Advertisements

Tag Archive: Copernicus


Review by C.J. Bunce

Lists, and by extension, books with lists, are the stuff that sprout conversation.  Sometimes good conversation, sometimes knock-down-drag-outs, but always something to talk about.  We saw that last month in our look at Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World, and it applies to Scott Christianson and Colin Salter’s new audacious work, 100 Books that Changed the World This book is not merely a list of books, but an argument supporting why the authors think each book merits recognition.  After all, with more than 2 million new books published each year (300,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and documented writings going back thousands of years, whittling them all down to 100 is a bit daunting at a minimum.  Grade schoolers, college liberal arts and sciences majors, and everyone else has probably encountered a list like this before, usually styled the “greatest,” “most influential,” or “most significant” books ever written.  Ultimately, readers may find the compilation of 100 books that “changed the world” results in a very similar set of books.

What would make your list?  You can probably list 20 included without much work.  The authors state in their preface that there are 50 books everyone would agree should be included.  Think religion and myths (the Torah, the Bible, the Quran), math and science (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Newton’s Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica), philosophy and politics (Plato’s The Republic, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man), works of fiction (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), classic children’s books (Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales), works of the often-disputed literary greats (I’m looking at you, James Joyce), and works of long undisputed literary masters like Homer and Shakespeare.  Yes, these are all “givens” for a list like this.  But noteworthy great additions I don’t recall seeing on a list like this before include Louis Braille’s Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of TimeAnd no author made the list more than once, except the writers of the Bible, which appears on the list twice: for the Gutenberg Bible and the King James version.

The authors hope their book “makes you question your own choices or ours, or introduces you to a book.”  Criticisms of 100 Books that Changed the World aren’t going to be all that dire as much as simply topics for discussion.  They’re the same critiques of any list or book like this.  Thirty-seven books on the list were written by authors from England, removing the inclusion of any books from some countries.  The list is heavily back loaded, with 26 books from the 19th century and 35 books from the 20th century–explainable in part since the authors didn’t have a lot to select from the first 3,000 years covered.  The oldest book included is the I Ching, roughly 4,800 years old, and the most recent, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, only four years old.  The late history scholar Robert E. Schofield postulated that historians cannot accurately assess the influence of a historical period unless at least 50 years has transpired, and consistent with that theory, nine books shouldn’t have made the cut, removing books like Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  

Continue reading

Advertisements

Planet Earth and Hadfield

Tuesday night Commander Chris Hadfield met with a small group of Kansas City patrons at a reception in the Linda Hall Library of science and technology, in advance of a lecture on the release of his new book You Are Here to 800 attendees at the Unity Temple on the Plaza.  Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who flew twice on the space shuttle and commanded the International Space Station last year, fielded a barrage of questions on everything from his tight fit in a Russian Soyuz space capsule to his favorite moments in outer space to his famous viral rock video.

Just feet from a 1543 first edition of Copernicus’s On the Heavenly Spheres in which Copernicus first introduced humans to an image of the Sun at the center of the universe, and a 1610 hand-notated first edition of Galileo’s treatise Starry Messenger in which Galileo first documented his discoveries via telescope, Hadfield was a living representation of mankind’s greatest achievements so far.  Confident and razor sharp, Hadfield conveyed those traits you’d expect from a test pilot and astronaut required to know how to repair every part of his spacecraft if necessary and conduct experiments in outer space as planet Earth soars in front of him at 1,000 miles per hour.

Hadfield signing

Commander Hadfield signed copies of his new book You Are Here, and earlier work An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

Hadfield, known for his transmission of images via Twitter during his five-month stint on the International Space Station (ISS), said he personally follows very few people on the Internet.  “I follow a few friends I know who have some humorous things to say,” he said.  On the space station Hadfield produced an unprecedented rock video sung and performed on guitar by the commander–a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which we reported on here at borg.com back in 2013 (and referred to Hadfield as the coolest man on, or off, Earth).  He said his son, who produced the video from back home on Earth, “really wrote the book” on using social media to convey something as enormous as sharing what Hadfield was doing in outer space, including the millions re-introduced to the space program who watched his video on YouTube.  “We have something like 20 million hits,” he said proudly (actually now more than 23 million).

Librarian for history of science Bruce Bradley

Linda Hall Library history of science librarian Bruce Bradley displays rare original texts from Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.

Before the private reception, Linda Hall Library history of science librarian Bruce Bradley showed off the facilities collection of original historic astronomy texts, and Hadfield said he was impressed by what he had seen.  The Library previously hosted Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, seen here.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: