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Tag Archive: Real Science


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

In the small-but-crowded field of Victorian true crime, Paul Thomas Murphy′s 2016 release Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder presents a notable installment in the genre.  Covering a lesser-known crime that was the sensation of its day, Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane details the brutal murder of Jane Clouson, a sixteen-year-old London maid-of-all-work, and the legal fiasco that followed, including—but hardly limited to—the murder trial of suspect Edmund Pook.  Murphy begins his account like a thriller, a police procedural of a bygone era of evolving law enforcement and burgeoning forensics.  His heroes are the detectives, witnesses, and doctors who come forward to uncover the truth of Clouson’s attack—and the identity of her attacker.  Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane is available now in a paperback edition.

In his riveting step-by-step analysis of the investigation, Murphy paints a vivid picture of 1870s London—its law enforcement, its residents, and the neighborhoods torn apart by the culture clash of young Clouson’s murder.  This section of the book really shines, offering both an excellent overview of period forensic science and police procedure, as well as enticing tidbits like the cost of a photograph or the unexpectedly fascinating workings of a ironmonger’s shop from the era.

The second part of Murphy’s tale, leading readers through the labyrinth of the 19th century English justice system, loses a bit of momentum, although that’s as much the challenge of presenting the welter of material about the case (four separate steps to the murder trial and all the attendant solicitors, barristers, judges, and witnesses) as the challenge of making the mystifying Victorian trial process understandable.  That said, it’s unclear who the audience for the book is meant to be—American readers wholly unfamiliar with the byzantine and confusing steps of a Victorian murder trial; or English readers who will find the basics—if not the details (which have changed substantially in the intervening 145 years)—relatable.  Readers brand-new to the subject will likely find themselves lost and confused by references to the Treasury Department (which handled many public prosecutions until the 1980s) and similar trappings, and may struggle to stick with the book through the legal morass.  It is not a spoiler to note that Pook was acquitted of the murder, but the legal battles surrounding him were far from over.  Murphy offers up a cast of characters who, beyond mere professional adversaries, become almost mortal enemies as the many facets of the case churn on.

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It’s Arbor Day, so let’s revisit three books we’ve looked at previously at borg that remind us of the fragility and wonder of the magnificent tree.

If the Scots abandoned Scotland to nature, it would be the birch that would be the first tree to seize its chance, and a birch forest would walk the streets of Edinburgh.

Thomas Pakenham was referring to a gigantic pioneer birch tree in Rothiemarchus, Scotland, but he may have well been writing about the Ents, the grand, wise, old leafed characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  In his book Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Pakenham reproduces his real-life journey across continents meeting some of the oldest inhabitants of the planet, even if they never actually “walked” the Earth.  In beautiful photographs and stories, he introduces readers to the most noble of Earth’s elders, a chance to marvel in awe at their enormous height, or breadth, of their obvious beauty or strikingly twisted, meandering, slim, or expansive forms.  Pakenham, the 8th Earl of Longford, an Anglo-Irish writer, historian, and tree enthusiast, selected trees “mostly very large, and mainly very ancient, and all with a strong personality,” highlighting the unique qualities unique to each remarkable individual.  His folksy speech and storytelling is refreshingly regional, providing an herbivorous mirror to fellow Brit James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

To visit these trees, to step beneath their domes and vaults, is to pay homage at a mysterious shrine.  But tread lightly. Even these giants have delicate roots.  And be warned that this may be your farewell visit.  No one can say if this prodigious trunk will survive the next Atlantic storm–or outlive us all by centuries.

Thomas Pakenham’s photograph of the great Fredville oak, named “Majesty” at least as early as 1820 when it was sketched by artist Jacob Strutt.

And, indeed, even some of the trees pictured in Meetings with Remarkable Trees are no longer around, having succumbed to storm or man-made destruction.  Pakenham’s tome is something profoundly sacred or spiritual.  It’s peppered with historical references, literary allusions to specific trees, and including some very famous trees, whether a thousand years old or more than 200 feet tall.  It seems preposterous humans travel the globe to see manmade creations when we could be on pilgrimages to commune with these ancient living beings.  Sixty trees are grouped by personality: Natives, Travellers, Shrines, Fantasies, and Survivors.  Once you’ve met Pakenham and his craggy acquaintances in this book, you’ll want to move on to accompany the champion of trees on a year in his life in his book, The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime’s Quest.

A different approach to individual trees can be found in photographer Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s Wise Trees (a preview is below).  Some ancient and many not so ancient, the trees in this book include 50 selected from five continents and identified for their historic or inspirational stories.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A giant new photographic essay of the space program reads like a behind the scenes account of the greatest production ever attempted.  And it might be just that.  Space Utopia: A Journey Through the History of Space Exploration from the Apollo and Sputnik Programmes to the Next Mission to Mars is the result of a decade of collaboration between photographer Vincent Fournier and the world’s most important space and research centers.  Fournier worked with researchers at NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Space agency, the European Southern Observatory, and other locations to identify those intriguing parts of earthbound facilities, historical locations, and physical objects that have gone to space and back, seen through an artist’s eye.  From space suits and environmental suits to spaceships, satellites, Soyuz trainers, ballistic missiles, and rovers, to training facilities and environments, to experimental items used on the International Space Station and flown to the moon, Space Utopia is a one-of-a-kind look at the history of the space program in pictures.

Through his photographs Fournier is attempting to explore humankind’s myths and fantasies about the future.  According to Fournier, “My aesthetic, philosophical and recreational fascination for the space adventure undoubtedly comes from the pictures and books I saw and read in the 1970s and ’80s —  movies, television series, science fiction novels, documentaries and news reports — that have mixed and superimposed in my memory like a palimpsest…. Space explorations emblematic locations are like cinema sets where Tintin might meet with Jules Verne in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”

THE SPACE PROJECT – Fournier’s Space Shuttle Discovery Nose Landing Gear, J.F.K. Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011 (from theravestijngallery.com)

Has the future already happened or does something more lie ahead?  Some images are stunning and colorful in their brilliance–high-tech concepts at their finest.  Others are stark and haunting, like posed space suits from Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom.  Space shuttles frozen in their retirement like the dismantled Discovery and immovable Independence, and the Atlantis standing majestically poised for its final flight all appear as ghostly, solemn relics, while the futuristic sound chambers. the dexterous robotic humanoid Robonaut 2, and Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America evoke an optimistic future ahead.
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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re thinking about how you can change the world for the better in 2019, one step in the right direction would be reading writer/artist Rachel Ignotofsky‘s latest science book, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Ecosystems, an easy to understand guide to the elements of science that converge to tell us about the inter-relationships of all life on Earth.  Ecosystems and organisms, wastelands to deserts and the oceans, from lichen to predators, with some -isms to learn or re-learn (like commensalism and mutualism), concepts you might learn in grade school natural science and geography, high school biology, and college geology and environmental studies.  In a word, it’s what everyone should know about Earth’s ecology.

One of my own proudest achievements was belonging to my grade school’s ecology club between 1975 and 1982, learning about the natural world, planting trees, and making the area better for wildlife.  Many concepts I learned then and supplemented in junior high, high school, and college, are peppered throughout this brightly illustrated volume.  Readers will examine some benefits of particular ecosystems (and threats to them), including the Redwood Forest, the Mangrove Swamp, the Mojave Desert, the Amazon Rainforest, the Atacama Desert, the Pampas, the Andes, the British Moors, the Alps, the Siberian Taiga, the Mongolian Steppe, the Himalayan mountains, the Congo rainforests, the Savannas, the Sahara, the Great Barrier Reef, the Tundra, and more.  The classification of lifeforms and cycles of life are detailed, including the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorous cycle, the water cycle, and plant cycle.  Deforestation, invasive species, desertification, and pollution are identified as just some of the threats the Earth faces.

Writer/artists Rachel Ignotofsky offers through her unique style charts, diagrams, and pictures, all as explanations of how the world’s piece parts interplay to create the global ecosystem.  Key to all of it is how humans can act to protect the planet.

Take a look at this preview of ten pages from Ignotofsky’s book, courtesy of Ten Speed Press:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

— From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

It isn’t enough to tell us what a man did.  You’ve got to tell us who he was.

— From Citizen Kane

The battle between these two ideas becomes the screenwriter’s dilemma, particularly for a historical drama recounting actual documented events.  First, there are stories of famous people and events that touch so many that the details become less important than the mythology.  Whether peppered with embellishment and puffery, it’s what the multitudes think of as the hero.  Next, there is the desire to use the archival record to fill in all the details you know, to get as much of the story as technically accurate as possible.  For these movies, the detail often distorts the impact of the story or event, minimizing what makes the actions of a man or woman or event so historic or triumphant.  And that’s the struggle evident in First Man: The Annotated Screenplay, a new book that includes the consolidated draft script of the new film chronicling astronaut Neil Armstrong’s life leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

The beauty of the book is the full disclosure of the thoughts of two people, the screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, The Fifth Estate, Fringe), and James R. Hansen, the historian and author of the only biography of Neil Armstrong authorized by Armstrong, First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong.  Fans of NASA, of the history of spaceflight, science and technology will appreciate so many scenes that include verbatim text from the actual events.  For researchers and enthusiasts alike, Singer and Hansen include numerous reference citations showing the source of these scenes.  Yet even the bulk of these were edited for time and the needs of telling Singer’s story.  As revealed by both Singer and Hansen, the embellishments filling in the story between these sequences are many, so many that no scene seems to exclude artistic license by Singer–license that Singer freely acknowledges and defends as sincerely as someone defending a finely researched graduate thesis.  The scenes may be well-researched, educated, and heavily vetted speculation, but they aren’t reality.

Is it relevant, and does the final script reflect something of the aura missing from the space race and Moonshot that neither the director (born in 1985) nor the screen writer (born in 1972) were yet alive to witness?  Does the difference come down to the creative visions behind these movies, and established space race classics: bestselling author Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff that became the box office and critical hit The Right Stuff (directed by Philip Kaufman, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the first-hand account by Jim Lovell in his book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, that became the box office and critical hit Apollo 13 (directed by popular filmmaker Ron Howard)?

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Each member of Queen was on another career path when they formed their band at the beginning of the 1970s: Freddie Mercury had been in art school, guitar player Roger Deakins studied electrical engineering, drummer Roger Taylor was in dental school, and guitarist Brian May studied astrophysics.  Years later May would go on to earn his doctorate in the field, and the rock star comes full circle this week blending a childhood hobby with his band and his passion for space science with the release of two new books: Mission Moon 3-D: A New Perspective on the Space Race and Queen in 3-D: Second Edition Many fans of Queen may not be aware that May had a unique passion for taking three-dimensional photographs.  He took 3-D photos as a young boy and transitioned to a 3-D camera as they became popular in the 1950s, and when Queen started to tour he continued.  The result is 300 previously unpublished 3-D photographs, capturing the history of Queen from the early 1970s to present day.  May has updated the book with more 3-D images, including images he took on the set of the new biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and the premiere release of this updated edition is timed with the release of the film this week in the UK and next week in the U.S.

The first history of any rock group created in 3-D and written by a band member, Queen in 3-D was a labor of love for May.  The photographs include shots taken on stage, behind the scenes, on the road, and during leisure time.  May shares recollections of his bandmates for the first time.  The book is particularly unique in its coverage of Freddie Mercury, who was normally shy and private, but comfortable and even playful when May brought out his camera.  The book is the result of a project he worked on during nights while touring with the band, and continuing on with a company he founded, The London Stereoscopic Company Ltd (check it out at www.londonstereo.com), which sells books, viewers, and more, sharing a passion for 3-D imagery across every subject.

Dr. May put his astrophysics knowledge and interest in the space race to good use as we approach next summer’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, releasing this week his next 3-D book project, Mission Moon 3-D: A New Perspective on the Space RaceWritten by May and David J. Eicher (editor of Astronomy Magazine), the authors narrate the story of Apollo and space travel leading to Apollo 11’s lunar landing in July 1969.  The Apollo astronauts were trained to take 3-D images, but primarily Dr. May researched NASA archives to sort thousands of images to present the same image in stereoscope form which, when viewed with his patented Lite Owl viewer (a viewer accompanies each book), provide full, detailed 3-D images.  The same science behind the human eye and camera fundamentals applied to the 19th century with the popularity of the stereoscope camera and viewer as with May’s use of 3-D images included in his books.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You can approach a new chronicle of an artist and her design and creation of a 2,500 square foot mural encompassing all the known bird families in many ways.  For one, science illustrator and museum artist Jane Kim thoroughly researched each of the 243 families of birds before adding a drop of paint to a hallway over the visitor center at the highly regarded Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and so her new book The Wall of Birds is an educational tool for anyone who has the bug to learn more about the diversity of these remarkable creatures.  Kim, tapped to design and complete a mural of all the families of the world’s birds in full 1:1 scale, decided to include an evolutionary thread through her design, and so five extinct bird families appear to haunt her wall in ghostly muted tones, along with a stairway that recounts the evolutionary steps toward modern birds over 375 million years, complete with a surprise crocodile (crocs share a common ancestor with birds 240 million years ago).  If you’ve visited any natural history museum you’ve probably encountered beautiful painted murals to support the displays that stand as centerpieces, but with Kim’s Wall of Birds a common space was transformed with maximum effect into a centerpiece itself.

Completed in January 2016 after 12 months of research and 17 months of on site painting, Kim now takes her art a step further by presenting her process, development of ideas, and execution of the final work in a full-color 232-page volume.  Co-written with Kim’s husband Thayer Walker, The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 240 Families, 375 Million Years, available in hardcover for pre-order now here at Amazon and available next week, is the kind of view into the mind of an artist that readers, fans, and enthusiasts of any subject long for.  How often have you wondered why a costume designer used these colors and fabrics to represent an alien being?  How often have you wondered why you can recognize your favorite comic book artist in an instant through some stylistic choice?  Kim details her process from idea to layout, stencils, color layering, detail work, scientific review by ornithologists, revision, and final presentation.  She even created her own “aviary Pantone” color palette with 51 created latex interior house paints finished with 13 acrylic paint colors.

Kim recounts the most difficult birds she worked on for several days to simpler projects, like the “little brown jobs” that dot our bird-covered planet, which were completed in less than a day.  Since all the birds were life-sized and her mural included each bird featured adjacent to one of its geographical habitats, she used a movable lift to be able to paint high and low on her giant wall canvas.  Some of the difficult projects were the larger birds, but not always, as the smallest birds had to incorporate their colors, plumage, wings, beaks, and legs in a much smaller space to work with.  The artist also recounts the planning required to make the work not only scientifically accurate, but also reflect a work of fine art and be aesthetically pleasing.  Some larger birds, like the Great Gray Owl, required Kim to paint feather-by-feather the bird’s enormous wings, often working overnight in the lab alone.  Take a look at some preview pages from the book courtesy of publisher Harper Design:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Family of Humming-birds, completed in six volumes in 1887, was the culmination of a fifty-year career of John Gould, one of the earliest and most renowned ornithologists.  A publication of 418 hand-colored illustrations representing all the known species of hummingbirds of the day, it was considered the definitive scientific reference of the era on the subject.  The volume also reflected one of the most attractive species of animal that would appeal to some of the world’s most elite collectors, scientists, and educators.   With 39 pages of introductory information written by Joel and Laura Oppenheimer, Rizzoli Electa is reprinting the entirety of Gould’s six volumes of prints in the new publication The Family of Hummingbirds: The Complete Prints of John Gould, to be released at the end of this month.

When the HMS Beagle naturalist Charles Darwin returned to England in 1836 from the Galapagos with crates of samples of animal life for scientific study, under special dispensation from the Crown he was allowed to determine which scientists received what families of animals for study, instead of depositing them all with the British Museum as was common practice.  For the bird collection, he selected John Gould, a rising star of both avian study, taxidermy, and illustration.  Darwin’s theory of the transmutation of species and later his theory on natural selection in part came from findings shared by Gould.  The third volume of Darwin’s findings from his exploration included 50 illustrations by Gould’s wife Elizabeth and text written by Gould.  Nearly 20 years before Darwin’s landmark text On the Origin of Species, this earlier work provided some of the ground work for the theory of evolution, despite Gould not publicly endorsing Darwin’s theories.  After his wife passed away on their expedition to chronicle birds and mammals in Australia, Mr. Gould would continue publishing folios on the birds of the world, ultimately amassing several publications covering birds, as well as other animals, across the globe.

 

Nearest to Gould’s heart was the fascinating hummingbird, which he referred to as “this family of living gems.”  According to the foreword in The Family of Hummingbirds: The Complete Prints of John Gould provided by naturalist and historian Robert McCracken Peck, Family of Humming-birds “represented a family of birds of remarkable grace and beauty that lived in exotic habitats unlikely to be seen even by collectors wealthy enough to afford the book Gould devoted to them.”  Artist H.C Richter would expand upon John Gould’s sketches and ideas for plates–Gould would first draw a male and female of each species with a plant native to its habitat, ultimately creating all 360 plates in the book’s first five volumes, released piecemeal via subscriptions ultimately with the recipients to have the completed work formally bound.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If the Scots abandoned Scotland to nature, it would be the birch that would be the first tree to seize its chance, and a birch forest would walk the streets of Edinburgh.

Thomas Pakenham was referring to a gigantic pioneer birch tree in Rothiemarchus, Scotland, but he may have well been writing about the Ents, the grand, wise, old leafed characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  In his book Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Pakenham reproduces his real-life journey across continents meeting some of the oldest inhabitants of the planet, even if they never actually “walked” the Earth.  In beautiful photographs and stories, he introduces readers to the most noble of Earth’s elders, a chance to marvel in awe at their enormous height, or breadth, of their obvious beauty or strikingly twisted, meandering, slim, or expansive forms.  Pakenham, the 8th Earl of Longford, an Anglo-Irish writer, historian, and tree enthusiast, selected trees “mostly very large, and mainly very ancient, and all with a strong personality,” highlighting the unique qualities unique to each remarkable individual.  His folksy speech and storytelling is refreshingly regional, providing an herbivorous mirror to fellow Brit James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

To visit these trees, to step beneath their domes and vaults, is to pay homage at a mysterious shrine.  But tread lightly.  Even these giants have delicate roots.  And be warned that this may be your farewell visit.  No one can say if this prodigious trunk will survive the next Atlantic storm–or outlive us all by centuries.

Thomas Pakenham’s photograph of the great Fredville oak, named “Majesty” at least as early as 1820 when it was sketched by artist Jacob Strutt.

And, indeed, even some of the trees pictured in Meetings with Remarkable Trees are no longer around, having succumbed to storm or man-made destruction.  Pakenham’s tome is something profoundly sacred or spiritual.  It’s peppered with historical references, literary allusions to specific trees, and including some very famous trees, whether a thousand years old or more than 200 feet tall.  It seems preposterous humans travel the globe to see manmade creations when we could be on pilgrimages to commune with these ancient living beings.  Sixty trees are grouped by personality: Natives, Travellers, Shrines, Fantasies, and Survivors.  Once you’ve met Pakenham and his craggy acquaintances in this book, you’ll want to move on to accompany the champion of trees on a year in his life in his book, The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime’s Quest.

A different approach to individual trees can be found in photographer Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s Wise Trees (you’ll find a 16-page preview below).  Some ancient and many not so ancient, the trees in this book include 50 selected from five continents and identified for their historic or inspirational stories.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you’re planning to attend the upcoming return of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to theaters, a new book released this week is going to take readers of all ages on a tour of the history of real dinosaurs and the history of the study of dinosaurs itself.  A fresh look at the science of paleontology and the resulting knowledge about the life, environment, and structure of the major species of dinosaurs is the subject of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom.  Authors Christine Argot and Luc Vivès, researchers at The French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, use the museum’s own paleontology gallery as the starting point to tell how scientists developed the study and reconstruction of dinosaurs since the gallery first opened in 1898.  Everyone has a favorite dinosaur, and whether yours is a stegosaurus, triceratops, diplodocus, allosaurus, iguanodon, brontosaurus, megalosaurus, or tyrannosaurus, you’ll marvel at the spectacular images of their skeletons on display as scientists have updated them consistent with improved knowledge and techniques across the years.

Interlacing the work of paleontologists, geologists, museum curators, and other scientists around the world, and changing views of remarkable fossil discoveries (like placement, stance, and presence of feathers) over nearly 150 years, the authors combine photographs of their collection with images resulting from digs, artists’ interpretations, magazine articles, and museum archives.  From tales of dragons and mythical beasts to speculative works from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, and Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, ideas of fantasy have informed science and vice versa.  Movements and individuals have changed our outlook into history, via wealthy benefactors, scholars, educators, and artisans.  From lost displays in the Crystal Palace to the artistry of Charles R. Knight, the history of dinosaurs is also the evolution of the thinking of mankind.  The result will fascinate both young and old readers, whether Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom will be your kid’s first book of dinosaurs or a companion book for a high school or college museum studies course, or simply a resource for you to enjoy.

One story recounts the misidentification of an iguanodon finger bone as a nose bone.  Another story describes the excavation of a pit in Belgium in the 1870s that netted 130 tons of bones.  Preservation and conservation methods are discussed throughout, plus improvements in museum display, like the use of 3D printing to allow an original tyrannosaurus rex from the States to be replicated and put on display at the Paris museum this summer.

Here is a preview of Dinosaurs: A Journey to the Lost Kingdom courtesy of the publisher:

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