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review 2017-04-29 01:35
Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures tells the story of the role that women “computers,” particularly female African-American “computers” played in the birth of the aeronautics industry.  This is an important story, a story that should have been better known a long time ago, especially considering how important race and gender were, and still are, in the US.

 

Biographies tell what people did; the best also tell who people were – their personalities and what they cared about.  1st time author, Ms. Shetterley generally does a good, though dry, job telling a story about Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden.  But at the end I didn’t feel like I know the women themselves. I am currently #65 on the hold list for the movie.  I wonder if I’ll have a better sense for who Dorothy, Mary, Katherine and Christine really are after watching some of the scenes I just read about come to life.

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review 2017-04-25 05:53
Paul Dirac, Peter Goddard (editor)
Paul Dirac: The Man and His Work - Abraham Pais

Note the sub-title: this book consists of four lectures about Dirac, his work and developments from it in physics and mathematics, plus Hawking's laughably ignorant memorial address. (He repeatedly insulted his hosts for delaying for 11 years an event that was, in fact, only one year beyond the minimum requirement of ten years post Dirac's death.)

 

Only the first lecture is really biographical and even that takes time out to discuss Dirac's scientific contributions. From there the book gets progressively more technically challenging, ending with a lecture on the Dirac operator and spinors that in detail is going to be incomprehensible to anyone without an advanced working knowledge of topology. (The gist is that we have no clue what spinors mean, geometrically, in the way we know what vectors and tensors are, for example.)

 

In between, there's good stuff on antimatter from prediction to present day understanding and similarly Dirac's magnetic monopoles then to now.

 

Much of this book will go over the heads of the casual reader and if you want anything more than a cursory biography, you will also need to look elsewhere, but for physicists, it's a worthwhile publication.

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review 2017-04-24 13:28
Charles Darwin - David C. King

Unfortunately, unlike its series companion about Einstein (by a different author) I can't recommend this book, even to its intended age group.

 

Most seriously, there are factual errors: Darwin was not the official naturalist aboard the Beagle. That role was taken by the ship's surgeon (as was often the case), who, jealous of Darwin, quit at the first opportunity and sailed home. (Fortunately FitzRoy was able to hire a new surgeon before continuing the voyage.)

 

Secondly, there are typographical problems that go beyond just the occasional spelling error into missed and repeated parts of sentences.

 

Thirdly, in a book that has separate, boxed definitions for such concepts as "geology", words like "ecosystem" go by without any explanation at all.

 

Not good, which is a shame, since Darwin and his science are so enormously important.

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review 2017-04-22 10:51
Albert Einstein, Frieda Wishinsky
Albert Einstein - Frieda Wishinsky

If one respects the fact that this series is aimed at young people (young enough to need things like "geometry" and "Fascism" defined for them) then I think this is quite a good little book. It's short and inevitably superficial but I'm not sure how it could be anything else considering the intended audience. Nevertheless it gives an insight into Einstein's character and at least an indication of the significance of some of his work.

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text 2017-04-22 00:16
Reading progress update: I've read 71 out of 128 pages.
Albert Einstein - Frieda Wishinsky

Einstein knew Franz Kafka when they were contemporaries in Prague!

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