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Pipistrel (Oxford United Kingdom)

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The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance
The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance
by Eric R. Scerri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 19.54

3.0 out of 5 stars Good as far as it goes, 25 Dec 2012
The periodic table is one way of representing the periodic system, but there are plenty of other two and three-dimensional models. Van Spronsen's book, The Periodic System of Chemical Elements, is an indispensable guide to all of them, as they stood in 1969. This book is not a successor to van Spronsen's but a complement to it. The first half of the book gives a very good account of the lead up to Mendeleev's tables and the reception of them. There are then several excellent chapters on more recent developments, including the discovery of further transuranian elements, of which only 13 were known in 1969, the use of sophisticated new methods to calculate electronic orbitals, the effect of relativity on the chemical behaviour of heavy elements, and the revived interest in Charles Janet's revolutionary table. But there is a great big bit missing in the middle of the book, where, apart from an image of Crookes's 'pretzel', virtually nothing is said about the history of representations of the periodic system. For all those you will need to find a copy of van Spronsen after all.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today
The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today
by Rob R. Dunn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.55

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read, 16 Aug 2012
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Having read an excellent article by Rob Dunn, I was astonished to see only one review for this book, giving it two stars. So I checked and found that 27 out of 33 reviews awarded five stars. I went ahead and ordered it, and I now wonder whether the two-star reviewer even read more than a few pages. It is very readable and full of exciting ideas.
Dunn's topic is the interaction between human beings and the many species of animals, plants and microbes that have lived with us or on us or in us, now or in the past. It turns out that this wildlife was responsible for the evolution of many of our characteristics, including our immune systems, our vision and our other senses, our emotions and our proneness to anxiety, our taste in urban landscapes and building styles, even perhaps our naked skins.
This is not a textbook, but it covers many aspects of human ecology in a way that makes them accessible to the general reader. Most topics are introduced by stories about the people who opened them up, often by accident and in the most unexpected ways - the experimenters on mice who discovered the benefits of gut bacteria; the monkey specialist who stepped on a snake; the worm scientist who became an urban designer. They illustrate the maxim that 'chance favours the prepared mind'. Most of these researchers are unknown even to most ecologists, and their experiences make the work they have done interesting and memorable.
Some of the topics are, on the surface, horrifying: intestinal worms, man-eating big cats and pubic lice... but they all played a part in making us the way we are. Ecology is dispassionate and seeks simply to describe things as they are. Still more interestingly it describes how things probably were and how the ghosts of the past may explain the present.
Since the invention of agriculture about ten thousand years ago, and still more since the industrial revolution, we have destroyed huge areas of natural ecosystems and increasingly distanced ourselves from the creatures that live in or on us, and from those on which we live. We are better off without contact with some of these; nobody has found any benefits from living with bedbugs.
But it is to our cost that many other things are destroyed, including the beneficial bacteria - and perhaps some of the worms - in our guts. Our immune systems evolved to fight off challenges, and many modern ailments may result from the fact that too much hygiene means that our immune reactions have not been properly developed and may even turn on our own bodies.
There is much that is worrying in this book, but the humour of the telling helps the reader to swallow the pills. The last chapter offers an uplifting vision of a possible future. I hope many people will read it and be inspired to get involved.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 26, 2012 9:01 AM BST

His Dark Materials Trilogy: Northern Lights, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass
His Dark Materials Trilogy: Northern Lights, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Paperback

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pull the other one, man!, 21 Jun 2012
In Philip Pullman's other world
The strangest story is unfurled.
With daimons all the people walk
And Polar bears in English talk.

The author claims he's anti-God
But that is truly mighty odd;
His tale is full of Christian things
Like angels flapping giant wings.

He tells of good by evil faced -
Exactly Saint Augustine's taste!
Lyra is the Saviour Child,
A lovely virgin, though she's wild.

She rescues tortured souls in Hell
By telling stories rather well.
The dust that all are covered in
Is just another name for sin.

God dies of course, and that's no fun,
But just the Old One, not His Son.
And who's to say He will not rise
A sequel's fantasy surprise?!

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ (Myths)
The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ (Myths)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.49

3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rather rubbishy, 21 Jun 2012
There are no surprises in this book. The whole plot is foreseeable from the first few pages; Jesus is going to be the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, and his twin brother, Christ, is going to be responsible for all the ills of institutional Christianity. I entirely agree with Pullman's thesis that the Church has smothered the message of Jesus, but it is not an original idea, and he does not add any great insight to it. Most of the chapters rewrite passages from the Gospels (mixing the Synoptics with St John), but here and there we get a chapter in much more abstract style in which Christ gets instruction from a mysterious stranger, who is planning the future of the Church. For no good reason "the stranger" becomes "the angel" later in the book. The longest chapter is the meditation of Jesus in Gethsemane, where his simple "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me" together with the idea of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" is expanded into ten rather wordy pages. Fearing trouble with Christian fundamentalists, the publishers have hopefully written "THIS IS A STORY" on the back cover, but no well informed Christian would imagine anything else; there is nonsense in the basic premise that "Christ" could be the name of a man; it is the translation of the Hebrew "Messiah".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2012 12:23 PM BST

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Novella with hidden depths, 3 Jun 2012
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I wonder how many readers realize that the name of the narrator, Changez, is that of Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader, who founded an empire on the ruins of those he destroyed. Despite his terrible reputation, he was a tolerant man, who respected the religions of his subjects, asking their scholars to expound their beliefs to him. Pronounced in French, 'changez' means change, in the imperative. The implication is that Changez inherits the tolerant classical Islam of the Moghul (= Mongol) emperors, whose Indian Empire was destroyed by the British. He is inviting America to change from its seeming ambition to replace other cultures with its own.
Changez is a Pakistani Princeton graduate who begins a career in the financial services sector, coolly valuing firms in poorer countries and potentially bringing job losses to their workers in the interest of dollar profits. The attack on the Twin Towers brings him to see himself as like a Janissary - one of the Christians brought up to serve the Ottoman army - and he realizes that his heart is not in his service to America's global economic empire. Unable to condemn the literary side of a Chilean publishing house, he resigns, loses his visa and returns to Pakistan.
Changez loses his heart to a fellow Princeton student, but she is mourning the loss of her childhood love and sinks into depression. Her name is Erica, from Old Norse, meaning 'eternal ruler'. The relationship is sensitively described, and Changez is a restrained and considerate lover, but her disappearance destroys his last emotional tie to America.
The story is told in a Lahore restaurant to a nervous American secret agent, no doubt sent to get Changez, and the occasional reassurances that he need not be frightened into using his gun give the whole novella a sinister undertone, working up to a climax that leaves the outcome to your imagination. This is one of those rare books that I wanted to start rereading as soon as I got to the end.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
Price: 7.35

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spine-tingling, 28 May 2012
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I have been listening to recordings of this symphony for more than fifty years, and to completed versions since the 1980s, but no previous account has thrilled me as much as this one. The orchestra is superb, and Rattle shapes the movements beautifully, building up relentlessly to the huge dissonant climaxes. The finale sounds as near to echt-Bruckner as one could wish, though nothing can be definitive as long as there is the possibility that some or all of the stolen pages may turn up. An added bonus is that it is all on one CD - a feat in itself! I have read the ten previous reviews, and it seems to me that there is a lot of nit-picking in the 3 and 4 star ones.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 28, 2012 9:17 PM BST

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
by Jonathan Haidt
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating test for the reader, 16 May 2012
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This is an important book and one that will test readers' objectivity, for it draws conclusions about differences between conservatives and liberals (American sense) in how they make judgements. It reports years of painstaking research in evolutionary psychology, which in itself will put off those conservatives who prefer Genesis to Darwin. Haidt finds that liberals judge things on a narrower basis, which may upset them.
Testing large numbers of subjects with questions such as 'Is it wrong for a brother and sister to have sex as a one-off experiment, using contraceptives?' and 'A man's dog is killed in a road accident; is it wrong for him to cook and eat it?' Subjects were also asked to explain their answers. People did not consciously refer to abstract values when they made their decisions. They reacted instantly to the scenarios and often could not explain their responses. Haidt uses the metaphor of the elephant and its rider for this; our unconscious mind throws up intuitions, which our conscious mind then tries to explain and perhaps redirect.
Analysis of the results found that people use six bases for their judgements, which Haidt likens to a tongue with six taste receptors: care, fairness, loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity; these were the five of the initial hypothesis, but it emerged from the research that there is a sixth - liberty. Each of these is hypothesized to have had survival value for our ancestors, contributing to the flourishing and survival of the individual and the group.
The balance between individual and group has produced a species that behaves 90% like the chimpanzee and 10% like the bee. Haidt found that people's moral views were correlated with their political positions. Liberals were chiefly, though not exclusively concerned with care, fairness and liberty, while conservatives invoked the whole range of bases for their judgements. I imagine that conservatives will like this result, feeling that it makes them more completely human. Liberals may argue that the values they focus on are more highly evolved, emphasizing the well-being of individual more than that of the group. A dispassionate view would argue that both approaches are important.
Haidt himself, an avowed liberal, has been mellowed by his research. His book should help America's increasingly polarized society to cultivate dialogue and mutual respect between its factions. It deserves a wide readership, being clearly written, well structured and full of concrete examples.

Love's Work
Love's Work
by Gillian Rose
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Short on wisdom, 1 May 2012
This review is from: Love's Work (Paperback)
From the blurb I expected above all striking philosophical insights, but I was disappointed. There are very funny things, for example Rose's account of studying at Oxford, but there are passages - for example several pages about colostomy - that I found hard to read once and would not want to read again. The title suggests at least expertise on love, but a woman who has lost, or dismissed, so many lovers seems rather inept. It is sad that she did not reach old age and the chance to find wisdom through recollection in tranquillity. As for Geoffrey Hill's poem at the end, it seemed to me typical of bad academic verse. I am not a fan of C S Lewis, but if I'm going to read a book on love and death by an Anglican convert I much prefer Surprised by Joy.

In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World
In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World
by Tom Holland
Edition: Hardcover

42 of 138 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Provocative fiction, 18 April 2012
You don't need to be a Muslim to see the fundamental flaw in this book (but it does help to know Arabic, which Holland clearly does not). The assertion that it took two hundred years for Islam to take shape is refuted by a single fact: Sunnis, Shia and Kharijites all use the same text of the Quran, although they started fighting each other within twenty years of the death of Muhammad. It is inconceivable that they would have passed up the chance to alter the text if it had not already been firmly established. It is true that for a long time only the letter shapes were written down; the vowel signs and dots to distinguish letters of the same shape were added only later, but there are no really significant differences between the versions of these diacritical marks. And, contrary to what Holland suggests, all the main features of Islam are in the Quran, notably the Five Pillars - the ten-word creed, prayer, almsgiving, the Ramadan fast, the Pilgimage to Mecca. And yes, five prayers a day, not three, Mr Holland (Quran 11:114 taken in conjunction with 30:17-18). The main points of Muhammad's biography are there too - his orphan childhood, his having daughters but no sons, his later remarriages, his exile, the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Trench, his peaceful victory over Mecca. What Holland fails to appreciate is the importance of oral literature, in which the Arabs were specially skilled, having developed their culture in a world almost devoid of writing materials. It is true that Islamic civilization was a continuation of that of the Ancient West, which included Persia and Palestine as much as Greece and Rome, but that is true only of its general culture, not of the Muslim religion, which was recognizably itself when its Prophet died. He of course would not have denied its kinship with Judaism and Christianity (themselves deeply influenced by Zoroastrianism), because the Quran itself claims that Islam is the restoration of the one religion, previously given to Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Holland's provocative fiction is not going to help readers to understand this history.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2013 10:03 AM GMT

The Tennis Partner
The Tennis Partner
by Abraham Verghese
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent memorial to a forgettable person, 11 April 2012
This review is from: The Tennis Partner (Paperback)
If you read the dedication you know from the start that David Smith will die before the book is written, so there is no dramatic suspense. Dr Verghese writes beautifully and is moved by the memory of his friendship at a time when his own marriage had failed, but I did not find his tennis partner interesting enough to justify 345 pages. Perhaps if I knew something about tennis it would have been different. Verghese's hospital adventures with Smith, who is his medical student, interested me but might be disagreeable for a squeamish reader, and the succession of hopeless drug addicts is depressing. Verghese made the mistake of trying to coax his pupil into the slow detective work of internal medicine, when what he needed was the addictive rush of emergency work. Altogether a sad book.

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