October 05, 2010
Three Books, Reviewed

I've been reading a bit. Here are three recent books I've read. Two history books and a sci-fi novel. I'm such a geek.

The Mother Tongue - Bill Bryson

I had read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bryson previously and loved it. I saw this book on sale at the store and decided to give it a read. The tells the history of the English language from it's origins to today. After a bit of reading, I was wondering why the book referred to so many events in the 80s. I checked the copyright and saw that the book was released in 1990. So I was reading a 20 year old book. In the lifespan of the English language, it's really not so long. I found it mostly interesting with occasional dry stretches that only a true linguist could love. Pointing out methods of speech that are basically gone with only a handful of examples remaining was fascinating. Also the book points out the influence of other languages into English and where we have multiple words for the same thing exposing the adoption of terms into English.

I liked the book, but only speed reader with a penchant for history will be able to get through it.

The Jennifer Morgue - Charles Stross

I had read several of Stross's science fiction novels and even his alt-history Merchant series, but had somehow missed The Laundry series. Jennifer Morgue is the first book in the series. The book mixes the Lovecraftian Cthulu mythos with the 007 world of spies and tradecraft. That's all you really need to know, you shoudl be running to buy a copy with just that description.

The novel was good with the requisite amount of withholding of information that is obvious to the protagonist but unknown to the reader to keep pulling forward. Personally, I'd like a little more information on the world we're dealing with, but the novel works regardless. I'm Stross is setting up for future novels where he can explore tings he only hints at in the first book. No reason to box himself in to early. I'm going to pick up the next novel once I clear my nightstand of the stack that remains awaiting my attention.

The Disappearing Spoon - Sam Kean

This book is described as a history of the periodic table, but it's more a history of the discovery of elements. The two are tied together, but the writer assumes the reader already has a great familiarity with the periodic table already. The book would have done well to get about a third of the way through and then stop to more clearly explain how the periodic table works and why it's so useful.

I like history books, and this one is no different. The stories behind the elements are fascinating and I breezed through the book. I think the book could have used a bunch more illustrations and photographs to go along to help keep the visual images going. Anyone that enjoyed science, physics and chemistry in school will enjoy this book. But remember, it's written for a mass audience and much of the deeper science is left out.

Posted by michael at October 05, 2010 10:55 AM

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