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Search tags: American-Lit
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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 2019-01-14 15:18
Podcast #131 is up!
William Penn: A Life - Andrew R. Murphy

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Andrew R, Murphy about his biography of the 17th century English Quaker William Penn, who was a pioneering advocate of religious toleration and the founder of the colony of Pennsylvania. Enjoy!

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review 2019-01-11 14:23
Great Courses: The American West
The American West: History, Myth, and Le... The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy - The Great Courses,The Great Courses,Patrick N. Allitt,Patrick N. Allitt

 

What I love most about Professor Allitt is that he is a Brit teaching American history to Americans. He has no baggage, nothing to defend and he has no qualms about telling it like it is. Manifest destiny and the taming of the West is sadly our contribution to the list of genocides and Allitt reminds us of this. He explains but he does not apologize for or attempt to justify the actions and behavior of those who settled the West. His lectures are rich with reading from primary sources, particularly journals.

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url 2019-01-07 14:27
Podcast #130 is up!
The Revolution of ’28: Al Smith, American Progressivism, and the Coming of the New Deal - Robert Chiles

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Robert Chiles about his study of Al Smith's role in American progressivism and it's political legacy (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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review 2019-01-01 07:30
New American Best Friend
New American Best Friend - Olivia Gatwoo... New American Best Friend - Olivia Gatwood

The poems are better when performed, but the book is good too.

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