Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Information

The Information: a history, a theory, a flood by James Gleick (Midwest Tape, 2011)

This comprehensive history of information covers a lot of ground. It’s not just about the history of computers or about we now call “information theory.”  Gleick also discusses dictionaries, telegraphy and telephony, quantum mechanics, and the Internet. The sections on African drums, Charles Babbage’s difference engine, memes, and Wikipedia are particularly enlightening. Some of the material is very repetitive or highly mathematical, making it less than ideal for an audio format.  But Gleick does give us plenty to think about.

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Fixing the Sky

Fixing the Sky: the checkered history of weather and climate control by James Rodger Fleming (Columbia University Press, 2010)

As the years go by and the world misses yet another target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions that warm the planet, “geo-engineering” gets mentioned more and more often. Though climate models are getting more sophisticated, they are still nowhere near the point of being able to accurately predict all results and side effects of a large-scale attempt to alter the carbon content of the ocean or atmosphere. “Fixing the Sky” tries to get us to look at the history of weather and climate control and think about its ethical, political and economic ramifications before we do anything rash. Fleming did a good deal of historical research into prior attempts to control our weather and climate, and found that few of them showed any evidence of having worked.  He also makes the point that even if an engineering “fix” was proven to work, that wouldn’t make it ethically right to undertake it.  Because of meteorology’s close affiliation with military interests over the years, Fleming is very concerned that today’s “geo-engineers” are dangerously blind (and indifferent) to the many unknown negatives of global-scale climate fixes.

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Filed under Environment, Science

A Place in Time

A Place in Time by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint Press, 2012)

This is a collection of short stories about the characters in a fictional small town in Kentucky. Apparently the author has written previous entire novels about them and this is kind of a wrap-up. Most of the characters are very strong, outdoors-oriented men. They seem to enjoy being farmers despite the hard work, and are nostalgic for the old days when life was simpler. While I am sympathetic in a general way, I can’t really relate to their experiences.

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Filed under Environment, Historical fiction

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon Books, 2012)

There is a lovely quaint map of Edinburgh drawn on the endpapers of this latest novel in the Isabel Dalhousie series. There is no scale to offer context, but it is still a small window into the charming Scottish world inhabited by Isabel and her family. It reminds me of Jan Karon’s Mitford novels, which also come with a town map. I assume Edinburgh is much larger than Mitford, but McCall Smith makes it sound almost as cozy. Readers who have followed Isabel thus far will undoubtedly want to visit Edinburgh again in their armchairs to enjoy her philosophical meanderings and ethical dilemmas.

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Filed under Mystery, Romance, United Kingdom

The Europeans

The Europeans: A Geography of People, Culture, and Environment by Robert C. Ostergren and John G. Rice. New York: The Guilford Press, 2004.

It is not clear if this book is intended as a geography textbook, but in the introduction the authors describe it as a result of many years of teaching courses on the geography of Europe for undergraduates. If it were a textbook, I would expect a glossary of unfamiliar terms, of which there are many. Perhaps the expectation is that students would look up the words they don’t understand, or that the instructor would explain them in class. One word which was used so many times I had to stop and look it up was hegemony (political and/or cultural domination). The book did actually define the term Maghreb (western North Africa – Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia) which I heard for the first time on the radio the same day I learned it.

My main purpose in reading the book was to learn more about the European Union, which was created long after I finished college and thus was never covered in my schooling. I am fascinated by the idea of all those European countries, with centuries of wars between them, forming a political and economic union. This book was written in 2004, before the financial crisis that began in 2008, so it may be more optimistic than it would be if it had been written more recently.  But at least now I know what happened in the past 30 years, what the map of Europe looks like now, and what happened to all those “former Soviet” countries when the Berlin Wall came down.

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