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Posts about books (old posts, page 62)

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller

2011


Another example of a well-known tale told from an unusual perspective, this time Patroclus' view of his relationship with Achilles. It's an excellent accomplishment, very believable, and compare favourably with Circe, Miller's other work in the same theme.

It's frustrating for the reader that Patroclus just doesn't get it: even when he's referred to as "the best of the Acheans", he still feels he'll outlive Achilles. And there are some anachronisms that frustrate slightly too: the Greeks didn't have the same notion of homosexuality as we do, so many of the concerns and tensions that the book explores (and which are familiar to the modern reader) would have been less serious (and perhaps incomprehensible) at the time. But those are minor quibbles in what is by any measure a great achievement of re-centring a story.

5/5. Finished 17 December 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Weather Machine: How We See Into the Future

The Weather Machine: How We See Into the Future

Andrew Blum

2019


Weather forecasting is one of the triumphs of modern technology – and especially computing technology. This book stretches across the technology stack, from the sensors that are collecting the raw data (and how they evolved from earlier systems) all the way to the modelling and processing of that data into usable forecasts, with some very interesting diversions into the sociology and politics of global weather forecasting, and how the rise of privately-owned data streams may improve the lives of many but disadvantage some of the areas of the world most in need of better forecasting as the climate warms.

But Blum manages to do all this without ever really getting to grips with the technology or the science, and that's rather disappointing. It's made worse by side-references to some ideas that could have formed the basis for discussion, for example Edward Witten's discovery of the chaotic dynamics of weather which is what drives a lot of model design. To me that suggests reading this book alongside Chaos: Making a New Science, where the science is more central and the technology therefore more understandable.

3/5. Finished 12 October 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Robert Macfarlane

2019


A lyrical exploration of underground, in all sorts of senses, from potholing in England to trekking across a barren Norwegian island in search of palaeolithic rock art. It's an amazing journey to be taken on.

And the writing is quite amazing in many places. I've never been a caver (I used to be a rock climber), but the claustrophobia of some of the caving exploits made me squirm and get almost panicky even though I was sitting out in the sunshine. The description of the Paris necropolis and the way it's now a centre for an alternative nightlife is almost beyond belief, and Macfarlane's descriptions of artic villages and treacherous mountains are equally vivd and engrossing. This is one of the few books that really draws the reader in, like standing alongside the author in his adventures. Not to be missed.

5/5. Finished 12 October 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Sherlock Holmes and the Lady in Black

Sherlock Holmes and the Lady in Black

June Thomson

2015


The premise of this book is that Sherlock Holmes, now retired to the coast, is still applying his mind to the mysteries he finds in his vicinity. The problem is that the "mystery" isn't actually all that mysterious, or gripping, or in any way exciting, which means there's never any real sense of Holmes engaging with anything of importance. While I think Thomson captures Holmes and Watson quite well, there's a lot of be desired in terms of plot.

2/5. Finished 12 October 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

How To

How To

Randall Munroe

2019


What happens when the writer of xkcd puts his mind to common everyday tasks? Hilarity, of course.... and as usual, a lot of fascinating physics.

I would place this in the middle of Munroe's two books. It's far better, funnier, and grown-up that Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, but less fresh than What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. For all that it's still laugh-out-loud funny, grounded in solid physics (albeit in absurd ways), and manages somehow to change the way you might actually look at problems in the future.

4/5. Finished 12 October 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)