This is my next round of cleaning out my books for donation. Posting about them is my way of saying goodbye. Nothing as exciting as clearing off a shelf, but I have more clear space to put the books that are clogging up nightstands and end tables.
Time Detectives: How Archaeologists Use Technology to Recapture the Past (1995) by Brian Fagan describes how archaeology, long abandoning the world of Indiana Jones and treasure-hunting, now uses a wide variety of technology and disciplines to reconstruct the past. He opens with an example of 7000-year-old discarded flint-workings from present-day Belgium left by two different people. Analysis shows one of the two people was left-handed. Fagan visits more than two dozen sites worldwide, from well-known places such as Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania to less well-known places like Guilá Naquitz Cave in Oaxaca, Mexico. The topics are wide-ranging. I enjoyed this book.
Bio: Brian Fagan (b. 1936) is a British archaeologist, author, and professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His writings include standard introductory textbooks in the field of archeology, a column in Archaeology magazine. His latest book, Climate Chaos: Lessons of Survival from our Ancestors (2021), is written with Nadia Durrani.
Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physic Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher (1963) by Richard P. Feynman is a selection of the six easiest chapters from Feynman’s textbook on physics. They are not “easy” but are geared toward a general audience without knowledge of the specialized mathematics that usually accompanies college-level mathematics. Feynman wrote an original preface when the work was published in 1963. A special preface was added in 1989 by David L Goodstein and Gerry Neuberger of Cal Tech (where Feynman taught) after the author’s death. In 1984, Paul Davis wrote an introduction. The “pieces” are: “Atoms in Motion,” “Basic Physics,” “The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences,” “Conservation of Energy,” “The Theory of Gravitation,” and “Quantum Behavior.”
It takes a bit of effort to get through the book, but it’s worth it.
Bio: Richard Feynman (1918-1988) worked on the Manhattan Project and joined Cal Tech in Pasadena, California, in 1950. In 1965, he shared a Nobel Prize with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga for their independent work in quantum electrodynamics. In 1986, he worked on the commission investigating the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Among his works are Six Not-So-Easy Pieces, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, and The Meaning of it All.
Out of the Crater: Chronicles of a Volcanologist (1999) by Richard V. Fisher is a memoir. In the words of the volcanologist author, it is “mostly about walks and talks with some of the volcanoes I have studied, visited, climbed, or contemplated.” While he discusses scientific concepts, he denies this is a scientific book. Early in the book, he recounts witnessing the explosions of atomic bombs on Bikini Atoll while he was in the service. This is not superfluous: the explosions later helped in his research of pyroclastic volcanic flows.
I liked this book.
Bio: Richard V. Fisher (1928-2002) was professor emeritus of geological sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His first book, Pyroclastic Rocks (1984), remains the definitive work on the topic. Another book, Volcanoes— Crucibles of Change (1997), was for a popular audience.
Moorish Spain (1992) by Richard Fletcher is a brief account of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula, which began with a raid by Berbers from North Africa in 711 and lasted into the reign of Philip III (1598-1621). However, a few hearty souls hung on into the 17th and 18th centuries to be prosecuted as “secret Muslims.” While the account can read like a laundry list of which king did what to what king when, Fletcher does not romanticize the subject.
Bio: Richard Fletcher (1944-2005) was a professor emeritus at York University. His book The Quest for El Cid (1989) won the Wolfson Literary Award for History (1989) and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History (1990).
From Beirut to Jerusalem (1989) by Thomas Friedman is a memoir of the author’s time as a foreign correspondent in Beirut for UPI and then The New York Times beginning in 1979, and in Jerusalem in 1982 for The New York Times. The author chose an excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as epigraph dealing with a feud between the Grangerford and Shepherdson clans. The feud and the killing have to keep going though no one remembers how the problem started or who fired the first shot.
This is a harrowing read; Friedman never becomes hardened to the atrocities he witnesses or writes about. During his first night in Beirut, he writes about hearing a shootout and notes that it was the first time in his life he’d heard gun fire. At the same time, Friedman takes pains to provide historical context for what’s happening. This is not an easy book to read and may be dated now, but it is informative.
From Beirut to Jerusalem won the National Book Award.
Bio: Thomas Friedman (b. 1953), a foreign affairs correspondent for The New York Times, has been awarded three Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting. His books include The World is Flat (2005), The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (1999), and Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World after September 11 (2002).