Monday, June 4, 2007

This Week at the Library (4/6)

Generally I visit the library once a week, but last week was different. I've been getting school affairs in order and looking for a summer job, so I haven't had all the time for reading that I usually do.

Last week, I checked out The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum, following the suggestion of a friend. The book, published in the early seventies, is a spy thriller centering around a Soviet plot to undermine America's economy and weaken the U.S. for invasion. It was quite a page-turner, and I pass the recommendation on for those who are interested in tales of political intrigue. The second book I read was Allegiance, by Timothy Zahn. The Star Wars book, which seems to be set between A New Hope and The Emperor Strikes Back, was enjoyable. I personally prefer books set in the time of the three prequel movies, but I enjoyed this one -- as I have most books by Zahn. The book follows four story arcs that combine in the end, but I was unable to stay interested in one of them -- the one dealing with Princess Leia and problems of diplomacy. I much preferred what was happening to five rouge stormtroopers turned vigilantes. The Osterman Weekend and Allegiance weren't the only works of fiction I checked out last week, but they were the only ones I finished. The two books in the Redwall series -- The Legend of Luke and Marlfox -- were returned unread. I did begin to read both of them, but I think I'm beginning to outgrow them.

The first book I read last week was Universe on a T-Shirt, and I enjoyed it very much. The book deals with the search for a "Theory of Everything" -- a theory that would unite all of science. I checked it out because I'm embarrassed by my ignorance of the theories of Special and General Relativity, to say nothing of my ignorance of quantum and string theory. The book begins at the very beginning of science; that is, philosophy. The author, Dan Falk, covers the discoveries and ideas of men like Democritus, Ptolemy, Kepler, and Galileo -- on to the ideas of men like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. The book explains( in a way easily comprehensible by laymen like myself) the basic properties of our natural universe. The book isn't a general science book, but its purpose is to show how all the various theories are united by humanity's search to explain our world. The author ties these ideas together quite well, I think. I enjoyed the book, and now I have a better understanding of relativity and such -- not very much, but enough so that I know what is meant by them. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a history of the essential ideas of science and an explanation of why the scientific method is so important.

The last book I read last week was An Intimate History of Humanity. This is not a history book in the usual sense; it is more a collection of essays dealing with humanity. The chapters don't have to be read chronologically, as each concern different elements of life. Some of the subjects these essays covered are conversation, loneliness, hospitality, and familial roles. These essays are broad -- in the chapter on hospitality, for instance, fundamentalism received a number of paragraphs. I checked out this book primarily because I love humanity -- and am excited by learning more about people. I want to be able to better understand people, and I found this book to be conducive to that purpose.

So that wraps up last week; what about this week? I didn't have much of a reading list -- just two books on cetaceans. I also planned to check out another book by Robert Ludlum. I did that. I forgot the names of the two other books my friend recommended me by Ludlum, so I picked the lone paperback --The Scarlatti Inheritance. The back cover indicates that is one is set during WW2 -- and will deal with Nazis. First Communists and now Nazis; stock villains are always fun.

I only found one of the cetacean books -- The Whale: Mighty Monarch of the Sea by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. I think it's a translated work (Cousteau was a French naval officer and scientist), but I'm not sure. Last night I discovered that Japan plans to start killing fifty humpback whales a year. They're already endangered! This is being done for $2 whale burgers -- a reprehensible waste. I decided to start looking into Greenpeace last night after I read this news. I'm not a vegetarian, but I sympathize with vegetarian ideals. Killing tigers and whales for burgers is a tremendous waste -- not just of life, but of beauty.

After picking up these two books, I browsed for a bit. Another book near the books on whales was Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. It seems to be similar to Sagan's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, so I checked it out. Nearby on display was Phantoms in the Brain, a book that "probes the mysteries of the human mind". According to the sleeve cover, this book will look in to "who we are; how we construct our body image; why we laugh or become depressed; why we may believe in God; how we make decisions, deceive ourselves and dream; perhaps even why we're so clever at philosophy, music, and art." It definately sounds like something I'm interested in reading.

The last book is Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Lewis Wolpert, a book that deals with why people believe in unexplainable things -- why they resolutely believe they've seen ghosts or been abducted by aliens, for example. It also seeks to explain why religion is ubiquitous. I am hoping the book mentions Jeanne d'Arc, also known as Joan of Arc -- she has been a personal hero of mine since childhood. I've always admired her idealism, even though she thought dead saints were talking to her.

So that's this week's reading -- heavy on the wonder of science. I'm looking forward to it!