Archive for the ‘Biographies’ Category

Killing Time

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

A lively autobiography of Paul Feyerabend that shows human side on every page and prompts a reader to think about life and love after turning the last page in contrast to much more formal autobiography of Saunders Mac Lane I read previously.

Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend

- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

While reading evolution books ranging from popular like Darwin’s Dangerous Idea to specialized like Evolution: The First Four Billion Years and Encyclopedia of Evolution I felt the need to read Darwin’s biography. My first encounter with Darwin was even before a primary school when I was looking at illustrations to his voyages in a library. Later, during my school years in Soviet Union, I saw a movie about him. I vividly remember a Wilberforce and FitzRoy scene. So you might imaging that I was very keen to read 680 page book (not counting notes and bibliography). Unfortunately I found it a bit boring and written in a difficult language compared to other biographies I read in English. May be the language was chosen deliberately to emulate Victorian epoch?

Almost in the middle of reading this book I stumbled across another book: The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime and reading the latter (it’s like a thriller and you can download the free PDF from www.darwin-conspiracy.co.uk) gave me an impulse to continue reading Darwin’s biography with a critical eye. Looking at the same facts your can always interpret them differently and the conspiracy book reminded me to read behind the lines more carefully and remember about politics in science and class issues in society. I’m very interested in memetic engineering Darwin used to delicately arrange and propagate his ideas. The biography mentions Wallace in passing a few times but there is no discussion about the priority and the crucial Linnean Society meeting is not in the focus and doesn’t grab any attention.

One fact I didn’t know before reading this biography is that Darwin was always sick. Now “tormented evolutionist” phrase acquires the new meaning to me. I also got the feeling that Darwin’s hesitation to publish his ideas (if he had any to publish) was caused by sickness as well. Actually the sickness was the main focus of the book. However I really wonder how could such a sick man (as described) could write that huge amount of correspondence, do research and write many books.

One quote I found at the end of the book says that Darwin would not approve anti-religious stance of Dawkins and Co.: 

“Moreover though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.”

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12757

The quote got my attention probably because I recently read another book: The Selfish Genius.

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

While finishing Comrades book I started to read this “sequel” to Young Stalin (it was published before the latter book). I’m interested in psychology of a court and think this book is a good supplement to The 48 Laws of Power book that I started reading too. I have also Beria biography on the reading list. Actually I became interested in Stalin epoch after reading a book in Russian 2 years ago with a title that can be translated to English like “Killers of Stalin and Beria”. The main idea of that book were that Beria (and Stalin) wanted to do Perestroika similar to what Gorbachev did and Khrushchev murdered him (and possibly murdered Stalin too) for that. Anyway The Court of the Red Tsar was very smooth and fascinating read, revealing hidden transcripts of Stalin power. At the end the author also mentions the possibility that Beria was a possible precursor to Perestroika but contrary to that Russian book I read before he mentions the hypothesis that Beria himself poisoned Stalin’s wine. The finishing touch of Valechka weeping on Stalin corpse like Russian baba really made me sorrow. I really liked Postscriptum where the fortunes of Stalin’s and other magnates’ relatives, children and grandchildren fortunes after Stalin death up to now was mentioned.

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Einstein’s Mistakes

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I finished reading Dirac’s biography The Strangest Man 3 months ago and started to read this book. Its title intrigued me when I was browsing recent physics releases on Amazon and I bought it. It looks to me like the mix of brief biographical notes with explanation of physical theories. Here learning from mistakes undoubtedly helps to understand special and general relativity better. I also liked the short and clear explanation of EPR paradox in just one page, “revisionist” and unusual biographical notes on other scientists and their faults, like Galileo and Newton, and notes about Einstein’s private life. This makes him really human (he was like an ideal scientist from Plato Universe for me before). When I was reading Not Even Wrong and the Trouble With Physics books I thought of the possible “yellow press physics” (which is not bad, and doesn’t mean bad quality for me, I like to read yellow press sometimes and listen to pop music) and one day, at lunch, when reading about Newton madness and other peculiar character traits I thought about “yellow press physics” again. Was the choice of this book hardcover and jacket colors (yellow) made deliberate? Anyway, while approaching the end of the book and reading about how Einstein wasted 20-30 years on his idée fixe unified theories I immediately recalled String Theory, and indeed, the author voiced the same thoughts a few moments later when I turned a page over. I also liked the discussion on how General Relativity might have been discovered if it wasn’t formulated by Einstein. The author tells us that it would have been done via a QFT route. Einstein has fallen in my eyes, and now, after reading this book, he is not quite the hero of science like I imagined before. Nevertheless, his stature from McDonald’s is still on my shelves.

Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius
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I don’t want to repeat Einstein’s mistakes… 

- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -

Naming Infinity

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I read this book from cover to cover while flying on a plane from Dublin to St. Petersburg and back. That was so wonderful reading experience - I couldn’t put the book down during those flights. I recall that I visited the Department of Mathematics a few times when I studied Chemistry in Moscow State University although at that time I knew next to nothing about Russian mathematicians. The book touched me so deeply that I bought the main work of Florensky: The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, the history of Russian philosophy and several books explaining Orthodox Church. This is the best mathematics history book I have ever read, my feelings perhaps comparable to those that I experienced when I finished reading Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty by Morris Kline but that was more than 20 years ago.

Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity

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- Dmitry Vostokov @ LiterateScientist.com -