February 28, 2021

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, February 2021

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste, and no qualifications to opine about geology, policing, law, or the history of Islamic science.

Michael E. Wysession, How the Earth Works
This is basically a "rocks for jocks" geology course, but I learned stuff from it, so I'm not really in a position to review it.
Rosa Brooks, Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City
In which the author, almost on a whim, spends a sabbatical year from her career as a law professor becoming a reserve police officer in Washington, DC, including going through the (modified) police academy for those volunteers, working as a policewoman in Anacostia, etc. She stuck with it for over four years, basically until the book was about to come out. This was, as everyone told her and she freely acknowledges, crazy, but it produced a really good book, equal parts memoir, war stories, and intellectual reflection.
(There are also some quite personal passages about what was involved in doing this while having grown up as not just any red diaper baby, but specifically Barbara Ehrenreich's child. I thought those parts were interesting and even affecting, but I wonder if that shouldn't have been a separate essay.)
Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House
Mind candy contemporary fantasy: what if the Yale secret societies were literally pursuing magic? And what if Yale were to admit an utterly un-well-rounded student with serious issues who happened to be really good at magic? (Bardugo graduated from Yale a surprisingly small number of years ago.)
Jim Al-Khalili, The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance
This is mostly great. The subtitle is misleadingly Eurocentric; it's mostly about new science under the Abbasaid caliphate. As a practicising physicist, Al-Khalili is both very good at explaining the science done, and somewhat impatient of the meta-scientific subtleties. In particular he's very ready to claim that (a) there's such a thing as The Scientific Method, and (b) some at least of the scholars he's writing about grasped it and used it, along with, at more implicit level, (c) those scholars were pursuing the same kind of endeavor that Al-Khalili is (and for that matter that I am). But I am frankly not familiar enough with the literature on al-Biruni or (especially) al-Haytham to be entitled to an opinion as to whether they thought they were pursuing something that might be called "the scientific method".
(Al-Khalili writes about "Arabic science" because that was the language used; he's quite clear that ethnically many if not most of these men weren't Arabs, any more than European scholars writing in Latin were Romans.)

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Islam and Islamic Civilization; The Beloved Republic; Writing for Antiquity; Scientifiction and Fantastica

Posted at February 28, 2021 23:59 | permanent link

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