Very Brief Book Reviews: Part III
Finally, I’m caught up. Two of the three books below (Greene and Sobel) are actually audiobooks. I got tired of listening to podcasts and decided to load up the iPod with audiobooks for the last three day weekend. They provided a nice distraction on some otherwise tedious days working in an empty lab with nothing but loud voices, arguing over the merits (or lack thereof) of RT-PCR, drifting in from the lab next door.
Secrets of Saffron by Pat Willard – First notice that this is a non-fiction book, not fiction. Books with facts in them usually get a lot of leeway even if they’re deathly dull. But this is one of the rare instances in which the author’s voice intrudes to the point that I wanted to tear out the pages in long, agonizing rips before throwing the damn thing out the window. The only thing preventing me from doing this is that I had no wish to damage library property. Talking about the history and culture of saffron is all well and good (the addition of recipes don’t hurt either), but I don’t want to hear about the author’s failed love relationships or other episodes in her personal life that have minimal, if any, relevance to the topic on hand.
The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene – Since I’ve read The Elegant Universe, this one seemed almost like deja vu because the two books are so complimentary to each other. There’s a nice historical progression of how the concept of space evolved–from Newton to Einstein to now–as well as some interesting thoughts on quantum entanglement and the current state of superstring theory. In contrast to the above review, Greene only inserts himself where appropriate and his prose is both accessible and non-intrusive.
The Planets by Dava Sobel – Take a tour from Mercury to Pluto with plenty of interesting detours to the history behind the planets’ discoveries, the mythologies weaved by the ancients about these heavenly bodies, culture ranging from calendars to classical music, and even scientific controversy. There’s nothing particularly new to learn in this book if you’ve kept up with science news and know a bit about the history of science, but it was a pleasing diversion nonetheless.