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review 2018-07-20 08:13
The Portable Cosmos by Alexander Jones
A Portable Cosmos: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World - Alexander Jones

TITLE:  The Portable Cosmos:  Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World

 

AUTHOR:  Alexander Jones

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780199739349

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Book Description:

 

"From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Terracotta Army, ancient artifacts have long fascinated the modern world. However, the importance of some discoveries is not always immediately understood. This was the case in 1901 when sponge divers retrieved a lump of corroded bronze from a shipwreck at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea near the Greek island of Antikythera. Little did the divers know they had found the oldest known analog computer in the world, an astonishing device that once simulated the motions of the stars and planets as they were understood by ancient Greek astronomers. Its remains now consist of 82 fragments, many of them containing gears and plates engraved with Greek words, that scientists and scholars have pieced back together through painstaking inspection and deduction, aided by radiographic tools and surface imaging. More than a century after its discovery, many of the secrets locked in this mysterious device can now be revealed.

In addition to chronicling the unlikely discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism, author Alexander Jones takes readers through a discussion of how the device worked, how and for what purpose it was created, and why it was on a ship that wrecked off the Greek coast around 60 BC. What the Mechanism has uncovered about Greco-Roman astronomy and scientific technology, and their place in Greek society, is truly amazing. The mechanical know-how that it embodied was more advanced than anything the Greeks were previously thought capable of, but the most recent research has revealed that its displays were designed so that an educated layman could understand the behavior of astronomical phenomena, and how intertwined they were with one's natural and social environment. It was at once a masterpiece of machinery as well as one of the first portable teaching devices. Written by a world-renowned expert on the Mechanism, A Portable Cosmos will fascinate all readers interested in ancient history, archaeology, and the history of science.
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The conglomerate of corroded and broken bronze pieces, eventually known as the  Antikythera Mechanism, were salvaged from a shipwreck in the early 1900s.  Initially, the fragments were studied without any certainty of what they were. By the end of that century it was confirmed that the metal device with its gears and advanced clockwork mecahnism was some kind of analog computer.  It was eventually determined that the mechanism predicted phases of the moon, planetary positions and even eclipses with great precision.

A Portable Cosmos provides a description of the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism, an extensive  desciption of the device itself and how it worked, as well as the ancient astronomy behind it.   Jones explores the mystery of the Antikythera mechanism in a no nonsense fashion and includes relevant diagrams and photographs where necessary.  The author does a thorough job of presenting numerous related topics such as the history of astronomy and astrology, calendrics and the mechanics of eclipses, as well as any ancient records of such a mechanism.  Cicero wrote about a planetarium that Archimedes used as a teaching tool, which may have been similar to the Antikythera mechanism.  The book is devided into thematic chapters, so if the technical aspects are too detailed, the reader can skip these chapters without missing out too much.  This book is scholarly and rather technical, but is none the less absorbing and very interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-06-26 11:36
Burning Planet by Andrew C. Scott
Burning Planet: The Story of Fire Through Time - Andrew Scott

TITLE:  Burning Planet:  The Story of Fire

 

AUTHOR:  Andrew C. Scott

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-19-873484-0

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In this book, Scott examines the nature and history of fire, from the inception of the Earth to present times.  He also takes a look at how humans interact with fire and the difficulty in determining a defining national fire policy.  The author covers such topics as the impact of natural and man-made fire on the Earth's atmosphere, climate, ecology, vegetation, the evolution of flora and fauna (e.g. the possible causes of mass extinctions and the spread of flowering plants and grasslands), and how early hominids tamed and used fire.  A lot of fossilized charcoal and charcoalified (I didn't know this was a word!) plants make an appearance in this book, accompanied by numerous diagrams, photographs, and graphs.  Scott also briefly discusses the current impacts and management of wildfires.  The book is clearly written without numerous, lengthy, tedious, biographical or travelogue side tangents.  The information contained within these pages is interesting and the diagrams extremely useful in understanding the information conveyed.

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-30 09:28
The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin
The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

TITLE:  The Evolution Underground:  Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet.

 

AUTHOR:  Anthony J. Martin

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-68177-312-4

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In this book, ichnologist Anthony J. Martin takes a look at how burrowing animals have evolved and influenced the ecology of this planet.  Martin starts off with alligators and gopher tortoises, ancient subterranean human settlements in Turkey and more modern underground Cold War bunkers, then travels through time to see what trace evidence and fossils prehistoric animals have left for burrowing behaviour - everything from the first worms, the first vertebrates and invertebrates, insects, dinosaurs, birds, penguins, giant ground sloths, crabs, shrimp, moles, gophers, earthworms and more.  

Martin shows  that burrowing animals are ecosystem engineers that alter their habitats through burrowing action.    He provides a fascinating eye-opening account of earth altering underground activities that effect the flora and fauna that exist on the surface of the planet.  

Martin also theorises that burrowing strategies of prehistoric and contemporary animals help in their survival during catastrophes and the survival of their species, and thus their evolutionary development, after the catastrophes.  Afterall, burrows provide shelter and protection, a reduction in extreme temperature fluctuations, minimized dessication during droughts, safe places to procreate and raise young, and on occassion food storage facilities.  Martin compares the survivors of major prehistoric catastrophes with the survivors of minor modern catastrophes, using examples like the pocket gophers that were hibernating during the eruption of Mt St. Helens.  The sleeping pocket gophers awoke to found an ash and lava covered landscape with minimal food, but due to a shortage in predators and a full storage larder, the gophers survived, prospered and also helped with seed dispersal and soil movement.

Martin is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his subject.  This book adds a new perspective to evolution, extinction and ecosystem engineering.  There are 85 pages of note references, a whole wad of colour photographs/ illustrations, and a list of genera and species mentioned in the book.  The writing style manages to lively, fun, on the odd occasion amusing,  and informative at the same time.

 

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review 2017-11-13 06:59
How to Build a Dinosaur by Jack Horner & James Gorman
How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution - Jack Horner,James Gorman

TITLE:  How to Build a Dinosaur:  Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever

 

AUTHOR:  Jack Horner & James Gorman

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2009

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-101-02871-1

 

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This is a horribly written book. There is a ridiculous amount of completely irrelevant filler, a few interesting dinosaur bits and pieces that have nothing to do with the book title (and presumably subject) and then a magazine article length section on "how to build a dinosaur" by fiddling with chicken genomes, along with how the general public is going to freak out about it. The author spends the entire first chapter babbling about a town in the middle of nowhere, how to get there, local gossip and a bit of local history i.e. irrelevant filler. Then there is a section on finding evidence of dinosaur blood cells and collagen, with some pointless pot-shots at creationists (they might be crazy but do you really have to include it in the book, especially since it doesn't accomplish anything?), and too much details about the scientists personal life. The sections dealing with the techniques used was interesting, but there was too little substance and far too much filler. The writing is also simplistic but overly verbose, and got boring after a while.

 

NOTE: The book was published in 2009, so some of the scientific data discussed may well be out of date by now, especially anything related to genetic alterations.

 

 

INTERESTING ARTICLE (2015)

 

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review 2017-11-09 07:58
My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs - Brian Switek

TITLE:  My Beloved Brontosaurus:  On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs

 

AUTHOR:  Brian Switek

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  2013

 

FORMAT:  ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9781466836761

 

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This book provides an entertaining though broad overview of dinosaur life, including such topics as dinosaur evolution, feathers, society, sounds, parasites and movement.  Brian Switek takes a chatty road trip through North America visiting a variety of Dinosaur Museums, reminiscing about his childhood obsession with dinosaurs.   There isn't anything new in this book for me and the personal musings about dinosaurs I found rather irritating, but this would make a good book for a dinosaur obsessed youngster.  The inclusion of a large number of diagrams and photographs is a bonus.

 

 

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