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A Short History of Science to the 19th Century
A Short History of Science to the 19th Century
by Charles Singer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A great book, 21 Feb. 2014
From the evidence of this book, Singer was a master of English, a master of history, a master of philosophy and a master of science. He absorbed an immense amount of material and explained it all very readably and clearly. There are lots of useful diagrams. You can choose to read the whole book from page one or you can jump in at any point to bone up on the context of, for example, Aristarchus, Newton or Linnaeus and understand what that person achieved, how his predecessors helped him and how, in other ways, he had to see beyond their ideas.

Strongly recommended to anyone who has learned science as a series of facts but would like to understand the background history.

Also recommended to someone who is just learning science and would like to explore the story of science as well as the facts of science. All scientific ideas are fully explained so a bright school student can readily understand it, reading ahead of their studies if they wish.


Byrd (Master Musicians Series)
Byrd (Master Musicians Series)
by Kerry McCarthy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.02

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the Daily Telegraph, 21 Sept. 2013
This book is praised in "Sacred Mysteries", a weekly article by Christopher Howse in the Daily Telegraph. In this case, Saturday September 21, 2013, page 33.

He says it gives: a clear narrative of his life as a Catholic in a Protestant-ruled country, a guide to books about Byrd, biographical sketches of his associates, and a list of his works. Some works are analysed in detail.

Howse's articles are generally wise and penetrating.

I can't find the article online.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2014 9:51 PM GMT


Mont Cenis Fell Railway
Mont Cenis Fell Railway
by P. J. G. Ransom
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Account of a very interesting piece of railway history, 18 Jan. 2013
This book is not just about one railway. It sets the railway into its context. This was the time when the British rail network was established and its builders were looking to modernise Europe in the same way. Much of the work on the French and Italian networks was within their existing competence but linking France and Italy was not. To do that they had to cross the Alps, an unprecedented challenge.

This book describes how the emerging Italian nation took on the challenge of linking its network with thet of the fully established French nation. How they started to build a tunnel. How they got help in devising new techniques for tunneling faster through hard rock, at the same time as they were establishing their new nation in the face of Austrian imperialism.

The whole project was of interest to Britain, not just to get construction work but also to speed up British communications with China, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Seeing the slow progress with the tunnel and realising that this tunnel was the last piece of a new rail link stretching from Calais to Brindisi (1400 miles), the cream of British railway entrepreneurs banded together to build the world's first mountain railway, to run until whenever the long awaited tunnel might open.

The book is very well researched and tells the story clearly with many original illustrations dating from the time.

Recommended to anyone interested in early European rail history.


The Voyage (Capuchin Classics)
The Voyage (Capuchin Classics)
by Charles Morgan
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heartwarming Story with remarkable Depth, 7 Sept. 2012
The book is set in France in the mid-nineteenth century. The principal characters are: Theofil Hazard (Barbet) and Thérèse Despreux. They have known each other for a long time and they are quite close, even though their aspirations and their stations in life are quite different.
The Hazards, unusually in France, are protestant. Barbet has inherited from his father: a vineyard, winery and distillery. He sells his cognac to merchants in Paris. He also inherited the local prison and is paid fees and expenses by the maire of nearby Roussignac, who is Anton Hazard, his brother. Anton inherited their father's properties in Roussignac and gets first refusal if Barbet decides to sell his inheritance. Barbet lives by the principle, "When you are ready, you will know what to do". He is a clear headed businessman but what he really loves is: the labour of tending vines and making barrels, the care of his employees and prisoners, the observation of nature and creating and singing songs.
Thérèse Despreux is the illegitimate daughter of the priest Lancret. Lancret taught Barbet and Anton when they were boys and they have been friends ever since, notwithstanding the religious difference. Thérèse has always had a passion for dance and acting. She likes Barbet's songs. She is a natural artiste who insists on total control of her work. When the book opens she has recently returned from a failed attempt at stardom and is performing in a down-at-heal pub in Roussignac.
The book follows the "voyages" or lives of these key two characters, together with other essential characters.
Will Barbet always continue as a country farmer? Will Thérèse make it? Will they get together and what form will any relationship take? What principles guide them and are they good principles? Read the book!
This is a heart-warming story with many unexpected twists and turns. It penetrates deeply into the question of how we discover who we are and what we ought to do. It was completed in 1940 (when Europe was under threat from Nazi tyranny) and reflects the author's love of French culture and hatred of tyranny.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 11, 2015 1:33 PM GMT


Chancel Repair Liability: How to Research it
Chancel Repair Liability: How to Research it
by James Derriman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful, 28 Feb. 2012
This book covers a very technical legal subject in terms which are clear to a non-lawyer like me. If you own land which is affected or if you are responsible for a pre-Reformation church then you NEED this book.


What is Good?: The Search for the Best Way to Live
What is Good?: The Search for the Best Way to Live
by Prof A.C. Grayling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not all that enlightened, 16 Sept. 2011
This is a readable book and amusing in places. It is not a practical guide to personal behaviour but a comparison of Enlightenment teaching with religious teaching. Grayling is quite certain that Enlightenment sources must always be preferred to religious sources. In his Introduction he says that the two systems have always been in conflict. For him this conflict is the most important division in the history of ideas about goodness.
Chapters cover Classical and Hellenistic teaching (which he calls the First Enlightenment), Monotheism (much criticised), the Renaissance (Second Enlightenment), modern science and philosophy (Third Enlightenment), competition between humanism and religion, and modern ethics.
This is quite a good guide to the history of ideas but nowhere near as good as Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy". Both books are readable but Russell is more thorough and even-handed. It is much longer but comes in bite-sized chapters. Whereas Grayling is keen to tell you how the church damaged the First Enlightenment, Russell explains how Alexander the Great proscribed all political discussion so that, from then on, Enlightenment teachers could only discuss how an individual might manage under dictators and warlords. For the same reason, Jesus and his successors were frequently tortured and executed for refusing to worship the Emperor until the Fourth Century when a weakened Emperor made them part of the Imperial system and Enlightenment schools were eventually suppressed. Russell, unlike Grayling, points out how the Western church preserved some Enlightenment material through the Dark Ages after Rome lost its power in the West.
Considering that this book attacks religion in general, it is a shame that Grayling does not mention how, during the Middle Ages, Muslim scholars studied and extended Greek science, making it available to Western scholars when the Renaissance made this possible. Perhaps the greatest thing the Muslims gave us was the "Arabic" system of writing numbers (which they got from the Hindus). Without this priceless Muslim science, our science would still be medieval. The work of Descartes, Newton, their many followers and the Industrial Revolution itself, would all have been impossible.
Another thing which he omits to mention is that the Reformation gave ordinary labourers the privilege and duty of reading the Bible in their own language. Previously the Bible was reserved for professional clergy, leading to precisely the kind of elitist control which Grayling attributes indiscriminately to all religion. This democratization of Bible reading drove an expansion of literacy and printing which in turn provided the foundation of the third Enlightenment.
Grayling often misrepresents Christianity to strengthen his case. For example he claims that modern Christian charities are just a "perfumed smokescreen" for a sinister interior. He knows very well that Christ's two founding commandments were to love God and to "love your neighbour as yourself". Christ also said that only those who served their neighbours, for example by visiting the sick, would get into Heaven. "In as much as you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me". Charity has always been practised by Christians. Our longest-serving hospitals were all founded with an explicitly Christian ethos. Regardless of theology, Jesus's words make an excellent foundation for anyone's life. They are never fully achievable but they remind us where our target should be. The best of us really do show love through sacrificial action. Christianity and Humanism are very close at this point and it a great shame that Grayling and his friends have chosen to exaggerate the differences. We have enough conflicts as it is.
In another place Grayling tells us that religion must be confined to private places because "religions blaspheme each other" and will injure civil society if allowed public space. Superficially religious people use the B word often, deeply religious people rarely. Religion is often a marker for what in reality is a longstanding, ethnically-based division. The recent histories of Ireland and Yugoslavia show that making religion private is only a sticking plaster for a deep division which is essentially ethnic. For many people, religion is their way of understanding their existence and their ethical principles. Properly understood, their religion will help and encourage them to work with and serve neighbours of all beliefs and races. A person's religion is the foundation of their conscience and the consciences of the people are the foundation of a civil society. If society opposes existing religions then the energy of religious people will be diverted away from the needs of their neighbours into a passionate defence of their beliefs.
Recent Islamic terrorism is led by traditional but unreflective Islamists angered by the modern Western worship of sex as opposed to a deep, whole-life commitment. It is not a clash between religions but a clash between a religion which will not be confined and a modern society whose people worship sex, drugs and status symbols rather than the creator. Christians have learned the lessons of the Reformation Wars and have developed a modern, reflective faith and a dialogue with people of other faiths and none. This, rather than a new war between humanism and religion, is the way forward.
In the 1960s, British teenagers collectively began a new way of living and rejected the principles of established authority. Their new principles included two which Grayling advocates: autonomy and the avoidance of all teaching derived from the God who, according to Grayling, is guilty of many sins including "mass murder" (p 69). This meant that they rejected all of the Ten Commandments including: "Do not commit adultery" and "Honour your father and your mother". The Pill was considered as a justification for a new attitude to sex and, for many people, sex became an end in itself. Although this was fine in principle, in practice the Pill was often not used because of lack of information, lack of motivation or parental control. The result was a growing underclass of fatherless children. Before 1960 most children joined a family headed by two parents who set an example of mutual love. The father provided both an example of civilised manhood and a bridge between the sons and his own network of mature successful men. Both parents provided a bridge to an extended family of men and women able to assist the sons and daughters in the transition to citizenship.
In the new underclass men have evaded their natural role as leaders with a long term commitment to their families. Instead they swap partners and families at will. The children see a succession of stepfathers, neither fully committed to nor naturally connected with them. This is especially damaging to boys. Many boys now neglect their education and try to find manly examples in the temporary stepfathers and in the gangs which are almost compulsory in some neighbourhoods. This leads them to a parasitic, destructive and exploitive adult life rather than a life of true love and public service. This group of people are a major burden for the remainder of society and their existence points to a future of increasing decadence. Now, too many people are filling the empty "God space" with the worship of: sex, shopping, money, drugs and drink.
I am sure that Grayling would agree that this is a horrible mess. It is surely also clear that this mess is a consequence of newly empowered but naive and immature young people following the principles which he nevertheless still commends as "good". His principles may look like enlightenment among his social and intellectual equals but they don't work so well lower down the scale. There, people learn from example and from simple rules but they are not so good at learning and applying theories.
It is worth noting that Grayling says nothing about the right of a child to fair and loving care from his two nearest relatives, working in mutual harmony on a daily basis. This would be too close to endorsing the religious principle of marriage. Humanists believe, and the law specifies, that in any dispute between parents, the rights of the child have priority over the rights of the adults. However Grayling, representing humanists, doesn't suggest that the rights of a child should extend far enough to discourage his parents from conceiving without any prior commitment to his future needs. This seems to be a right that Moses foresaw but humanists have not yet rediscovered. We were here before: in the 18th century, with results that were brilliantly satirised by Hogarth. Now, as then, a revival will become necessary. It could be Christian, Muslim or Marxist but our current progress is downhill and cannot continue.
The key problem is that ideas which sound fine when debated in universities by clever people with a natural stake in society, break down when they are rolled out to young, naive people with below average intelligence and a family tradition of failure in life. It is possible that humanists could truly replace the church as tutor to a whole society with a coherent and challenging programme of ethical teaching but as things stand they are just denouncing the church programme from the sidelines without providing their own programme. Where are the weekly humanist meetings where great humanist texts are read and debated and those present review their week, analysing how well they have loved and served their neighbours? For millennia, in Jewish, Christian and Moslem societies, meetings like this have been the bedrock of everything good in that society. Grayling and his associates are trying to flush away the last signs of this ethos but they have only university level teaching to replace it, nothing for ordinary people. The idea of a good God noting our goodness and our selfishness and supporting us in trouble is a healthy, unifying source of civility which we lose at our peril. In two places Grayling presents an argument which purports to disprove this but I am not persuaded.
This book may well be a good read for atheists as it will reassure them that they are right. Christians may find themselves just listing the fantasies in Grayling's portrait of their religion.


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