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review 2020-07-28 02:47
The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick
The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World - Edward Dolnick

If you want an accessible history of early modern mathematics, this is the book for you. The marketing is off, as if the author changed course about a third of the way through but neglected to inform his publishers or, for that matter, alter the first third of the book. It’s presented as a history of English science in the late 17th century, and the first third focuses on fairly simplistic scene-setting. Other reviewers have rightly pointed out that the speeches of Jonathan Edwards—an 18th century New England preacher descended from people who left England due to intolerance of their extreme religious views—should not be pointed to as an articulation of “standard doctrine” in England decades earlier, and this sort of thing calls the author’s sweeping statements about religion into question.

That said, eventually Dolnick tosses aside his shackles and digs into what really interests him, which is a history of math, particularly how mathematical discoveries were viewed in a religious context and why the invention/discovery of calculus was so important. This is actually quite readable and engaging, and short chapters and diagrams make the math pretty digestible for the intelligent reader who may not remember much from school. (I actually felt like it was a little bit too simplistic. My memories of high school calculus were barely jogged.) Interestingly, the math focus means that except for Newton, the people Dolnick focuses on are largely not English: Leibniz, Kepler, Galileo, and Descartes all have their turn in the spotlight. Since English-language histories of science are so Anglocentric generally, this was both great, in that I learned a little about people I hadn’t read much about, and frustrating, in that why drag us through 100 pages of English history first if this is where we’re going? Why not get the context of these other countries, presumably less familiar to most English-speaking readers, instead?

But okay. It’s a readable history of math, with some pretty interesting details. I didn’t know, for instance, that Descartes invented the idea of plotting change on a graph in the 17th century or what a breakthrough this was. Or about the way credulity, at the time, was seen by thinkers as a sign of intelligence, apparently as contrasted with hidebound peasants who refused to believe anything they didn’t see with their own eyes. (Naturally, this resulted in the thinkers believing some wacky things.) It’s not the book I would recommend if you actually want to read about late 17th century science, since it barely touches anything non-mathematical, so for other subjects, try Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution instead. But it’s a quick read and I don’t regret reading it.

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text 2020-06-26 00:40
Reading progress update: I've read 64 out of 376 pages.
Selected Poems - W.H. Auden,Edward Mendelson

Well, I somehow got sucked into this tonight.

I hope to share a few lines tomorrow when I have a real keyboard at my disposal. Typing on the kindle is always more hassle than it's worth.

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review 2020-06-09 15:23
War on Christmas
War on Christmas - Edward Lorn

by Edward Lorn

 

This collection includes all three Christmas stories by Edward Lorn.

 

The Naughty List

In which we learn that Santa's elves have their evil counterparts at the North Pole, called Naughties.

 

Deck the Halls

In which we work out that these three stories are a continuing story and several Christmas myths are woven together to create an original alternative world where Santa, or Sinter Klaus, deals with Krampus, the Naughties, and a host of toys gone bad in Toyland. This one ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but in the combined volume, the story continues!

 

Beyond the Gates of Toyland

Completes the series. I found believability stretched a little in this one but the mythology added to the mix was certainly an original idea.

 

The writing in these was good and the stories drew me in despite my trepidation of reading an author who is known for extreme Horror. While the content was undoubedly Horror, there was nothing in this to squick my boundaries so it was a good first Lorn read for me.

 

As alternative Christmas stories go, I would actually recommend this for fans of Horror fiction. Don't expect a nicey-nice Holiday story though, that's not the goal here.

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review 2020-06-01 14:27
In the Heart of the Sea
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick,Edward Herrmann

by Nathaniel Philbrick

 

This is a seafaring story based on the records of a real whaling ship, The Essex, which was the basis of the story Moby Dick. It's about a ship that actually was attacked by a whale, as recorded in the ship's log and private notes written by a cabin boy.

 

My first impressions of the story were very positive. The narrative seemed to find the right balance between moving the story forward at a relaxed pace and filling in technical information that would allow the reader to appreciate the mechanics of operating an old style sailing ship and the value of an experienced crew. Unfortunately much of this crew lacked that experience and response time when they hit a storm made all the difference.

 

The quality held up all through and the trials and privations of shipwrecked sailors became disturbingly familiar, Even the difficulties the survivors had when they returned to civilization hit home in a way that only comes of very effective writing. I felt as if I had been there and gone through all that they had experienced.

 

Knowing that this is a true story and learning about the customs and daily lives of the sailors was fascinating to say the least. Despite the unpleasant situations, I really enjoyed the read. I came out of it feeling like I had lived in Nantucket in its glory days of the whaling industry, like I'd sailed on a whaling ship, and like I had experienced the horrors of living day to day, adrift at sea. You can ask for more from a story based on facts.

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review 2020-05-19 15:18
Quiet and poignant read
Stoner - John Edward Williams

What a wonderful gentle read. The life of William Stoner, a student and then a Professor at the University of Missouri. He initially enrolled to study agriculture, and help manage his father’s farm, but in one very significant life changing moment he discovered his true vocation in the world of literature. His choice of Edith as a future spouse was a fundamental mistake….”She was short, plump woman with fine white hair that floated about her face; her dark eyes twinkled moistly, and she spoke softly and breathlessly  as if she were telling secrets.”………”in her white dress she was a cold light coming into the room”…..And so with a stoical mind and a shrug of inevitability Stoner fills his days with the enquiring and challenging minds of his students and his lifelong love of books and the written word. Katherine Driscoll, a student completing her dissertation, falls in love with Stoner and he, whose life is totally devoid of any affection, reciprocates this much wanted attention. For a time, his personal and private life were full of joy but under pressure from departmental elders the affair ended….”He had wanted love; and he had had love, and had relinquished  it, had let it go into the chaos of potentiality. Katherine, he thought. Katherine.”…….

 

The life of Stoner is a life or ordinariness filled with those special moments, full of decisions taken, choices made, right or wrong, good or bad. It is a clever, poignant book and in many ways a reflection of any human life, and the inevitable fate that awaits us all. Beautiful storytelling and highly recommended.

 

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