Currently Reading & Quote: The Periodic Table

Part of the appeal of the periodic table derives from the individual nature of the elements such as their colours or how they feel to the touch. Much interest also lies in their names. The chemist and concentration camp survivor Primo Levi wrote a much-acclaimed book called simply The Periodic Table in which each chapter is named after an element. The book is mostly about his relations and acquaintances, but each anecdote is motivated by Levi’s love of a particular element. The neurologist and author Oliver Sacks wrote a book called Uncle Tungsten in which he tells of his fascination with the elements, with chemistry, and in particular with the periodic table. More recently, two popular books on the elements have been written by Sam Kean and Hugh Aldersey-Williams. I think it is fair to say that the appeal of the elements in the public imagination has now truly arrived.
~chapter 1

The bolding is mine. I would like a show of hands of everyone who thinks about the periodic table or even imagines it?

No one? Really? Yeah, me neither.

Until Jason Bourne or John Wick use the periodic table to kung fu fight their way out of an armoured fortress, I think it is safe to say that that the periodic table HAS NOT entered the public imagination. In all seriousness, where do eggheads like this even come up with ideas like that? They make us Magic the Gathering (former) players seem like well adjusted hunks of burning love.

Considering that is from Chapter One, I have a feeling this is going to be another Out of Touch with Reality and the Common Man book, sigh.

Early Music (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Early Music
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Thomas Kelly
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 112
Words: 38.5K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

From Gregorian chant to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, the music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods is both beautiful and intriguing, expanding our horizons as it nourishes our souls. In this Very Short Introduction, Thomas Forrest Kelly provides not only a compact overview of the music itself, but also a lively look at the many attempts over the last two centuries to revive it. Kelly shows that the early-music revival has long been grounded in the idea of spontaneity, of excitement, and of recapturing experiences otherwise lost to us–either the rediscovery of little-known repertories or the recovery of lost performing styles, with the conviction that, with the right performance, the music will come to life anew. Blending musical and social history, he shows how the Early Music movement in the 1960s took on political overtones, fueled by a rebellion against received wisdom and enforced conformity. Kelly also discusses ongoing debates about authenticity, the desirability of period instruments, and the relationship of mainstream opera companies and symphony orchestras to music that they often ignore, or play in modern fashion.

My Thoughts:

While not quite as “for the layman” as Anxiety was, this was still a cut above some of the other VSI books I’ve read. This book was full of musical terms, but Kelly made a valiant effort to define them (sometimes seeming at random though) and to write like he was trying to get me interested in the subject. I highly applaud his effort because even though I have zero interest in the subject of music (it is as interesting to me as “art”, that is, not at all) he did a great job of keeping me reading and giving me some little bits and bobs of info that should stick in my brain.

Reading this book made me think about my own history with music from elementary school up to the present day. I was going to do a detour and talk about that here in this review, but the more I think of it, the more it seems appropriate for it to have it’s own post in my A History of ….. series. While I claim to have no interest in music, that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant about it or think it is unimportant. I’ll go so far as to say that outside of preaching of theology, music is one of the greatest shapers of philosophy.

I get whiplash every time I read this series. I never know if I’m going to get a good book or a real stinker. I mentioned Anxiety above, as a great one. I was looking over all the VSI books I’ve read and Entrepreneurship came across as the worst so far. I don’t understand how the Oxford University Press came to publish both of these. It’s almost like there is no oversite committee or general editor to keep them all uniform. It is very frustrating to my “ordered” soul. But books like this one keep me going in this series. It is worth digging through the midden to get gems like this.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Anxiety (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★★☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Anxiety
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Daniel & Jason Freeman
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 142
Words: 44K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Are we born with our fears or do we learn them? Why do our fears persist? What purpose does anxiety serve? How common are anxiety disorders, and which treatments are most effective? What’s happening in our brain when we feel fear? And what are Colombian worry dolls? This Very Short Introduction draws on the best scientific research to offer a highly accessible explanation of what anxiety is, why it is such a normal and vital part of our emotional life, and the key factors that cause it. Insights are drawn from psychology, neuroscience, genetics, epidemiology, and clinical trials. Providing a fascinating illustration of the discussion are two interviews conducted specifically for the book, with the actor, writer, director, and television presenter Michael Palin and former England football manager Graham Taylor. The book covers in detail the six major anxiety disorders: phobias; panic disorder and agoraphobia; social anxiety; generalised anxiety disorder; obsessive compulsive disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. With a chapter devoted to each disorder, Daniel and Jason Freeman take you through the symptoms, prevalence, and causes of each one. A final chapter describes the treatments available for dealing with anxiety problems.

My Thoughts:

THIS was how this series should have been. THIS was everything that I could have asked for in a series entitled A Very Short Introduction. Oh, it is almost worse that this was this good because now all the sucky ones are going to suck even worse in comparison.

Daniel and Jason Freeman write to lay people. They explain technical terms and try not to use them. For example, one of the definitions for a medical term is a word that nobody but crazy doctors would use and these guys write “and that means ‘clinically insane’”. How hard is it to do that? Not very.

I was also impressed with how on target they stayed in regards to looking at the big picture of Anxiety. While they wrote about various forms of Anxiety and everything, they never lost sight of the fact they WERE writing about anxiety and they always tied the subject firmly back.

Basically, they did a fantastic job of giving an overview with just enough specifics to satisfy me. I don’t know if these 2 are medical doctors, but they definitely know how to talk to people who are not at their level, like me (unlike some of the other scumbag authors in this series). This was a weird read because I loved so much how the authors did things and it was totally mixed with hatred for all the other writers who were abject, abysmal and complete failures at their attempts to communicate their subjects.

Now I’m going to go have a good cry and feel anxious about the other books in the series 😉

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Light (A Very Short Introduction) ★★✬☆☆


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Light
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Ian Walmsley
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 119
Words: 38.5K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Light enables us to see the world around us. Our sense of sight provides us with direct information about space and time, the physical arrangement of the world, and how it changes. This almost universal shared sensation of vision has led to a fascination with the nature and properties of light across the ages. But the light we see is just a small part of the whole spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, ranging from radio waves to gamma rays. In this Very Short Introduction Ian Walmsley discusses early attempts to explain light, and the development of apparently opposing particulate and wave theories by scientists such as Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens. He shows how light was recognized as an electromagnetic wave in the 19th century, and the development of the quantum mechanics view of wave-particle duality in the 20th century. He also describes the many applications of light, domestic and scientific, such as microwaves, DVDs, and lasers. We now use the whole range of electromagnetic radiation to peer both into the human body and deep into space. Turning to the future of optics, Walmsley concludes by looking at some of the most exciting new developments using quantum light sources in communications and computing.

My Thoughts:

Ahhhh, this started out SO good. Good old Ian was blabbing about Light and used an obviously technical term. He immediately went on to define that term in layman’s terms and I was sure this book was going to be great. He then proceeds to continue using the technical term and said terms increase more and more, just like in the other VSI books, and with no layman interpretation.

Then he spends the rest of the book talking about information technology and how it is using light. He does spend a chapter talking about Light as waves and particles but the tech side of things seemed to be his passion and so that is what he wrote about.

This series is produced by the Oxford University Press. As I was making my way through the book, I had to just stop for a minute and wonder what OUP was trying to accomplish with these. The only sane thing I could come up with was to soak the luckless jomokes who would shell out money for excrement like this. I was going to add to help puff up the publishing numbers of their more useless professors, but I don’t think most of these authors are professors at Oxford.

Insults aside, these do really border on the useless. The problem I have is that these are perfect, in terms of size and time, for what I want to commit to in terms of a non-fiction relationship. I’m that weak boyfriend who keeps crawling back even though I know Candy is out turning tricks once she knows she has me again. The OUP know they’re onto a good thing, so they’re not going to stop pimping out these books or trying to find new authors to degrade.

It really sounds horrible when I put it that way, doesn’t it? If I knew of some other “Introduction” type of series, I’d jump at it in a heartbeat because this series is crap.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Freemasonry ★★☆☆½


This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Freemasonry
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Andreas Onnerfors
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 143
Words: 42.5K



Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Freemasonry is one of the oldest and most widespread voluntary organisations in the world. Over the course of three centuries men (and women) have organized themselves socially and voluntarily under its name. With a strong sense of liberation, moral enlightenment, cosmopolitan openness and forward-looking philanthropy, freemasonry has attracted some of the sharpest minds in history and has created a strong platform for nascent civil societies across the globe. With the secrecy of internally communicated knowledge, the clandestine character of organization, and the enactment of rituals and the elaborate use of symbols, freemasonry has also opened up feelings of distrust, as well as allegations of secretiveness and conspiracy. This Very Short Introduction introduces the inner activities of freemasonry, and the rituals, symbols and practices. Looking at the development of the organizational structure of masonry from the local to the global level, Andreas Önnerfors considers perceptions of freemasonry from the outside world, and navigates through the prevalent fictions and conspiracy theories. He also discusses how freemasonry has from its outset struggled with issues of exclusion based upon gender, race and religion, despite promoting tolerant openness and inclusion. Finally Önnerfors shines a light on the rarely discussed but highly compelling history of female agency in masonic and para-masonic orders.

My Thoughts:

Sigh. Another egghead who isn’t writing to the layman but to fellow academians already familiar with terminology that is regularly used instead of plain english. For feth’s sake, why is the word “sacerdotal” used? You know who uses words likes “sacerdotal”? People who write papers for a living that only other people who ALSO write papers for a living read. Custard. This is seriously annoying. And the narrow minded UK-centric focus simply highlights the Ivory Tower Parasitism of the people who are writing these.

Other than the usual rant and complaint, this was actually pretty good. I think it helped that this was a concrete subject and so Onnerfors couldn’t weasel out of doing his job. He actually wrote about Freemasonry. Of course, he bitched and moaned the entire time because certain Lodges were explicitly Men Only and had that in their rules, but considering that mixed gender and Women Only Lodges (the name for a local club of freemasons) were started only 50 years after the official founding of freemasonry, well, Onnerfors comes across more as a pissant whiner about gender issues than any sort of “expert” on Freemasonry. For some random reason I keep wanting to call the author Onnersford.

So despite Onnerfors doing his best to obfuscate the subject and talk about gender roles, I was able to learn a smidgeon. That qualifies this particular book as a smashing success in the VSI line up.

Freemasonry doesn’t have a central worldwide committee running things. Of course, that is what they want you to believe. But after watching the movie National Treasure, I learned the truth. Free Masons run the world behind the scenes and use people like Onnerfors to blow smoke for them. /sarcasm.

And yes, I am going to keep on reading these books.

★★☆☆½

Slang (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆☆

slang (Custom)

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Slang
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Jonathon Green
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 135
Words: 40K

Synopsis:

From Kobo.com

Slang, however one judges it, shows us at our most human. It is used widely and often, typically associated with the writers of noir fiction, teenagers, and rappers, but also found in the works of Shakespeare and Dickens. It has been recorded since at least 1500 AD, and today’s vocabulary, taken from every major English-speaking country, runs to over 125,000 slang words and phrases. This Very Short Introduction takes readers on a wide-ranging tour of this fascinating sub-set of the English language. It considers the meaning and origins of the word ‘slang’ itself, the ideas that a make a word ‘slang’, the long-running themes that run through slang, and the history of slang’s many dictionaries.

My Thoughts:

This book was totally bogus, esteemed dudes and dudettes. And if I was a stoner I could probably write this whole review in some sort of slang, but sadly, being somewhat educated and not a complete idiot, I choose to use proper grammar and form.

Green is a lexicographer. For those who don’t know what a lexicographer is, like me before I was enlightened with this book, it is, simply put, someone who puts dictionaries together. I must say, I have NEVER seen so many uses of the word lexicographer, lexi or lexis in a book before. Because of this fact, Green’s focus on Slang is more about documenting it rather than defining it. Nailing down when a slang word was first used is more important to him than anything.

While he does claim to not exactly define what Slang is, he sure does a lot of defining what it isn’t. Did you know that jargon is business oriented terms that only apply within certain fields? A lot of the terms in surveying, for instance, would be considered jargon. Then you have cant, which is what criminals use to baffle the police. Neither of these instances are slang though, so don’t even THINK about calling them that or Green will call you mean names.

I usually like to include a quote that stood out to me from these VSI books. So here is this one’s contribution to the cause:

If ‘slang’ embodies our innate rebelliousness (the undying, if not always expressed, desire to say ‘no’) then how can it not reject the strait-jacket. We are moving away from top-down diktats—in language as elsewhere. If we must define then I suggest that the words we term slang are seen simply as representatives of that subset of English spoken in the context of certain themes, by certain people, in certain circumstances.
` page 154

Talk about really nailing down specifics, eh? I noticed this passage because of the philosophical nature of it, the more so because I totally agree with the broken nature of man and his contrariness and saying “no” even when it can harm him.

Overall, this was a bit hard to get through, as Green used a lot of words, terms and ideas that are not readily known by the lay person. Just like previous VSI books, this was barely an introduction to the uninformed but an introduction by someone who doesn’t know how to communicate knowledge very well.

★★★☆☆

The Gothic (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆½

thegothic (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Gothic
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Nick Groom
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 167
Words: 46.5K

 

Synopsis:

From Libraything.com

The Gothic is wildly diverse. It can refer to ecclesiastical architecture, supernatural fiction, cult horror films, and a distinctive style of rock music. It has influenced political theorists and social reformers, as well as Victorian home décor and contemporary fashion. Nick Groom shows how the Gothic has come to encompass so many meanings by telling the story of the Gothic from the ancient tribe who sacked Rome to the alternative subculture of the present day.

This unique Very Short Introduction reveals that the Gothic has predominantly been a way of understanding and responding to the past. Time after time, the Gothic has been invoked in order to reveal what lies behind conventional history. It is a way of disclosing secrets, whether in the constitutional politics of seventeenth-century England or the racial politics of the United States. While contexts change, the Gothic perpetually regards the past with fascination, both yearning and horrified. It reminds us that neither societies nor individuals can escape the consequences of their actions.

The anatomy of the Gothic is richly complex and perversely contradictory, and so the thirteen chapters here range deliberately widely. This is the first time that the entire story of the Gothic has been written as a continuous history: from the historians of late antiquity to the gardens of Georgian England, from the mediaeval cult of the macabre to German Expressionist cinema, from Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy to American consumer society, from folk ballads to vampires, from the past to the present.

 

My Thoughts:

This book gives me hope for this series. Of course, it may just be that the author thinks in the same patterns I do and that that is what I found engaging about this book. Whatever it was, this is the VSI book that I’ll be comparing the rest of the series to until I find a better one.

I was fascinated with how Groom connects the dots from the Goth tribes (and gives us a glimpse into the fight among historians about what that even means) to the Gothic arctitecture to how that falling out of favor led to the gothic novel and how the ideas behind those novels leads to the music bands of today. I don’t know how solidly his workmanship would stand up if I had doctorates of one sort or another, but as an Introduction, this was everything I could have asked for.

I used the word “fascinating” and I think that pretty much describes my reaction to the whole book. Groom explores the ideas and philosophies behind each phase of The Gothic (and you know how weird it sounds to add the capital “The” every time? Makes me feel that I need to sound a trumpet and shout “The Gothic” has entered the room!”) and how one slowly melded into the next. The whole cause and effect is what I liked about this book.

In short, a top notch entry in the VSI series and a great read even if you have no interest in …. (wait for it…. * trumpets *) The Gothic!

★★★☆½

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Ageing (A Very Short Introduction) ★★★☆☆

ageing (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Ageing
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Nancy Pachana
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 144
Words: 38K

 

Synopsis:

Official Blurb

Ageing is an activity we are familiar with from an early age. In our younger years upcoming birthdays are anticipated with an excitement that somewhat diminishes as the years progress. As we grow older we are bombarded with advice on ways to overcome, thwart, resist, and, on the rare occasion, embrace, one’s ageing. Have all human beings from the various historical epochs and cultures viewed aging with this same ambivalence? In this Very Short Introduction Nancy A. Pachana discusses the lifelong dynamic changes in biological, psychological, and social functioning involved in ageing. Increased lifespans in the developed and the developing world have created an urgent need to find ways to enhance our functioning and well-being in the later decades of life, and this need is reflected in policies and action plans addressing our ageing populations from the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Looking to the future, Pachana considers advancements in the provision for our ageing populations, including revolutionary models of nursing home care such as Green House nursing homes in the USA and Small Group Living homes in the Netherlands. She shows that understanding the process of ageing is not only important for individuals, but also for societies and nations, if the full potential of those entering later life is to be realised.

 

My Thoughts:

This was so much better than that execrable Entrepreneurship. This was a literal snapshot about aging. Speaking of “Aging”, I could tell immediately that this was published in England, what with the “AgEing”. My goodness, they might as well be French, throwing in all those extra letters into words 😉

I do wish that the author had touched a bit more on Aging throughout history and from various cultures. Beyond a cursory acknowledgment that such things existed, it was never touched on again. I guess that is what this series is going to do, make you want to explore a particular area of the subject in more detail. I, however, wasn’t interested ENOUGH to go find other books.

She did spend a lot of time on dementia. More than I thought necessary, especially as she specifically stated that alzheimers/dementia only affects about 6-10% of the aging population. Regular memory loss is something quite different. If half the words she spent on dementia had been spent on Aging in the Past, I would have been a much happier camper.

I was satisfied with this read. I highly doubt any book in this series is going to go above 3 stars and honestly, I’m ok with that. I feel like I’m picking “healthy” chocolates from the box and never know what I’ll get. Forest Gump’s Momma would be proud of me.

★★★☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

Entrepreneurship (A Very Short Introduction) ★☆☆☆☆

entrepreneurship (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Entrepreneurship
Series: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Paul Westhead
Rating: 1 of 5 Stars
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 154
Words: 38K

 

Synopsis:

A book in the A Very Short Introduction series. Paul Westhead discusses what Entrepreneurship has meant through time, what it can mean today and how Entrepreneurship is changing as the world shrinks and “Entrepreneurship” is defined by culture.

 

My Thoughts:

Unfortunately, the Quote Post I did last week did a great job of summing up just how this book is. It is written by a professor who studies Entrepreneurship and really appears to be for other professors or people who are already familiar with the Entrepreneurship industry.

Before I read this book, I defined Entrepreneurship as something done by Entrepreneurs, who are people who DO things. After reading this book, my definition has not changed one jot. It should have.

The author admits that his father was a failed entrepreneur and that is why he is a professor of Entrepreneurship instead of an Entrepreneur himself. He is someone who talks from their ivory tower (hello Saruman?) instead of doing anything. This was not written for someone completely unfamiliar with the subject and all its industry terms. As a field tech in the Land Survey Industry, I am quite familiar with “industry terms”. They have exact, specific meanings and convey a wealth of information to those who have learned what those terms mean. You don’t use those terms as an Introduction however.

The only thing that really didn’t rub me the wrong way was that at the end of the book was an extensive Bibliography of other books to read if this book hadn’t killed your interest in the subject.

I have a bunch of these VSI books in my Non-Fiction line up and I am desperately hoping the rest are not written like this. If they are, they are useless, a waste of time and a complete failure in being an “Introduction”. Paul Westhead should be ashamed of himself.

★☆☆☆☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)