Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Break

Now that I have access to the public library a block away, thank the good Dog, as I did not for the year I was wheelchair-bound, I am starting to catch up on some reading. Monday is always a good day because the library is open until 8:00PM, and this last Monday was, as anticipated, quite a success:

Mitchell, Melanie. Complexity: A Guided Tour. Oxford, 2009.

This is a book for ordinary mortals with an interest in the new ways we think about information. Mitchell points out that in the 17th and 18th centuries (the age of Newton and his immediate predecessors), humanity, or at least a small part of it, fathomed the mathematical laws of very large objects, e.g., the motion of the planets in the Solar System. In the early years of the 20th century, with the advent of quantum mechanics, the science of very small things... atoms and subatomic particles and their simplest combinations... began to be understood, at least mathematically. (I don't think one can fairly claim that the 20th century developed a reliable intuition for the truly bizarre phenomena detailed by quantum mechanics; indeed, quantum intuition is still a scarce commodity.) So... what was still missing, even in broad outline, from the physical sciences? Everything in between: the areas sometimes called "emergent" phenomena, not able to be explained by a formerly typical reductionist approach to science, nor grand enough to be described by the physics of Newton or even Einstein. Living things and their subsystems (brains, immune systems, etc.) are good examples. These areas are at last getting their due, often through expanded notions of "information" and "computation" initiated as early as my college days (late 1960s, early 1970s) as applied to physical systems. This is the primary focus of Mitchell's book.

Deutsch, David. The Beginning of Infinity. Viking, 2011.

I have read this book once before, fairly recently, and may have mentioned it on the blog. Since reading it, I have read Deutsch's earlier book, The Fabric of Reality, which provided a better context for this more recent book. The content of this book is extremely diverse, not to say scatter-shot, ranging from the understanding of science as explanation (what things can be included and what things must be excluded from our current concept of science), to the multiverse (in one of the senses of that word, the concept that quantum mechanics is an expression of the operation of a gigantic multitude of parallel universes differing only in very local particulars), to a fictional dream of Socrates, and so on. It is the only book I know in which the last chapter is titled "The Beginning". Like most books of popular physics, I anticipate that this one will repay a second reading many times over.

Nelson Douglas, Carole. Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta: A Midnight Louie Mystery. Forge, 2011.

Some things never change. I lapsed in reading the Midnight Louie series, a combination mystery series with at least one cat detective (a la the late lamented Lilian Jackson Braun) and romance series possibly... possibly... suitable for preteen girls, depending as always on the girl and her parents. But the lapse has done me no harm. Nelson Douglas's human protagonist Temple Barr (now there's a name for you!) is still the publicity wizard of Las Vegas; "her" cat Midnight Louie ("her" in only a very limited sense) still is the super-intelligent descendant of Egyptian tomb cats who plunges into investigations of human misdeeds for a variety of reasons, Ms. Barr's social life is apparently still divided between the same two men of very different sorts, etc. etc. From the jacket notes alone, I can tell it's going to be a romp... and that I missed very little by skipping the dozen series novels in between.

Anyway, I have a lot to read, and four weeks to read them (including renewal, which HPL allows one to do at initial checkout if one's record is clean), so if I'm not on the blog as often, please forgive me.


  1. "super-intelligent descendant of Egyptian tomb cats" captured me completely! It's has become time for a good mystery.

  2. The books are charming, karmanot, and public libraries almost always carry them. Ms. Nelson Douglas was president of the... not sure about the name... Cat Mystery Writers Association for a while, and her books have been in print for well over a decade. If you can't find them in your library, try a used paperback store.

    Somewhere, in a book of miscellaneous short stories, CND published a story about two of Midnight Louie's ancient Egyptian ancestors. If you can find that, I know you'll enjoy it! Failing that, I can vouch for any of the early novels; I haven't read the later ones... yet.

  3. Oh, and I meant to mention... CND also has an "Irene Adler" series, based on Sherlock Holmes's "THE woman" ... well-drawn and action-packed.

  4. "Irene Adler" ----certainly the most interesting and magnificent of Sherlock's rare equals. The new PBS series on Sherlock, which repelled me initially did one on Irene Adler and now I'm hooked.

  5. I'm sorry I missed it, karmanot. I started out watching that series, finding a sort of perverse fascination in the youth of the characters, but the schedule on which they were aired in Houston was too erratic, and we have only broadcast TV here...



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