This is not a review of this book.

Avoidance. This book review is about the fact that I’ve been avoiding it for… well, months. The unit is months and that’s kind of embarrassing.

Why? I have no idea. I enjoyed What If? Exploring the extremes of something and doing the math to figure out what happens at those extremes is a useful learning tool. It was funny.

So why don’t I want to write this? Probably because I don’t feel like I have anything new to say that hasn’t been said; and I know this is about how *I* feel about What If? but I don’t know what to say, other than that second paragraph. Yes, this is a good physics/science/math learning tool. Yay?

It didn’t move me. Is this where I have to finally admit to myself that maybe I don’t want to read about math and science recreationally anymore? There was a time – my teenaged years – where I’d read popular science books before I’d read anything else. I’ve kept it up sporadically over the years, but… I guess I just don’t care any more. Nothing to do with this particular tome.

(It’s not you, it’s me.)

Physics and Gender Studies

Galileo's Daughter

What’s it about?
Galileo Galilei was, in many ways, the founding father of modern science. He was one of the first people to insist that you needed to both know theory and experiment to confirm that theory. He, famously, refined and popularized the telescope and wrote a treatise on motion that inspired Newton.

He also had a daughter. Two daughters, actually. But her half of correspondence with the eldest lives and frames this biography of Galileo as a father with responsibilities to his family as well as tells the story of his struggles with the Catholic Church.

Why should you read it?
You should read Galileo’s Daughter because it humanizes the scientist and goes into detail about his conflicts with the Church. Which I only knew some of, honestly. It’s a solidly written biography of an interesting person during an interesting historical era.

It also, if you choose to look at it that way, highlights the different ways men and women behaved in Reform-era Italy. Galileo was brilliant and was allowed to be kind of a cad when he was young – fathering three children without marrying their mother. He is defined by his science and the whole religion-science debate.

Maria Celeste had to become a nun because her mother died and Galileo couldn’t raise her on his own. She was intelligent and hyper-competent; she clearly loved and supported her father. Today, she might have been a famous scientist. In 1600s Tuscany, she was a supportive family member and near-abbess. It’s a pity, really, that she wasn’t allowed to flourish as a scientist. I bet she’d’ve been great at it.

Surviving Mars

What’s it about?
Watch the trailer. It’ll do a better job describing it than I ever could.

Why should you read it?
Because The Martian is a damn good adventure story. Take a normal, albeit gifted, person and strand him on Mars. What are the challenges? What will go wrong? How will he deal with it? It moves at a good clip, though there are parts where it bogs down a bit. Switching between his viewpoint and NASA’s is an effective way to take care of the parts where it gets slow.

I should tell you: this book is *heavy* on the engineering, and it’s very Macgyver-y. It was initially self-published and I suspect that if it had gone through the normal publishing process most of the math & science would have been edited out. But it’s in there, and it helps the story because so much of the action is centered around using science to make sure he lives.

We need a good math in pop culture book, dammit

Math in Pop Culture

What’s it about?
Mathematics in Popular Culture is a group of essays written by a number of different math professors. They cover various aspects of how math is represented in popular culture – are mathematicians portrayed as crazy? What does math phobia look like? What is game theory? Is it important that Lindsey Lohan’s character in Mean Girls is good at math? It hits all kinds of pop culture: Lost (TV), Cryptonomicon and Moneyball (books), Good Will Hunting (movies), and the tarot (games? belief systems? I’m not sure how how classify that one). It’s kind of all over the place.

Why should you read it?
Oh, I  don’t know that you should. Have you at least taken calculus? Can you deal with academic writing? If so, I’d recommend it. But this work isn’t for the general public (though, I’d LOVE it if someone wrote a series of essays on math in pop culture for general consumption). Overall, the topic is a good one, but it was sometimes rough going.