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29 December 2022

Platypus, by Ann Moyal

The platypus is extraordinary, and this is a book about how we came to know that. Written by a historian of Australian science, Platypus is subtitled, “The extraordinary story of how a curious creature baffled the world.”¬† Moyal recounts the first specimens being sent back to the intellectual centers of western Europe (London and Paris, principally) from Australia, the subsequent suspicions that it was a hoax of taxidermy, and then …

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15 August 2022

Book report

Five books get the Callan mini-review treatment: two novels from Amor Towles, an account of life in prison under solitary confinement, a history of Virginia slavery during the War of 1812, and finally a family account of the discovery of the fossil Hesperornis, a toothed bird, and various associated tangents.

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16 May 2021

A Brief History of Earth, by Andrew H. Knoll

A review of Andy Knoll’s newly-published book, “A Brief History of Earth: Four billion years in eight chapters.”

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6 March 2020

Friday fold: an Extreme(adura) geological history question

The Friday folds are revealed in an elegant cross-section through fantastic rocks in the Extremadura region of Spain.

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12 February 2020

History of Science: Antiquity to 1700, by Lawrence Principe

My most recent commuting audio has been this course from The Great Courses: Johns Hopkins professor Lawrence Principe‘s History of Science: Antiquity to 1700. I checked it out from my local library: 36 lectures, each about 30 to 45 minutes long. I found it quite interesting, well-paced, and insightful. Principe is an organic chemist-turned-historian-of-science, and he recounts key developments in the way people thought about “natural philosophy” (it wasn’t dubbed …

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25 April 2019

How We Got To Now, by Steven Johnson

I was very impressed with Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air when I read it last summer. So recently, I decided to sample another of his books, this one a six-part microhistory about innovations that altered the course of human history. The six are: 1) cleanliness/hygiene (specifically in medicine and drinking water), 2) measurement of time, 3) glass (think lenses!), 4) understanding of light, 5) refrigeration, and 6) the recording …

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17 October 2018

The Big Oyster, by Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky might be the king of the micro-history. His books Salt and Cod were both excellent examinations of history in the context of those minerals and fishes. So when I saw The Big Oyster on the audio-book shelf at my public library, I checked it out, knowing roughly what I would get – a history anchored to that particular delicious mollusk. In this case, it’s a history of New …

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13 September 2018

A New History of Life, by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink

Yesterday, I finished listening to the audiobook version of A New History of Life, by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink (2016). This book is only a couple of years old, and takes as its topic ‘the modern perspective’ on life’s long history on Earth, using the latest insights available. It aims to debunk old hypotheses that don’t stand up to new data, and to expand the purview of life’s reign …

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13 May 2018

A Most Improbable Journey, by Walter Alvarez

As mentioned the week before last, Walter Alvarez has a new book out. I’ve read it. It’s good. It’s Alvarez’s take on what he calls “Big History” – the story that spans the cosmos, the Earth, life, and humanity. It’s pretty great for the reasons that Alvarez’s other books are excellent – his voice is calm, appreciative, and patient. His language is accessible and appropriate (though I will grouse that …

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8 December 2017

Friday fold: Alpine cross sections by Albert Heim

The Friday fold is a figure from a 1922 book about the geology of the Alps by Swiss structural geology genius and artistic master Albert Heim. Marvel at his gorgeous depiction of the internal and long-since-eroded structure of these mighty mountains.

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