Non-fiction: December 2007 Archives

This book is about biomechanics: it compares the mechanical solutions used by people and by nature. There are huge differences between the two, and perhaps something we could learn from the nature. Of course, that's what people have tried to do for thousands of years, with varying success - flying is probably one of the best examples of cases where not emulating nature lead to success.

Vogel has plenty of material and while it all is rather interesting in theory, I found the book somewhat boring and finished it by browsing through it rather swiftly. The dry text just couldn't hold my interest. I wouldn't recommend the book unless you're really interested in the topic. This isn't one of those excellent popular science books that makes you interest in its topic: I believe you need to have previous interest in mechanics to make Cat's Paws and Catapults work. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People at ]Cat's Paws and Catapults at LibraryThing ]

This book is about human imagination: according to the author, that is the one thing that separates humans from other animals. Our power to imagine makes it possible for us to come up with all these possibilities and futures. And perhaps some happiness, too? Yet so very often we make bad decisions, misestimate, choose the wrong option. Why?

It turns out our marvelous brains are a shoddy tool. According to research - and Gilbert quotes plenty of that - humans are really bad at knowing how we feel: we might know how we feel now, but both estimating how we will feel in the future and remembering how we felt about something in the past are surprisingly hard tasks. Our brains come up with all these details - all fake, because we can't remember everything. Yet our brains are so good at what they do that we don't even realize we're remembering stuff our brains just made up. No wonder we make bad decisions.

Stumbling upon happiness isn't as inspiring as the best popular science books are, but nevertheless, it's a fine look at what modern psychology has to offer. It gives some rather delicious anecdotes, has some rather good insight and is certainly entertaining enough. Stumbling on happiness is worth reading, if you're interested in figuring out how you think the way you do. [ Stumbling on Happiness at ]Stumbling on Happiness at LibraryThing ]

Have you ever wondered about the chemistry behind everyday materials like salt, fuels, caffeine or medicine? This book takes a bunch of molecules familiar to most people, either from their everyday life or from news headlines and explores them from a chemist's point of view.

The result is an intriguing book, written in an enthusiastic and friendly style. It doesn't take much understanding of chemistry to follow Emsley and he offers interesting perspectives to everyday materials. Molecules at an Exhibition is a good and entertaining way to increase one's knowledge on chemistry. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Molecules at an Exhibition: Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life at ]Molecules at an Exhibition at LibraryThing ]

Colour is easy to take as grant. However, the great painters of the history worked often with a very limited palettes, as good pigments simply weren't invented. The best blues and reds were very valuable, which defined the ways they were used in medieval painting. There's plenty of detail in the history of art that can be explained by the economics and chemistry of paint.

Philip Ball is a chemist and painters will learn a lot of chemistry from this book. Chemists will learn about art and painting and curious reader will learn both. The book is clearly written, entertaining and educational: an excellent example of good popular science. There are plenty of interesting details, as Ball goes through the history of art and pigments from the stone age cave paintings to modern art. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Colour at ]Bright Earth at LibraryThing ]

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