Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Half a short history

I’m loving Bryson so far. For once, all the reviews and hype about this being an engaging and accessible book for the laywoman are spot on. He writes so humorously and humanely: I keep turning back to p 163 to reread “…the New York Times decided to do a story (about Einstein) and – for reasons that can never fail to excite wonder – sent the paper’s golfing correspondent, one Henry Crouch, to conduct the interview” and I always giggle. Whilst I was reading , I think I almost understood E=mc2 (my memory is not his problem); at last got a finger tip hold on quantum physics; was stunned by what we don’t know about the oceans (just saw the Planet Earth one); have remembered that if solar systems were frozen peas they’d fill the Albert Hall; and was intrigued to find that I’d studied Read’s original theories of plate tectonics at University. Can’t wait to get on with the life as we know it bit.

Emily, I agree entirely about the Creationist view needing to be acknowledged – it is no more implausible to a non-scientist than what may actually have happened. Though I’m trying to commit to memory “There is no evidence that could in principle disprove ID so by definition it is not science”. ( James Randerson, Guardian 13 Dec 06.)

I have two problems with this book – which may possibly resolve themselves but which I think will not. Reading this you’d think everything we know about anything was ‘discovered’ by white Western men. To take just two examples, what about all the knowledge the Arab world had about maths and astronomy, long before the West; and didn’t the unmentioned Mrs Einstein do most of the maths for Albert? The fact I can’t remember her name says it all. The only two women I’ve noted so far are the fossil collector Mary Anning and Marie Curie. This book is (otherwise) so good that it is going to set back the cause of racial and gender justice irreparably. Even if, for understandable reasons, he decided to restrict himself to English language plus some European research, he might have said this is what he was doing.

I’m so glad that this was chosen for the blog or it might well have nested next to Melvin Bragg’s the Adventure of English on my ‘to read’ shelf for a very long time.