Friday, August 3, 2012

Book (Re-)Marks

No, not "bookmarks"; I have no problem with those. But I am almost phobic about permanent marks or notes in books; as a rule, I will not even buy a used book that has been heavily highlighted in screaming yellow or defaced with a reader's notes completely unnecessarily scribbled in ink. It seems somehow sacrilege in a more-or-less permanent object to render it useless for a possible future reader. If I need to mark a particular passage or annotate it, I use sticky notes; carefully applied, they can be removed later. Just don't let me see you enter Our House with a yellow highlighter in your pocket! But as usual, I have been reading a lot of books and "books" worth mentioning...

• Dean Baker's The End of Loser Liberalism (.pdf) is meeting or exceeding every expectation. Many of the facts are known to all of us on our side of the political spectrum, e.g., that the current crisis is not due to structural problems, that wealth is being transferred, by design, to the wealthy from everyone else, that the banksters are partially to blame, that criminal acts are not prosecuted if the perpetrators are wealthy, that the center of the problem... lack of demand... has scarcely been addressed by the Obama administration and most certainly not by the GOP, that we as a society know perfectly well how to address such a problem but Republicans and Democrats alike tacitly refuse to do so because of their dependency for campaign money on the top 1%, and so on. What is particularly admirable about Baker's work is his concise but thorough documentation of every point he makes. If you've been subjected to the circle jerk of right-wing nut-jobs, which you have been if you have so much as watched the evening news or the weekend pundit chatter on any TV network (it's not just Fox now), you will find Baker's book refreshingly candid, reality-based and well-documented. And the price is right: just download it free in .pdf format, or for your Kindle or other e-book reader.

• Ken Freeman and Geoff McNamara's In Search of Dark Matter (Springer/Praxis, 2006), a thin large-format paperback, is a book by astronomers and for would-be astronomers. It is not primarily a cosmology book, though inevitably one learns some of that in reading it, nor is it a particle physics book, but it is an excellent introduction to the sheer depth of creativity that scientists display in facing problems that stem from lack of data... and dark matter is such a problem, in spades. Freeman is one of the (forgive me) stellar lights of the dark matter field; Geoff McNamara is a regular author of astronomy- and physics-related books. This book is a quick read if you typically read longer popular science books, but by no means does "quick" imply "shallow" ... you will finish it knowing more than you thought you would about the 95% of the matter in the universe that cannot be seen through any sort of telescope.

• Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (W. W. Norton, 2003) has emerged as a classic in the field described by its title. If you're new to superstrings (I'm not exactly an old-timer myself), Greene, himself a working physicist in that field as well as a true craftsman in the, er, elegant use of the English language, will lead you through its major aspects... and believe me, if you're new to it, you need guidance. There are lots of diagrams that are to the point and well-connected to the text. As with every popular science book these days, there is a scarcity of mathematics; I have mixed feelings about that, but it does render the volume accessible to a lot more readers. I enjoyed this book so thoroughly that I have arranged to receive another of his books (The Fabric of the Cosmos) for my birthday in a few days.

Happy reading! Ditch the highlighter and concentrate your mind...


  1. Thank you, karmanot! The actual day is Monday, but most of the celebrating will take place tomorrow because my friends have to work on Monday.



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