Thursday, 5 December 2013

Books, nearly there!

            I've now got to 55 mind-improving books, 5 to go to my 60 target, but I'll continue to tell you about good (or particularly bad) ones.
               Al-Khalili:Pathfinders looks at the history of science and maths origination in Arabic cultures, Persia Syria &c. It’s quite solid going, but with lots of fascinating bits of information. Many words like algorithm, algebra, gibberish and of course our numbers and the concept of zero are all their ideas. Seleucus, a Babylonian around 190 BCE came up with the strange idea that the sun, not the Earth, is the centre of the solar system.
 Knapp:Potted Histories is a lavishly illustrated large-format book looking at the main plant groups through classical illustrations. A brilliant idea, but the text is a bit meatless, and often doesn’t relate to the illustrations. The end-notes after each chapter would be much better if incorporated in the body of the text, but the snippets of history and about the people are good value.

 White:Natural History of Selbourne  consists of Gilbert White’s letters, mainly about birds from the 1770s & 80s. The language is quaint, particularly in respect of mating habits, very delicately alluded to, and he uses old spellings like oeconomy. It’s hard to imagine such precise observations of, for example the feeding-on-the-wing habits of swallows without access to binoculars or a camera, or observations on migration (sometimes wrong) with no electronic tags, no wonder there were so many mysteries. Even Linnaean classification was in its infancy, so anyone could, and did, come up with whatever Latin descriptive name seemed apt. This is still causing confusion. I love all the quotations from Milton, don’t see that much nowadays, and from erudite textbooks in Latin too, as a normal thing for the educated. Fortunately translations provided, it taxed my rather old O-level!

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