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Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science 1st Amer. Ed Edition
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Accordingly, budget a generous space on the coffee table for this project, and an equally generous portion of time -- and not leisure time.
Advice to readers might well include:
* Read with a netbook nearby. You may need some Wikipedia refreshers to catch up on science concepts that you have forgotten or neglected in your science education.
* Prepare for a roller coaster ride across disparate specializations -- not just cosmology and astronomy, as the Cosmic's title implies -- but historical footnotes like the "anthropocentric piece of interstellar advertising" affixed to the Pioneer 10 Jupiter probe in 1972, drawings of flying saucers from science fiction comic artists like Alex Schomburg, and the frozen geometry of self-taught, snowflake-obsessed Wilson Bentley.
* While Barrow's preface argues that pictures "save words . . . change the pace, alter the style and make things more memorable," in fact you'll have to do much more than simply stare at the ponderable images in his collection. The images sometimes require painstaking explanations -- painstaking, because Barrow wants to avoid being sidelined by the underlying science. Laudable, but probably an impossible ambition.
* As with any good coffee table book, Cosmic Imagery can be opened to any chapter at random. Open to "Stepping Out: Laetoli Footprints" (p. 223) and you'll be treated to a line of hominid footprints left in Tanzania 3.6 million years ago. In "Two Easy Pieces: Aperiodic Tilings" (p.Read more ›
I've read many other books by the author and all are of excellent quality. This is no exception except for a few nitpicks. There is a feeling of redundancy several times as various aspects of a particular element is discussed. Then there are missing photographs - Piltdown Man, human evolution from crouched beast to walking modern man, etc. But these are quibbles. THe dialogue supporting the photographs is almost uniformly excellent and succinct.
The book is divided into four sections: Stars in your Eyes, Spatial Prejudice, Painting by Numbers and Mind over Matter. All are relavent although some surprise and ask the reader to think. Each image is introduced with an opening remark that range from sublime (Mozart), witty (Woody Allen), quixotic (Lampedusa), profound (Bohr) to poetic (Wordsworth). The digs at Bush were unnecessary and childish. Although this is a work for the layman, that layman should be widely read in the sciences or as one reviewer suggested, sit near a reference.
The images, however, are not always the sole focus of the chapter. For instance, the famous image on the front of the hardcover (Da Vinci) is provided in the chapter on symmetry. But the chapter is a couple of pages about symmetry itself and the image is just mentioned in passing. It would have been a neater book had the images actually been the sole focus of each chapter. Sometimes they are used as a starting point, and sometimes they are the focus, but other times they almost feel like an after thought.
Still, it's great to have colorful images as a focal point, and I always enjoy having texts that I can read for a few minutes at a time.
FYI: Hardcover is not coffee table size, more like a normal hardcover.