Sunday, March 25, 2007

Book Report

When I am not at work, not writing, not cooking or eating, and not watching Horatio Hornblower, I am reading. Here is what I have read lately, in chronological order:

Yes, I majored in English. Yes, this is a book about physics. It may seem that I have no business being interested in special relativity, but I don’t see why that should stop me. There is nothing quite like sitting in your kitchen eating Cheerios and discovering that all the geometry you did in high school, and there was a lot of it, years and years of it, was only ONE OF TWO kinds of geometry that have so far been invented. I remember teachers saying, “This is Euclidean geometry,” but they never said, “And the other kind is Gaussian geometry, which projects lines onto spheres instead of planes.”

Spheres! Not planes! That is amazing. That is really amazing.

Also amazing: apparently, if you made the attempt, every second for 15 billion years, to walk through a wall, you would actually go through it once, because probability says that is how often the atoms that make up you and the wall will align perfectly so as not to interfere with each other. I only make the attempt to do this once every several years, usually when half asleep, usually with doors, and never with any scientific agenda in mind, but it’s good to know these humiliating incidents can now be construed as research.

Also amazing: anti-matter. It’s so amazing I can’t understand it. All I know is that it blows my mind.

Last but not least, this is impressive: so far, no experiment has disproved a theory in quantum physics. And quantum physics involves some crazy stuff. So that’s pretty cool.

The Humbled Blue Orb, in spite of its title, has several very good qualities, the main one being that the author has the rather extraordinary ability to explain very confusing concepts in physics. I knew a physicist once. The only thing he ever explained to me that I understood was how to make orange gumdrop cookies. So I would say David Klein, though an enthusiast and not a Ph.D., has a rather rare talent. Unfortunately, the copyediting was virtually nonexistent and I can’t tell you how tired I got of reading about “the law of conversation of energy.” Nevertheless, for some breakfast-time physics reading, it doesn’t get better than this.

Unless you prefer to read about DISEASE when you eat. This book was lying around at work and I was encouraged to take it home. Whenever there are unwanted books lying around at work, they end up on my desk, because I am like that person who can’t turn away a stray animal, only with books. And when I saw this, I reacted to the creepy bird-faced plague doctor much as a normal person would react to being handed an adorable fuzzy kitten, which unnerved a number of my co-workers. Is the plague not universally fascinating? Am I the only one who thinks a disease that can kill you within hours is totally awesome? I just don’t understand how you can look at this cover and not want to read this book.

Here is something I did not know: 40,000 years ago, when homo sapiens were hunters and gatherers, they were taller than we are now. And because they were more or less nomadic, they did not often stick around long enough to pollute their own water supply, and therefore suffered from much less disease. Thus, the book argues that progress creates perfect conditions for disease. I do not find this to be a helpful statement, since we can hardly go back to hunting and gathering at this point, but the fact that I do not find the argument compelling does not diminish the satisfaction of knowing a whole lot more disgusting things than I did before. As cool as it is, septicemia was getting old, and now I’ve got loads of new material. I won’t go into it here, because it will put Megan off whatever meal she is always eating when I tell her gross things, but I would just like to say that schistosomiasis was almost too much even for me. Almost.

I’ve had kind of an E. M. Forster thing going since randomly picking up A Passage to India last summer. I never know quite what to expect from him. He is a little like Shakespeare in that you’re not sure whether it’s a tragedy or a comedy until the end. The Longest Journey is apparently Forster’s personal favorite of all his novels. It is also apparently his least popular. I think the problem is the title. Compared to A Passage to India and A Room with a View, the title is more appropriate for the content but less evocative in general. Rather like the novel itself. However, at the halfway mark, I am still very much enjoying it. There’s almost nothing I like more than a novel, and Forster writes very novelly novels, complete with the requisite peevish old lady:

“I’m tired of you. Go and bathe in the sea.”
“All right.”

That’s quality.

This is another stray book. I am not reading it and probably won’t, but I am keeping it for its cover, which did not seem unusual to me until a co-worker picked it up and said, “Tolkien’s Tart?” I am still laughing about it.


Maeve said...

Hahaha. Isn't it your job to catch things like Tolkein's Tart?

Simon said...

Well, in fact, no. But fortunately it is not our book.

Ivan said...

you should read "A Short History of Nearly Everything" too. You would love it. Full of mad scientists and interesting ways the earth will rid itself of humans...

a love of trotsky and so on said...

since you refrained from comment, i was, for once, not eating my morning cereal only to be told about the pustules that are harbingers of PLAGUE.

also, that book was totally more interesting when i thought it said 'tart.' alas.

also also, my 'word verification' is 'tpntee.' tee hee!

Christi said...

hey i just realized you fixed it to say that Simon posted!!!!! FINALLY! The mysterious shroud has been lifted!!! Huzzah!!!

and now I'll ask you, have you read The DaVinci Code? I just finished it (it took me how many years to finally pick it up??) and I really liked his writing. I want to read his other book... angels and demons? is that one? I think that's the one. But yeah!! You should read it if you haven't. It has tons of neato stuff in it (that's textbook definition, too! :P shutup i'm tired i worked all day!)

and also also to "a love of trotsky etc", mine is "sshhauzz" which I think fabulous! :)

MEGAN said...

sshhauzz, i misspelled my name! i'll never get to have a real alter-ego now.

(doesn't sschauzz sound like an expletive from zoobilee zoo or something? not that there were a lot of expletives on that show; it was frightening in other ways.)

Simon said...

A Lover of Trotsky: Yeah, I don't remember many expletives in Zoobilee Zoo. However, I am reminded of that particularly horrifying CSI episode involving people dressed up as animals, and that puts the entire thing in a new light, expletives or no expletives.

Christi: I'm afraid I've taken vows never to read The Da Vinci Code, on account of my being an historical purist and a snot. However, may I say how delighted I am that now NEITHER of us is posting anonymously anymore! The new version of Blogger allows Simon and I to sign in separately and sign our names, which I could never figure out how to do before. It is ever so satisfying.

Christi said...

wait a minute, you said it lets you and simon sign in seperately... OH GOD there's TWO SIMON'S NOW?!?!!

and as a newly-to-be-Catholic, TDVC is in a sense, looked down upon by my upcoming faith... and they insist that it is complete drivel, and the author himself even said "hey guys, it's FICTION!" but it's still interesting to read :) His skill was what kept me reading, not the historical or symboligical aspects of it.

and today it is "ingwx" which reminds me of waxing spelled backwards, and that makes me remember i need to wax my eyebrows soon.

Simon said...

Sorry, sorry, I meant Ivan. You know, originally, Simon and Ivan were interchangeable, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, very literary eh eh? So I'm really just keeping up the tradition. It's not that I'm an idiot oh wait that could actually be it darn.

I'm glad you've moved to waxing from the buzzer or whatever. Much safer!