Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This week: wrapping up with history and science

This last week in 2014 I am spending with Lives of the Planets, a natural history of the solar system. It's proving to be the most enjoyable science book I've encountered in months, and will probably take me into the  New Year.  The last few weeks have been varied:

* Amazing Grace,  a history of William Wilberforce and his quest to end the British slave trade,  proved fascinating if disappointing. It's a chatty, casual kind of history, and refers to various historical personalities as freaks, nuts, and creeps. Mr. Wilberforce is such an engaging character, though, that this story of his and his allies' campaign against institutionalized evil  succeeds nonetheless.

* Galileo's Finger reviews the ten most important concepts in science,  moving from the practical to the abstract. I bought this several years ago, and found it considerably more daunting than expected,  more technical and focused on areas of science I don't have a great deal of interest in, like energy and physics. (There is a reason most of my science reading is in natural history or animal behavior!)

* Why Things Bite Back looks at the many ways that technological solutions to problems cause problems of their own.  It's not an anti-anything book, but the idea delivered is that life is complicated and there are  no easy fixes.

My last Great War read turned out to be photo-heavy: Homefront, 1914-1918 looks at the lives of British civilians during the war. The author makes the curious claim that the standard of living for British subjects increased during the war, which no one would predict (aside from arms manufacturers)  I'm not sold on that. Most interesting to me was the chapter on labor during the war; I've always assumed working conditions declined during the two world wars, given the booming demand and the presentation of both as  dire national crises; who could go on strike when the Future of Civilization is at stake?  Not only did strikes occur throughout the war, but some sectors found success in them.

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