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Been reading any fun books lately?

At first I was going to title this "Fun and informative books by Simon Winchester" - then I got to thinking this might be a good thread for others to share their good reads also, thus the new title.

I'm not much into works of fiction, I'd much rather spend my time learning about people, place and this fantastic planet I was born into.  I also don't have that much down time for sitting around and reading books, besides when I do have that sort of down time, I'd rather focus on trying to write.  My salvation has been Books on Tape, well that's how it started, Audiobooks nowadays.

Among my favorite authors Simon Winchester, who also seems to narrate all his own books, he's got the voice and delivery that does his epic topics justice. 
http://www.simonwinchester.com/adult-books/

The Map that changed the World - the amazing, frustrating and tough story of the unsung hero of the birth of geology William Smith, the canal digger who from his first discoveries in 1793 spent the next two decades creating the first geologic map.

The Professor and the Madman - the equally amazing and even more bizarre story of the two decade relationship between 
Professor James Murray (editor of the original Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857), and the "lunatic" Dr. William Chester Minor (who became one of his most proficient contributors while being justifiably confined in an asylum.).  Besides an amazing human drama, it's also the story of the inception and creation of the seminal Oxford English Dictionary.

Krakatoa - a spell binding full spectrum story of the
 cataclysmic disaster - encompassing the geology and human history and unfolding of event, including aftermath and "rebirth" of the island.

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories - that about sums it up.  The eye open in this telling was learning about the Cod fisheries and how influential it was to the Africa-American slave trade.  Not quite as riveting a listen as some of his others that I've listened to, but plenty informative and interesting just the same.

A Crack in the Edge of the World - Here Winchester retells the story of the San Francisco Earthquake with his typical excellent mix of the geologic history and human history of California.  

This one hit a soft spot but I find retelling it takes too much telling - suffice it to say, listening to his excellent description and anecdotes of the central California landmark, (that provides the most far seeing vista of any US mountain, according to the author), - Mt.Diablo, as I coincidently found myself in its neighborhood for the first time in nearly three decades.  Back four and a half decades ago that sentinel of a mountain used to be a beacon for this high schooler who dreamt only of getting through school, then escaping the mega city and running to Yosemite Nat'l Park and a life of adventure.  

Wow, reflecting on those stats, I'm again amazed at how the years have raced by and I've been paying attention to every day, so I can't whine: where did it all go.  Still, it's true, in the end it's like the wink of an eye.  (Incidentally it was the relistening to this book while working today, that inspired me to share my love of this author.)

For the record Simon Winchester has authored many more books than this meager reading list.

_______________________________________________________________________________

What have you enjoyed reading lately?


John Seers

Comments

  • I read a great little book over the summer called

    Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli - as the title suggests quite a small book but very accessible to someone like me who for some reason seemed to miss the beauty of science when I was young

    one reason I find the whole climate science debate so fascinating (accepting the that we really should not be having a debate at all)

    is that it has enabled me to revisit stuff that I should have learned many years ago

    one thing from the book that fascinated me was the chapter on "heat" and the work of Boltzmann

    fascinating

  • I read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics only last week. A good book as it focuses on thinking about how it works/feels rather than losing people in the maths. When it comes down to it physicists have shown the Universe is a strange place. Though I think philosophers got their first, showing that when you deeply think about any issue it becomes weird and complicated.

    Currently I am reading The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch, a follow on of his book The Fabric of Reality. The main theme of the book is that knowledge is gained in a Popperian way, conjecture (creativity) -> criticism -> explanation. That the best theories are not predictions (see problems of induction), the best are good explanations. He believes that with the scientific style of gaining knowledge our future progress and knowledge is unbounded (the beginnings of infinity) and he takes time criticising other ideas he thinks are wrong.

    I really like the book even though I probably disagree with 40% but that is true of any book on ideas/philosophy I have read. If a book makes you think and you agreed with all of it then you wouldn't be thinking hard enough :)
  • MightyDrunken said:
     If a book makes you think and you agreed with all of it then you wouldn't be thinking hard enough :)
    True enough, although recently I was talking with a friend about a different kind of reading experience. The book that anticipates things you are already wrestling with, confirming and reinforcing what were poorly formed thoughts of one's own.
     
    Back in 1992 I read Bill McKibben's "End of Nature" - It was like water in a hot desert, since I'd been fretting about what we were doing to our planet for a couple decades already and receiving nothing but but grief when I tried sharing those concerns.  It literally felt like glory be I'm not the crazy one after all.  

  • tadaaa said:

    I read a great little book over the summer called

     The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch, a follow on of his book The Fabric of Reality
    They have some YouTube talks too
    Carlo Rovelli @ 5x15 - Seven brief lessons on physics
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aGHG0Jahzc
    Carlo Rovelli: "Why Physics needs Philosophy"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ0uPkG-pr4

    The Unity Of The Universe - David Deutsch
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WMo5UvWvLg

    ( What can I say, my free reading time is limited and I've gotten to love listening to YouTube lectures by smart people describing their books or science efforts, beats the ball game pretty near everytime ;)   )

    tadaaa
  • I read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics only last week. A good book as it focuses on thinking about how it works/feels rather than losing people in the maths. When it comes down to it physicists have shown the Universe is a strange place. Though I think philosophers got their first, showing that when you deeply think about any issue it becomes weird and complicated.

    Currently I am reading The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch, a follow on of his book The Fabric of Reality. The main theme of the book is that knowledge is gained in a Popperian way, conjecture (creativity) -> criticism -> explanation. That the best theories are not predictions (see problems of induction), the best are good explanations. He believes that with the scientific style of gaining knowledge our future progress and knowledge is unbounded (the beginnings of infinity) and he takes time criticising other ideas he thinks are wrong.

    I really like the book even though I probably disagree with 40% but that is true of any book on ideas/philosophy I have read. If a book makes you think and you agreed with all of it then you wouldn't be thinking hard enough :)

    Thanks...I ordered both of these.
  • That the best theories are not predictions (see problems of induction), the best are good explanations.

    Maybe the same, maybe related: Predictions are overrated, explanations are underrated.

    The Copernican model with the sun in the middle predicted the movement of the planets less good than the highly tuned older model with the Earth in the middle. What made Copernicus convincing was the observation of moons around other planets. The explanation was better, not the prediction (initially).

    My book recommendation would be: Complexity. Also fits to the climate system and the atmosphere, which are complex systems. Complex in the sense of consisting of many interacting parts.

    http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/13/2/reviews/3.html

    tadaaa
  • That the best theories are not predictions (see problems of induction), the best are good explanations.

    Maybe the same, maybe related: Predictions are overrated, explanations are underrated.

    The Copernican model with the sun in the middle predicted the movement of the planets less good than the highly tuned older model with the Earth in the middle. What made Copernicus convincing was the observation of moons around other planets. The explanation was better, not the prediction (initially).

    My book recommendation would be: Complexity. Also fits to the climate system and the atmosphere, which are complex systems. Complex in the sense of consisting of many interacting parts.

    http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/13/2/reviews/3.html

    Hah, love it.  Look at what I found on You Tube
    Complexity a Guided Tour - Melanie Mitchell
    Santa Fe Alliance for Science
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYChwJq0310

    Published on Sep 23, 2013

    Melanie Mitchell is Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University, and External Professor and Member of the Science Board at the Santa Fe Institute. She attended Brown University, where she majored in mathematics and did research in astronomy, and the University of Michigan, where she received a Ph.D. in computer science, 

    Her dissertation, in collaboration with her advisor Douglas Hofstadter, was the development of Copycat, a computer program that makes analogies. She has held faculty or professional positions at the University of Michigan, the Santa Fe Institute, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the OGI School of Science and Engineering, and Portland State University. She is the author or editor of five books and over 70 scholarly papers in in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and complex systems. 

    Her most recent book, Complexity: A Guided Tour, published in 2009 by Oxford University Press, is the winner of the 2010 Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award. It was also named by Amazon.com as one of the ten best science books of 2009, and was longlisted for the Royal Society's 2010 book prize.

    Hear a radio interview with the speaker here: http://bit.ly/15nd4jn

    Cool talk.
  • I can recommend 'A Short History Of Nearly Everything' by Bill Bryson. It's not really related to climate change, but it's a very entertaining journey through the past, all the way from the big bang to what's going on today and how humanity came to be through all of that. One thing I really liked is that it's an optimistic book that still shows how even very smart people can be wrong (occasionally hilariously so). Lots of weird trivia about scientists and how they try to figure out how the world around us works.
  • I can recommend 'A Short History Of Nearly Everything' by Bill Bryson. It's not really related to climate change, but it's a very entertaining journey through the past, all the way from the big bang to what's going on today and how humanity came to be through all of that. One thing I really liked is that it's an optimistic book that still shows how even very smart people can be wrong (occasionally hilariously so). Lots of weird trivia about scientists and how they try to figure out how the world around us works.


    I can second that - I read it a few summers ago, and it really grabbed me and gave me a new found interest in science

    I particularly liked his opening thought, the initial thought that gave him the premise to write the book

    he simply asked himself the question "how do we know what we know?" - and the answer is unsurprisingly through science

    I also found it fascinating that it was only just over a century ago that the age of the earth was simply not known - and even heavyweights like Lord Kelvin had little idea

    from memory it was E=MC2 that was the key needed to finally unlocked the mystery of the age of the sun, and by extension the earth

    another lovely story was the inability of Darwin's theory of evolution to explain the similarity of fossils in South American and Africa

    Plate Tectonics was the beautifully simple answer












  • I found Steven Mithen's 'After the Ice' to be a very readable history of human migration and development after the peak of the last ice age.

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