A record of my thoughts on the books I've read.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Critical Mass: How one thing leads to another by Philip Ball

Recently I read a piece by Michael Shermer on hard science, in which he contends that if sciences should be ranked (which they shouldn't) the social sciences are much harder than the physical sciences.

This book tells a story of how physics helps the social sciences. By using techniques from physics, social sciences gets insight into how markets work, how crowds behave, how traffic jams, without needing to go into the messy details of motive and behaviour. Simple rules suffice to produce complex behaviour.

The book has some interesting and hopeful commentary on what we can learn and how we should handle what we get to know from this science.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Skatte van die Suidpool by Arthur Bleksley

This is a children's story of an Antarctic expedition sent out by South Africa. It was published in 1963, when the South African Antarctic research was just taking off.

The story seems to be a re-hashing of previous expeditions' stories. I recognize strains of Scott, Shackleton, Hilary & Fuchs, but without the suffering.

The author obviously has not been to Antarctica before. There are too many places in the story where sunset plays an important role. While the night in Antarctic is just as dark as elsewhere, the sunsets are so very slow that one would never say "it's going to be dark in an hour."

Signor Marconi's magic box. by Gavin Weightman

This book tells the story of Marconi (and his competitors), rather than the story of the radio. It is also the familar story of the rapid commercialization of a technological advance in communication technology.

The Penultimate Truth by Philip K Dick

A science fiction story about a post-WWIII world, where the majority of the world's population is held underground and fed the illusion that the war is still going on, while a priviledged few live in luxury on the surface, tended by robots manufactured below.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

They fought for King and Kaiser: South Africans in German East Africa 1916 by James Ambrose Brown.

At the start of the First World War, Germany posessed two African colonies south of the south of the equator, German West Africa (today Namibia) and German East Africa (today Tanzania). At the end of the war the two colonies had been conquered by South African generals. The German West Africa campaign had ended in surrender. The German East Africa campaign set the prototype for many of the African wars for the rest of the century: Black troops lead by white officers that know the country consistently outmaneuvre the invading foreign army. Casualties from disease is far greater than casualties from enemy action.

The two great protagonists in the story are General Smuts on the South African side, and Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sol y Sombra deur Uys Krige

Afrikaans soos dit moet wees, soos Dana Snyman vandag, voor die afdwingers ons begin voorsê het hoe om te skryf. Afrikaans, lewendig, kleurvol, kragtig.

Uys Krige skryf uit Spanje sketse van Barcelona, Valencia en Almeria, asook die omliggende platteland.

As ek my hand uitsteek, lê die dag soos ‘n warm lui akkedis in my palm.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Who Hath Desired the Sea memoirs of Peter Gerard

Peter Gerard is the nom de plume of Mrs Charles Pears. She has started sailing at an early age, reportedly being entirely self-taught.

The book is in effect a collection of descriptions of cruises she undertook between the two World Wars, starting with dinghies at Torquay, and ending with her own ship, confined to harbour by wartime activities.

Despite my rather uninspiring description of the theme of the book, the language is colourful and the reader gets a good introduction to the sailing life. In addition there are intereting sidelights on the progress in women's rights.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Return with Honor by Captain Scott O'Grady with Jeff Coplon

Scott O'Grady ejected from his F-16 fighter aircraft over Bosnia on 2 June 1995, after it was hit by an SA-6 anti-aircraft missile. He was rescued on the 8th of June, by a team of US Marines.

Despite the dust jacket blurb, Captain O'Grady's story is not too harrowing. He had been taught the rules of survival, and survived because of that. He moved at night, staying hidden during the day. His main problems were cold and thirst.

The book is a good read, and seems to some extent to be a US Air Force recruitment publication. Not surprising, really, because he would not have been free to publish at will while still serving. Nevertheless, O'Grady is a patriotic and loyal American, and I believe the story accurately reflects his values. The story is as much about the escape as about O'Grady's career in the Air Force. It gradually builds the picture of what made him believe that his people would come to fetch him. This belief, as much as his tenacity, is what made his rescue possible.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Churchill's bodyguard by Tom Hickman

This book is "The authorised biography of Walter H Thompson, based on his complete memoirs."

Walter Thompson was Churchill's bodyguard throughout the Second World War. He learned to work with Churchill long before, from 1921 guarding him from Sinn Fein threats. Churchill got him back for the War, and they spent more time together than with anybody else.