Monday, July 12, 2004

While I'm finishing my coffee and waiting for clean socks from the drier, some notes on recent and moderately-recent reading.

  • Henri Poincare. The Value of Science --

    Poincare was a luminary of mathematics and physics who contributed, among other things, to the study of dynamical systems (he won a prize for his work on the three-body problem) and topology (analysis situ, as it was known at the time). E.T. Bell called him the Last Univeralist for the breadth of his work. In addition to being a leading scientist, Poincare was a science writer, and The Value of Science is a translation of several of his popular science works from the end of his life, near the turn of the twentieth century.

    I've read some of The Value of Science, but I haven't exactly made rapid progress. I expect I would enjoy it more if I read French; while the translation is competent, it still has the odor of a translation about it. Also, while interesting, the topics covered are mostly familiar. The familiar topics and the slightly stilted translation together make my reading leisurely and sometimes drowsy.

  • Patrick O'Brian. Post Captain and H.M.S. Surprise --

    I wish I read more books with lines in which one main character cries to the other You have debauched my sloth! The books are fun and easy to read, despite -- or perhaps even because of -- the frequent nautical jargon. The next two O'Brian books are in queue.

  • Roger Zelazny. The Great Book of Amber --

    I bought this collection a while back while on a let's buy classic fantasy I haven't read kick. The Amber books are regarded as classic for a reason. There are some interesting premises, and the books move along smartly. I was glad to see the end of the last one, though. For all the plot twists -- and all the plotting -- the books seem to have an endlessly inconclusive quality to them, reminiscent of Neil Stephenson (but with a better editor).

  • William Gibson. Pattern Recognition --

    One of my friends has commented that Stephenson's writing changes meaning completely if you don't pay attention to every word. I only half agree with him, but Pattern Recognition makes a persuasive argument for his case. Looking back, the plot seems a little off, but the writing is wry, witty, and dense in a way that makes it difficult to read some paragraphs only once. There are no cyber-cowboys or vat-grown ninjas, but the imagery is fully as developed and surrealistic as anything in Neuromancer and its successors.

  • Bill Bryson. A Walk in the Woods --

    I'm only half done, but it's funny and fast-reading so far. If I like the second half as much as I liked the first, I'll probably check out some other things Bryson has written.