What I did on my summer vacation

Reading. Lots of it. The plan was to spend lots of time at the beach lying in the sun with a stack of books on hand. Instead I’ve spent a lot of time in bed with a stack of tissues and cups-of-tea next to the books.

Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
Makes science history fun! Should be part of the curriculum in all schools — has just come out in a norwegian translation that the education ministry should be shortlisting for the imminent start of school. The brilliance of the book is that it focuses on the process of science, not just the end results, so you end up reading about all sorts of odd-ball 18th and 19th century gentlemen who spent years fiddling with rocks and/or plants, sometimes to no great effect, but who ended up building the foundation for later discoveries. Absolutely fascinating.

Wrong about Japan
by Peter Carey
This book has saved me trip to Japan. I share the same fascination with Japan and its alien culture, and I’m fairly sure I would be as baffled by it as Carey-san is in the book. Unfortunately it becomes annoying to read about an authors failure to achieve understanding, especially when he appears to have skimped on his preparations — the whole trip is a father-son bonding trip as much as it is a reporters field trip. Still, I fear I would fare no better in Japan. Annoyingly realistic.

The Men Who Stare at Goats
by Jon Ronson
Too weird not to be true. Generals who try to walk through walls. Subliminal messages in music as a kinder, gentler interrogation technique instead of torture? I read this, and wondered if the author was pulling my leg — is the book a big joke? A bit of googling makes it appear not. The news reports coming out of Iraq and Gitmo back up his reports. Crazy people are running the “war on terror”. Oh joy. Funny in a funny-uh-oh way.

A World Without Time: the forgotten legacy of Gödel and Einstein
by Palle Yourgrau
Interesting history of Gödel, less about Einstein, mainly because this is a book about philosophy, not theory. We had quite a bit of Gödel at university — gödel numbering is a pretty cool trick. I remember feeling a rush when the lightbulb came on. The book covers the material well, and digs into the philosophical debates Gödel raised. The big let down is really that philosophy has kind of ignored the issue of time, and physics doesn’t worry too much about it. Basically the problem boils down to this: why is there a now? If time is a fourth dimension, then why should one point along its axis be special? If time flows, then time is not a fourth dimension, and Einstein’s theory needs to be re-formulated.

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