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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten


Cosmology - Hermann Bondi I could go on at length about the important role this little book played in the transformation of cosmology from haphazard speculation into respectable science, or the elegant mathematical way in which it links together relativistic, Newtonian, kinematic and steady-state approaches, or the pitfalls awaiting those overeager to apply Occam's Razor. But I'm afraid I'm going to ignore all these fascinating topics and just talk about page 44. Scientists generally like to pretend in their technical works that they are unemotional, dispassionate seekers after truth, and Bondi clearly believes in this traditional approach. The problem is that it doesn't always reflect reality. Here is a passage from Bondi concerning his group's well-known rivalry with Martin Ryle, contrasted with a later account from Simon Singh's 2004 book Big Bang:

Account in Bondi

Radio astronomy was first linked with cosmology when Gold (1951) opposed by Ryle (1951) suggested that the discrete sources ('radio stars') of radiation in the accessible band were extra-galactic... In 1953, Baade and Minkowski identified a prominent radio source with a faint optical image that was interpreted as two galaxies in collision.

Account in Singh

Gold always remembered the moment when Baade first approached him with the news that Cygnus A was a radio galaxy:
In the huge antechamber to the conference room one was milling around like one usually does, and Walter Baade was there. He said, 'Tommy! Come over here! Look what we've got!'... Then Ryle comes into the room. Baade shouts, 'Martin! Come over here! Have a look at what we've found!' Ryle comes and looks with a very stern face at the photographs, does not say a word, throws himself on a nearby couch - face down, buried in his hands - and weeps.

Well, I hope that's given you a better understanding of the reasons why most technical books don't sell...