Monday, October 25, 2004

The Kindness of Strangers
edited by Don George (Lonely Planet Books)
This sounds like a sappy book: tales of travellers who received unexpected and unwarrented kindness from strangers. It even has a foreword by the trendy Dalai Lama. (He's great, but I get skeptical because I see his name too often.) But actually the stories are mostly all really good and make me feel better about wandering around here in Switzerland and France. The worst case scenarios in my travels couldn't be as bad as the woman who got lost in an African desert in the middle of the night, or the woman who got stranded on the far side of a huge lake in Israel, or the guy stuck in a blizzard in the mountains of Afganistan. But somehow, people always came to their rescue, they found their friends, their lost items were returned, whatever.
It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science
edited by Graham Farmelo
This book of essays is mostly about great equations in physics. Perhaps I'm jaded about physics, but I thought many of the best essays were on other sciences. My favorites were those on an equation for chemistry in the ozone layer and an equation for chaotic systems. Not surprisingly, these were by science journalists, rather than scientists, and focused on the people in addition to the concepts. Unlike most popular science writing which avoids equations at all costs, this assumes that people can understand something of the equations, and can themselves glimpse some of their beauty.


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