t  space shuttle flights anymore. 😦

It was a bit like reading Robert Scott’s diary or about Amundsen going to the South Pole – it’s something that puts everything in a human to an extreme test – the motivation, strength, skill, health. I used to be obsessed about expeditions to the South Pole,  space expeditions are just one (small) step further.

And a talk by Mike Mullane :

Book 14: Digital Astrophotography

Digital Astrophotography. The State of the Art edited by David Ratlege

Finished reading November 10, 2012

Rating 6/10

From this book you’ll find out all the basics of astrophotography. Some of the not so basic information will be overcast by the shadow of the pretty pictures and an optimistic outlook that if you’d just have the necessary equipment you could start doing it too.

It didn’t seem comprehensive enough to be the only book an aspiring astrophotographer would need to read, but it would work well as an introduction to the methods and subjects – using a webcam, dslr or ccd camera; taking pictures of constellations, planets and deep sky objects.

It didn’t make me fall asleep nor would it make me want to sleep on a dark clear night.