Tag Archive: history of science and technology


Review by C.J. Bunce

In Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, chemist and author Kathryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic, reveals the results of a thorough investigation into the scientific knowledge available to young author Mary Shelley at the turn of the 19th century when Shelley wrote the first science fiction novel (and basis for the first horror movie), Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus The result is a detailed, marvelously interconnected picture of notable minds of the Enlightenment and their theories, a useful history of science and technology, and a worthy supplement to any reading or study of the classic story.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was greatly influenced by noted authors of her era, beginning with her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (through her writings), and her long-time companion and eventual husband, the noted author and political thinker Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Mary Shelley lived in a world of scientific improvements, while also at only the barest beginnings of modern chemistry, biology, and medicine.  Author Kathryn Harkup looked back to writings of the late 1700s and earlier, where religion, politics, and culture were undergoing a radical shift, with old concepts like alchemy winding down its influence on the thinking world.  As Harkup writes, “Dark, discredited, ineffectual alchemy was contrasted with enlightened, rational, powerful science.”  She follows Mary Shelley’s travels as documented in letters and diaries Shelley and her contemporaries wrote to locate hundreds of opportunities that could have influenced the author’s story as well as Victor Frankenstein the character inside the world where he would create life from the dead.  In doing so the reader will get a snapshot of the world in 1800-1818 and a class in a major chapter of the history of science and technology–what someone in Shelley’s circumstances as a woman among affluent families living among vocal sharers of ideas including the likes of Erasmus Darwin, Luigi Galvani, Benjamin Franklin, and Lord Byron.

Harkup takes her research a step further in Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, locating the possible influences of not only Shelley but those around Mary Shelley like her father, her husband, and Byron, whose access to cutting edge science and free thought reached across the ocean and nations.  She references the ongoing relationships and likelihood of the sharing of ideas among these men and Mary Shelley, all leading to the famous trip during the rainy summer of 1816, where the world was overtaken by darkness thanks to the earlier eruption of Mount Tambora in far off Indonesia.  Mary Shelley, age 18, with boyfriend Percy visiting Byron and Dr. John Polidori at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, were hunkered down reading ghost stories to each other from the French book Fantasmagoriana, when Byron suggested each should write his/her own ghost story (Polidori’s story would become The Vampyre, the first vampire novel).  Along with the science, Harkup provides a complete background of each step of Shelley’s life before and after completion of her Frankenstein contribution.

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It’s not historical fact as much as a depiction of an era, but Amazon′s original movie The Aeronauts has a gorgeous look with plenty of historical elements.  We previewed the first trailer for the film two months ago, and Amazon just released the next.  The film is billed as biographical adventure, and that comes from its depiction of Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts) as real-life balloonist James Glaisher.  Glaisher, with another British aeronaut named Henry Coxwell, beat the world flight altitude record by reaching nearly 39,000 feet with a hot air balloon.  For the Amazon production Coxwell is being swapped out for a fictional character played by Rogue One’s Felicity Jones.  Both Jones and Redmayne were nominated for Oscars for The Theory of Everything, with Redmayne taking home an award.  Jones’ character in this film will be an amalgam of the first woman who was a professional balloonist, Sophie Blanchard, and another famous aeronaut of the era, Margaret Graham.

Even if you dismiss the elements that aren’t historical, you’re left with a big budget steampunk era film, which is a rarity for fans of the genre, The Aeronauts had top designers re-create the 1860s.  Alice Sutton, who was production designer on Bohemian Rhapsody, is production designer on this film (as well as next year’s Emma adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy).  The historical costumes were created by Alexandra Byrne, Oscar-winner for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and she’s known for her work on Marvel movies Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, The Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, plus The Phantom of the Opera and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

Take a look at the new trailer for Amazon’s The Aeronauts:

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It’s not historical fact as much as a depiction of an era, but Amazon′s forthcoming original movie The Aeronauts has a gorgeous look with plenty of historical elements.  It’s billed as biographical adventure, and that comes from its depiction of Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts) as real-life balloonist James Glaisher.  On this day in September 1862, Glaisher with another British aeronaut Henry Coxwell beat the world flight altitude record by reaching nearly 39,000 feet with a hot air balloon.  For the Amazon production Coxwell is being swapped out for a fictional character played by Rogue One’s Felicity Jones.  Both Jones and Redmayne were nominated for Oscars for The Theory of Everything, with Redmayne taking home an award.  Jones’ character in this film will be an amalgam of the first woman who was a professional balloonist, Sophie Blanchard, and another famous aeronaut of the era, Margaret Graham.

Besides having the greatest steampunk title you can think of, The Aeronauts had top designers re-create the 1860s.  So even if we’re not going to get historical accuracy, this seems like it may provide a good feel for an era that hasn’t seen much screen-time outside the fictional realm of the steampunk genre.  Alice Sutton, who was production designer on Bohemian Rhapsody, is production designer on this film (as well as next year’s Emma adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy).  The historical costumes were created by Alexandra Byrne, Oscar-winner for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and she’s known for her work on Marvel movies Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, The Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, plus The Phantom of the Opera and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

Take a look at the trailer for Amazon’s The Aeronauts:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to imagine even Superman could leap over the tall buildings that have pierced the skyline in recent years.  The current tallest building is a staggering 2,717 feet (828 m) tall, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  If its 57 elevators and 124-floor elevator aren’t high enough for you, just wait for the next skyscraper to eclipse it in 2021, the 3,281-foot high Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which when finished will in part mimic the look of the fictional Stark Tower/Avengers building in the New York City of the Marvel movies.  From the 2,800 hundred-year-old Great Pyramids of Egypt to today’s contest to be Manhattan’s tallest structure, Edward Denison and Nick Beech′s How to Read Skyscrapers is a handy pocket-sized field guide to accompany you on your travels or serve as a reference to understand the history of humanity’s desire to build ever taller structures.

Not only does How to Read Skyscrapers provide a chronological overview of the construction processes and features behind the history of tall building design, it is a quick course in the progress of architectural science and technology.  Along the way readers will encounter flying buttresses and domes, arches, facades, and columns, lobbies and pedestals, iron framing, prefabricated modular design, elevators, sprinkler systems, boiler and ventilation systems, electricity, zoning barriers, decorative features, building material improvements, innovative lighting, air travel docking systems, marketing and competitive (ego) building and symbolism, all toward the concept of creating the building as city unto itself–and the innovation annotations are all tied to the buildings these new features were first introduced.

For much of the book two cities championed dramatic heights, first Chicago followed later by New York City, making this guide a useful tool for sight-seeing in these cities.  One section highlights American growth and early building history, another section details the global proliferation of tall buildings, followed by a survey of the tallest U.S. buildings, and a tour of the most striking, strangely designed giant structures around the world.

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