logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: MbDScience
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-12-13 03:26
The Science of Discworld (Revised Edition)
The Science Of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

This book.  I'm shaking my head over this book.

 

It boils down to three things:

 

The Discworld portion of the book, involving the Unseen University, is excellent; 4 stars.  Pratchett's writing is always good, even when it's average for him, and the UU storyline doesn't disappoint.  I loved the verbal interplay between the Archchancellor and the Dean.  The librarian and Rincewind also kept me going when I was at risk of wandering away during the science-y chapters.

 

The Science part of the book was also, if distilled down to its essence, good.  Solid.  Accurate, if dated (even the revised edition is over 10 years old now).  The explanation of some difficult concepts sometimes even reaches inspired in its clarity.

 

The rest of the science writing is... well.  Hmph.  The authors of the science sections decided to weave commentary throughout their chapters; I don't know if they were going for a whole Statler and Waldorf vibe, or really are the supremely condescending and arrogant gits they sound like, but either way - I didn't like them.  At all.  Which really in the grand scheme of things matters not a wit, except that I'll avoid anything else either of these two puts their name on, and that amounts to a raindrop in an ocean.

 

They started off with this whole ridiculous premise they call lies-to-children, which, if you've read any of my status updates so far, you'll be fed up to your eyeballs hearing about, so suffice it to say they don't understand the meaning of the word lie and leave it at that.  Even though they don't, and proceed to condescend to the reader throughout the book, telling them they've been believing these lies-to-children all along; everything the reader thinks they know is wrong and then proceeds to explain the concepts using simplified terms in easy to understand ways.  You know, lies-to-children.

 

The thing is, most of the time I did understand the concept just fine before they started in, and wasn't at all wrong about what I, in fact, knew thankyouverymuch.  And maybe I'm not the target audience for this book; that's fair.  But the hypocrisy of condescending to the reader out of one side of their mouths by telling them what they believe to know is wrong, while simultaneously condescending to them out of the other side of their mouths by re-explaining the concept in terms just as simplified is simply too rich. 

 

I was worried about giving concrete examples of this hypocrisy because I'm crap at taking notes (as in: I don't.) while I read and figured I'd never find those examples again.  But it just now occurred to me to check the index, and, sure enough, there's an index entry for lies-to-children.  Excellent!

 

In chapter 26, Stewart and Cohan take exception to the term genetic code, conflating the term with genetic blueprint.  To be fair, most people do and they're right, DNA is not a genetic blueprint.  But it is genetic coding - something they later refer to and claim as being the only part of the DNA we do, at this time, understand.  So... thanks for clearing that up.

 

In chapter 36 - on dinosaurs - they mention a bunch of fiction including the cartoon Fantasia, quote a psychologist named Helen Haste who claims that we all think of dinosaurs as icons of sex and power (you might, I sure as hell don't; they're just really cool, freaky-looking reptiles), and infer that these are the basis of our knowledge concerning dinosaurs.  Really?  Is this true?  All I remember from Fantasia is Mickey doing his Sorcerer's Apprentice bit, and maybe something about hippos in tutus?  And I've never read Wells or The Lost World, so I'm pretty sure the bulk of my knowledge about dinosaurs came from Discover Magazine as a kid and later, NewScientist.  

 

There are other examples, I'm sure, and don't even get me started on the whole idea that they know what happens when life on earth ends.  They are wrong by sheer dint that nobody knows what happens.  You can feel certain within yourself that you know what will happen to you, but that is not empirical certainty and to believe otherwise is a...lie-to-children!

 

So - did not like the commentary.  2 stars for that.  3 star average.  Won't be reading anymore of their stuff, although I'm with Pratchett until the wheels fall off.

 

 

Book themes for Newtonmas:  Any science book.  

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-12-04 09:58
Reading progress update: I've read 0 out of 414 pages.
The Science Of Discworld - Terry Pratchett,Jack Cohen,Ian Stewart

 

Recent disputes between staff and management at la maison des chats choyés have prohibited me from making progress on the Flat Book Society's Rogue Buddy Read.  After exhausting negotiations resulting in an increase in lap times in exchange for the release of the hostage, I hope to be able to make a significant dent tonight (in the book, not the cat) and catch up with everyone else.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-11-13 08:56
Forensics: The Anatomy of a Crime
Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid

I have so many thoughts about this book and they're scattered all over the joint.  

 

It occurred to me as I finally finished reading it that we sometimes come at books in much the same way faulty investigators come at a crime scene: we take in the initial information (in our case, the title, cover and jacket flap) and make assumptions as to how the book is going to play out.  If, as we start to read the book, it fails to fulfil our assumptions, we tend to then judge it on its failure to be what thought it would be, instead of judging it on what it is.  

 

The differences between investigating crimes and reading books are ... obvious and profound, but in the case of books, the blame lies squarely on poor marketing.  This book, for instance, has had two titles.  It's original on release was Forensics: Anatomy of a Crime (the edition I have) and then upon reprinting, it was named Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime.  It's former title is problematic, but not misleading.  Those that choose the book based on the latter I think are bound for disappointment, unless they know absolutely nothing about forensics, have only a general interest in it, and very little curiosity about the actual science involved.

 

I wanted the science.  I expected the science.  I wasn't expecting the very journalistic style of the narrative.  That part is on me, because I've never before read McDermid and didn't know about her background in journalism.  I really dislike the style of writing journalists do; in too many cases the narrative ends up with a sensationalist tone that feels manipulative and turns me off.  This book started off that way and had it not been for reassurances by friends that it would get better, I doubt I'd have continued reading it.  

 

Thankfully, I found the remaining chapters more palatable, and once I re-adjusted my expectations (i.e. this is not a science book) I was able to more or less find something interesting in each.  I also was left wanting though, too; she mentions the science, but never how it's done.  She doesn't explain why polymerase enzyme would make DNA 'replicate the hell out of itself', or how forensics scientists lift fingerprints from seemingly impossible places.  And I really had a problem with some statistics she included in the chapter on blood spatter/DNA, concerning the number of African-descent males in the UK vs US databases.  I'm not objecting to the veracity of it, but the writing in that section was so badly done that at first glance, it appears she's using her words to skew the reader's perception.  It took my husband and I 5 minutes of reading it and re-reading it before we decided it was probably just very terrible editing.

 

But there were lots of interesting bits too; with the right expectations, this would not be a wasted or disappointing read.  For those with an interest in true crime and history, this book might be a winner.  It's easy reading, the crimes she chooses are interesting (when they aren't horrific) and the book rarely drags.

 

At the end of the day, Forensics and the author would have been better served had they stuck with Anatomy of a Crime as a subtitle and marketed it as General Interest / True Crime*.  As such, I think it would have a found a very appreciative audience.  As it is, marketing it as a Popular Science book is setting everyone up for disappointment.

 

*Oddly enough, the publisher did list the subject as "True Crime", but then proceeded to use the back cover / page flap to sell the book as using "ground-breaking research" to "lay bare the secrets of this fascinating science".   

 

And finally, my husband asked that I include his complete annoyance with the flies printed on all the pages of the book; he didn't read it, but every time he saw me with it, he'd catch a glimpse of the flies and think I'd squashed one between the pages. If they insisted on persevering with that theme, at least vary the squashed insects...

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-10-10 08:54
The Last Alchemist in Paris & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry
The Last Alchemist in Paris: & Other Curious Tales from Chemistry - Lars Ohrstrom

I'm being generous in my rating of this book because I genuinely enjoyed it.  It gets off to a rough start in terms of readability in the first couple of chapters, but it rights itself and becomes a wonderfully interesting wander through some of the elements in the periodic table.  Yes, the science is hard (there are a lot of chemical equations and illustrations of molecules), but the author ties it all to historical anecdotes and uses a very conversational style of writing, so even if some of the science feels impenetrable, it's easy to come away from each chapter getting at least the gist of what he's saying.

 

The extra 1/2 star is a bonus because he's a very well read (or as least a widely reading) chemist:  he frequently refers to not only Christie and Sayers' works, but Stieg Larsson, Clive Cussler, and Ian McEwan and Astrid Lindgren amongst others.

 

I'm grateful to Tannat for making me aware this book exists.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-09-14 05:39
Gulp.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

Where to start?  

 

This was the book chosen (by popular vote) as The Flat Book Society's first official read.  Opinions seem to be firmly split down the middle, and while possibly an inauspicious start to our fledgling club, it definitely generated a lot of discussion.  

 

My personal feelings about the book started off complicated:  this is not the book I signed up for.  I was hoping for an accessible but scientific look at the human digestive process from start to finish, looking at each step of the process in relative detail.  I think a lot of us thought that was the book we were getting.

 

Gulp is not that book.

 

At first this was disappointing - it still is in the sense of the curiosity unfulfilled - but as I continued reading, and adjusted my expectations once it became obvious I was not going to get the book I expected, I ended up enjoying it a lot.

 

Anyone who has ever read Judith Stone's columns in Discover magazine (a very long time ago) will know what to expect from Gulp (some of them were published in a book called Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity).  Mary Roach is Judith Stone's successor, writing about the science that either seems trivial to most people, or the science no one wants to talk about.  Obviously, Gulp is the latter.

 

This is an overview of digestion in general; not just human, although that is the primary focus.  Roach looks at it from both an anthropological view, discussing the effects our social views and taboos about digestion have on everything from the food we eat, to the medical care we receive, as well as the scientific as she interviews scientists, looks at case histories and discuses current research.  

 

Think of Gulp as an introduction; an audit (in the US English sense of the word), of the vast science of gastroenterology, written with a whole lot of humor. Roach never shies away from a joke, a double entendre, or a bit of lighthearted but vulgar fun.  She never stoops to locker room level humour and she never does it at the expense of accuracy, but you can tell she's had a good time writing this book.  She'd definitely be someone I'd enjoy meeting, although probably not at any social event including food.

 

If that's the kind of book that appeals to you, definitely check this out; it will be informative and entertaining.  If you're hoping for a more focused look at the intricacies of eating and digestion, pass this one on by; it will definitely disappoint.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?