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Search tags: 20th-century-contemporary-american
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text 2019-01-20 20:54
Reading progress update: I've read 63 out of 391 pages.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

The fact that I actually finished chapter 3 the day before yesterday and it took BT's first status update for me to remember to also comment on my own progress probably tells you all you need to know about the priority this book has in my reading.

 

Well, the good news, I guess, is that chapters 2 and 3 are actually readable.  I don't think I'll retain from them much more than I already knew (and chapter 2 is another example of Kean getting stuck on two elements, amplified on by way of numerous details, after setting out to make a more general point), but at least he held my attention for the duration of those two chapters, and chapter 3 also contains a historical positioning of the periodic table.  Since this is the final chapter of the introductory section of the book, I'll retract my criticism that he didn't give any sort of historical introduction at all.  Which however doesn't excuse the amount of condescension and outright innuendo going on in the description of the key biographical details of the scientists whose works he is describing in chapters 2 and 3.

 

That said, two days have gone by and I still haven't been able to bring myself to move on to chapter 4.  As I mentioned in my comments on BT's status update, somehow the combination of atoms as a topic and this author's fractured approach to narrative and explanations doesn't portend much encouragement.  Nor does his approach to the presentation of scientific theories (psst, Mr. Kean -- that's where footnotes just might be put to good use) ... or his dealings with the biographies of several eminent scientists of the past, who can actually count genuine, important discoveries among their achievements.  I'll be on a full-day trip tomorrow, and although it will include some train travel, I don't see myself actually taking this book.  I also don't think I'll be in much of a mood to touch it tomorrow night when I get back.  I guess what I'm saying is I'm still on the fence whether or not to finish this.

 

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text 2019-01-15 17:25
Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 391 pages.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Well, let's just say Mr. Kean clearly isn't Helen Czerski (and that is not a good thing).

 

He either has no clear conception of who his target audience is, or he doesn't know how to talk to his audience.  Someone with an average to advanced training in science obviously wouldn't need any explanations as to the structure of the periodic table, to begin with.  The rest of us might need one -- but (and it speaks volumes that I even have to emphasize this) a clearly structured one, please, not an assortment of anectdotes that blows any explanatory structure clean out of the window.  Also, if you're writing a book subtitled (in part) "...Tales of ... the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements", wouldn't it be a good idea to give your readers an idea when and how the periodic table itself made its first appearance in the history of the world?  Just a paragraph or so, for reference in conjunction with its basic structure, so we know where we are, both in chemical terms and the history of science?  (Ms. Czerski did just that.  But as I said ... Mr. Kean clearly isn't Helen Czerski.) 

 

So far, he's managed the feat that only one of my school teachers ever managed, and that was my physics teacher, who, like Sam Kean, presented his material full of enthusiasm as to the magic of it all, or the big joke associated with a given scientific fact / discovery, or some other reaction clearly warranted in his eyes, while completely failing to transport to the rest of us -- and hence, leaving us entirely mystified -- what all all of this had to do with any of us and why it was actually important (other than in a way that only the initiated would be able to appreciate).  I used to actually like chemistry in school (unlike physics), and I believed I had a fairly good grip on the subject -- an impression my teachers seemed to share, judging by my grades.   A major reason for this was the fact that (unlike in physics class) I never had a moment's doubt as to why what I was learning mattered, and how it all fitted together in the grand scheme of things.  But if I didn't at least have this distant reservoir to rely on, I'm pretty sure I'd be entirely baffled already.  And I can only hope that this state of affairs is going to improve, because otherwise I'm either going to throw in the towel or it's going to take me eons to finish this book (and it won't earn a particularly high rating, either).

 

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review 2018-11-08 00:48
Reading progress update: I've read 100% -- of yet another overhyped book.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte,Patrick Lawlor
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

He redeemed himself a bit with the nonfiction part of the T-Rex chapter, but man, that narrative tone and his "I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread and I'm best buddies with all the cool kids in paleontology (even the long-dead ones)" attitude seriously grated pretty much from page 1 to literally the last words of the book.

 

Also, pro writing tip, Mr., um, Dr. Brusatte: If you seriously think it's a good idea to begin a chapter with a dramatic, pseudo-fictionalized scene involving T-Rex and a bunch of other dinosaurs, and you're telling it from the POV of one of those other dinosaurs, you'll want to avoid describing T-Rex as "a monster bigger than a city bus".  Because I'm pretty sure a dinosaur would have had no idea what a city bus was going to be looking like some 66+ million earth years after the extinction of its own species.  It's all about narrative perspective, you see ...

 

Oh, well.  Next!

 

Read for the Flat Book Society and the New Year's Eve square of the 24 Tasks of the Festive Season.

 

 

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text 2018-11-02 23:22
Reading progress update: I've read 54%.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte,Patrick Lawlor
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

Hmmm.  The science content is paleontology 101 (though the explanation of the factors that impacted the changes from one earth age to the next is quite accessible).  Only wiith regard to a few major species and subspecies do we get some sort of discussion of their basic attributes, strengths and weaknesses, however -- other creatures falling into the same bracket are basically name-dropped in as a lengthy list, without any discussion whatsoever.  Perhaps most importantly, though, this is another huge case of titular mislabelling -- this is about the author's own career, field trips, cooperation with other scientists, and about his personal heroes as well as the notable scientists of yesteryear, at least as much as it is about the dinosaurs themselves.  I'll finish it, but it's not anywhere near a five-star book.

 

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text 2018-11-02 15:11
Reading progress update: I've read 8%.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte,Patrick Lawlor
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

Flat Book Society November read, and also my read for the New Year's Eve square in the 24 Festive Tasks game.

 

So far, it's sounding good -- at least you can tell the author is a scientist writing about the subject matter he's studied.  This makes me hopeful.

 

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