Hey, so there are two new books on science that I wanted to share, one I’ve already read, the other one I’m about half way through. Nonfiction is probably my favorite genre, ironically, since I like to write almost only epic YA with fantasy and scifi angles, tangents, and flavors. Not sure why, but there must be a reason somewhere. Not that I don’t like to read fiction, it’s just that I just don’t find that much fiction that I like reading, other than The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The classics are always great. Oh, those and Slaughterhouse Five, one of my all-time faves.
The first science book, well history of science really is called Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, by Dava Sobel. It traces the time period before, leading up to, and during the race to find the solution to calculating Longitude. This was very, very important for sailing of all kinds obviously and would release ships from needing to stick close to shore and just praying they were on course to the British Royal Navy pretty much dominating the seas for at least a hundred years.
The cool thing is it was almost all due to the hard work of one man named John Harrison an 18th century clockmaker who worked over thirty years to perfect the chronometer a maritime clock about the size of a pocket watch. His previous attempts are on display in a museum somewhere in England. They started out looking huge and then got smaller and smaller. The trick to making it was that all clocks up until then had been pendulum clocks that got out of whack and off time when subjected to the swaying of a ship. Others had their oil and gear messed up due to changes in atmospheric changes like temperature, pressure, and humidity that resulted in loss or gain of time and in the worst situations total seizing up and ruin.
Without knowing their longitude sailors had to use dead reckoning which was basically guessing or using maritime ‘intuition’ to determine where their destination was or just hug the coastline or sail along a latitude and then take a straight shot from that known location. All of these methods led to extra long voyages, shortening of rations and a heightening threat of scurvy, or in the worst cases wreckage and loss of the entire vessel.
The chronometer basically allowed the sailors to keep the constant time of their home port. Then at noon when the sun was its highest the sailors compared this to the home port clock and the hour difference was calculated into distance difference and thus the sailor could determine their longitude and have a good idea of where they were and not crash into huge nasty, pointy rocks.
I suggest that if you don’t want to read the book, check out the Wikipedia page on it just to get a more in depth idea of exactly what it’s about. If you like science, engineering, and history this is a really interesting read.
The second Book is called Zero; The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife. In this one the author traces the concepts of zero and infinity and details how they have been so closely interrelated and ultimately considered to be two sides of the same coin. The author traces its appearance in Babylonian mathematics, all the way through the ancient Greeks, the Egyptians, the Roman Empire, the dark Ages, then the Renaissance, and all the way up to Quantum Mechanics and possibly beyond(Like I said, I’m not quite finished yet.) I don’t quite understand all the fancy math ideas, especially once he gets to Calculus, but it was interesting once the same and it’s not hard to appreciate how it was such an important concept to early mathematicians that struggled with it and rejected it all the way up to those that embraced it and invented the irrational numbers and the different types of infinity and how to count them(whewww! That last part is a mind bender!).
Since it is basically tracking the history of science I think a really important thought experiment is to try to think of where we are getting science wrong now and think about where it is going and how. Think of one of Arthur C. Clarke’s maxims; “If an old scientist says something is impossible he is most probably wrong. If a younger scientist says something is possible it most likely is.” That wasn’t a perfect quote word for word, but you get the idea.
Well, anyway, those are two of some of the best books I’ve read recently and if you’ve got the time and desire I definitely recommend them as easy, quick reads.