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review 2017-08-11 12:59
The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science
The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science - Sandra Hempel

Overall, this was good.  Hempel frames the rudimentary beginnings of forensic science - specifically toxicology - within the narrative of a famous poisoning case of the time, that of the Bodle family, which resulted in the death of George Bodle, the rather wealthy patriarch.  

 

She sets up a rather thrilling beginning; I was at once riveted to the story as we're walked through the morning of the poisoning.  I very much wanted to know what was going to happen next. 

 

And this is where Hempel falters.  Because just when you're on the edge of your seat, she launches into the science, the scientists and the research of the time, which leads her into side avenues of other contemporary cases. These are also interesting, but she throws so many names and events at the reader in these side alleys to her narrative, that by the time she wends her way back to the Bodles, I've lost track of who everybody was.  

 

This becomes slightly less of a problem in the second half of the book, as things become too exciting for Hempel to get sidetracked, but it's still a regular occurrence.  And the thing is, these deviations are the part where all the interesting science-y bits are; about all the attempts at trying to detect arsenic definitively; how Marsh was inspired to create his game-changing test, and how it wasn't *quite* the game-changer so many pinned their hopes on.  And it's all good stuff.  But Hempel is a victim of her own success at spinning a gripping narrative; I started out wanting the science-y bits but ended up just wanting to know who killed George Bodle.

 

Worth reading, definitely.  But it's not necessarily an easy read for unexpected reasons.

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review 2017-08-01 10:24
The History of Birdwatching in 100 Objects - sort of a DNF
A History of Birdwatching in 100 Objects - Dominic Mitchell,David Callahan

I'm stopping midway through; it's not bad, but it's definitely a case of a trendy bandwagon that's suffering from over-crowding.  Nobody is ever going to convince me that Microsoft's PowerPoint changed the world of Birdwatching forever.

 

I'll likely pick it up again at some point in the future, but right now I'm just too impatient with their stretching of the envelope.  Non-fiction should not require me to suspend disbelief (unless it's string theory).  If you ask me, they might have been better off sticking with 50 objects.

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review 2017-07-31 10:01
The Unseen City
Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness - Nathanael Johnson

When I received this in the post, I was initially excited, but when I flipped it over to get the ISBN number, I saw the classification:  "Nature/Parenting".  I don't parent, unless you count herding cats, so I was afraid I'd stuck myself with a book that wasn't going to work for me.

 

I need't have worried - this is a great book!  The author uses his desire to interest his toddler daughter in science as the framework for this book, and at least once waxes a bit to philosophically, but overall, he sticks to (sorry parents) the good stuff.

 

Johnson breaks the book up into chapters involving animals that almost everyone in the world can find in their back yard (sadly, Aussies don't have squirrels, a state of affairs which I maintain makes their lives just a little less joyous):  pigeons, weeds, snails, crows, the ginkgo tree, etc.  Each topic is touched on enough to introduce and often fascinate the reader with just how diverse and unique the life under your urban feet can be.  I found myself reading much of this out loud to my husband, and Johnson has me mulling over the idea of starting a long term journal of my garden's wildlife.

 

The writing is easy and entertaining and I found myself reluctant to put it down, making it one of the faster-paced non-fiction/science books on my shelf.  The bibliography at the back has at least 2 titles I'll be hunting down soon (on edible weeds and which ones taste good).  It's a thoroughly enjoyable read and honestly, worth it alone for the stories about the crows.

 

 

 

 

My last BookLikes-opoly book:   209

$$: $12.00  (3x location multiplier)

 

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review 2017-07-19 11:27
The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

The Lost Hero of Science is not hyperbole.  It's one of the great tragedies of history that this man's name is no longer on the tip of every man, woman and child's tongue (at least in the English speaking world).

 

I don't know where to begin, but to put it as concisely as possible, read any headline about environmental science today and Humboldt called it almost 200 years ago.  Deforestation: check.  Desertification: check. The long term devastation of monoculture: check.  Climate change: check.  At the more extreme ends, he was calling for the creation of the Panama canal decades before it was a glint in America's eye and he insisted that even rocks contain life (they do - look it up).

 

Humboldt was acerbic, impatient, and had a level of energy few can imagine without pharmaceutical assistance.  He devoted his life in every way to science and nature, eschewing most personal relationships in favour of relentless study, but he was also generous with his knowledge and money - much to the betterment of the world and the detriment of his finances.  He was in almost every way a true hero, as the title claims, and unarguably a role-model for more than just fellow scientists.  Without Humboldt we very likely would not have Darwin (Darwin himself said without Humboldt, he would not have found his calling on the Beagle).  Without Humboldt we wouldn't have those lines on weather maps, either (isotherms/isobars).

 

In short, his life was incredible and Wulf does a better than creditable job illustrating not only his adventures and indefatigable levels of energy, but his impact on the world; not just scientists, but artists, authors, poets and politicians.  She writes a very readable narrative and communicates what must have been an enormous amount of information in a way that remains coherent throughout.  She remains objective but is never dry or academic.  My half-star demerit is only because some of the chapters devoted to others I found less interesting that the star of the book himself.

 

I'd like to insist that every single person read this book, but realistically... every single person should read this book.  For those that enjoy science and history, it's a definite do-not-miss.

 

(This was a BookLikes-opoly Free Friday Read for July 7th and was 341 pages (minus the various appendices and index).

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review 2017-06-20 11:53
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life - Helen Czerski

A pretty excellent book for anyone who gets a bit giddy about science and the everyday ways that science is part of everyone's life.

 

Czerski has a very accessible voice and a very clear way of explaining what are at times complex topics and she covers the gamut of topics:  electromagnetism, water tension, viscosity, plate tectonics, and Newton's laws of motion (I'm old-school) among them.  I learned so much about so many things and those that I had a basic understanding of, she elucidated in ways that really brought the concepts to life in better detail.  I had no idea that an electromagnet was what held down the tray in my toaster - did y'all know that?  That's why the tray doesn't stay down when the toaster is unplugged.  

 

So much of this book got read out loud to MT, who is not a lover of science, but even he found the bits I shared fascinating (he was equally surprised about the toaster), and there were so many suggestions throughout the book that can easily be done at home and I plan to do several of them with my nieces when next they are here - including building our own trebuchet.  

 

Honestly, anyone interested in science but might feel intimidated by the often tedious or complex explanations, or anyone who just thinks the science involved in the every day fascinating will get a lot out of this book.  Czerski often gets auto-biographical with her narrative, and sometimes it can feel a little forced, but she is a physicist, so why wouldn't she use her own experiences to illustrate her points?  (For the record, MT and I both think she and her friends got totally screwed over on the whole trebuchet debacle.)

 

Overall, a lot of fun.

 

 

 

 

Total pages: 358

$$:  6.00

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