Archive for June, 2016

Review: From The Top

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Another essay collection from Michael Perry, author of Population: 485 and Truck: A Love Story. Most of what I said there is true about this collection as well. Perry is a solid writer at his worst, and brilliantly conjures small town community at his best.   He’s not often his worst in this collection.

The short essays are from his stint as an emcee at the Tent Show Radio performances, so they’re constrained to be short and pithy.  He’s not the center of attention at the Radio Show.  That suits his style well, and none of the pieces feel forced to me.  It does limit how much he says on any one thing at a time, though.

Overall, good fun.  Recommended.

Review: Infinitesimal

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

I think Amir Alexander’s Infinitesimal is better in principle than in execution.  However the principle is so good that it’s worth reading anyway.

The topic Alexander is exploring here is how the society of the 1500’s and 1600’s reacted to the fundamental ideas in geometry that became the basis for Netwon’s and Leibnitz’s calculus.  The mathematical ideas are compelling in their own right, but Alexander wisely focuses on their effect on thinking outside mathematics.  The result makes the forces driving philosophy and religion of these eras clearer and more vivid.

Infinitesimal shows us why the institutions of the day had any interest at all in an obscure mathematical movement and why that interest ebbed and flowed.  It’s quite fascinating to see the combinations of personality and politics that caused the interest.  I hadn’t realized the reach and vividness of the ideas until I explained what I’d learned from the book to a friend.  Quite powerful and surprising ideas.

There are some problems.  The book’s longer than it needs to be, partially because the chapters are somewhat repetitive and not so well integrated as one would hope.  I got the impression that they were individually composed and that the editing process was compartmentalized in such a way that the considerable overlap wasn’t spotted.  The resulting book is satisfying enough in the small and repetitive in the large.  Many parts benefit from skimming.

Overall an interesting discussion of a fascinating topic. Recommended.