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Battling the Inland Sea: American Political Culture, Public Policy, and the Sacramento Valley, 1850-1986
Battling the Inland Sea: American Political Culture, Public Policy, and the Sacramento Valley, 1850-1986
von Robert Lloyd Kelley
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen A Fascinating History of the Sacramento Valley, 13. Juni 2000
If you've ever taken a guided factory tour, you know the difference between someone reciting memorized facts and someone who can call upon a deep reservoir of knowledge, accumulated over a lifetime, for information that will illuminate a particular subject. Mr. Kelley clearly belongs in the latter class. Reading his book, it is apparent that we are only scratching the surface of what this remarkable historian knows about the complex interplay of history, politics, personality and nature that conspired to produce the water system northern California has today.
The story of California water is fascinating, although perhaps only of real interest to Californians. Nevertheless, even if only for that audience, Mr. Kelley has written an entirely readable, yet simultaneously scholarly volume. Anyone interested in an introduction to the state of northern California's water situation should begin with this book.
In a general sense, however, this book is also about changing political and sociological trends in America beginning around 1850. The focus is on flooding in the Sacramento Valley, and its battles between gold miners and valley farmers, or between Republican engineers and Democratic populists, but parallels are probably found elsewhere in our country during the same period of history. I enjoyed this book tremendously.


Bright Gem of the Western Seas: California, 1846-1852
Bright Gem of the Western Seas: California, 1846-1852
von Peter Browning
  Taschenbuch

3.0 von 5 Sternen Interesting for California History Buffs, 13. Juni 2000
"Bright Gem of the Western Seas" is a compilation of newspaper articles written by James Carson for the San Joaquin Republican from January 17 to May 29, 1852, and reports on the Tulare Valley by George Derby. The articles written by Carson occupy the bulk of the volume, and are by far the more colorful and illuminating.
Mr. Carson holds a minor place in California history, having been an early inhabitant, gold panner, and explorer for whom some landmarks are named. He is not writing as someone concerned with his place in history, as a Stanford, Ralston or Hearst might have been. He is just telling it "like it is," or at least as he sees things to be.
And that is what makes this work so interesting. It is anything but politically correct. He speaks of the native Indian population in fairly disparaging terms that, I gather, were typical of the time. He defends the lynch mobs. Conversely, he complains of the racist Foreign Miners Tax as discouraging the immigration of Chinese miners. Go figure.
Better yet, don't try to figure it at all. Just take him for what he was . . . a man of his time. And, if you have an interest in California history and, especially, the Gold Rush, you'll probably enjoy having this book in your library.


To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
von Henry Petroski
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 13,60

3.0 von 5 Sternen So, You Think That Bridge Is Safe?, 13. Juni 2000
I should begin by saying that I like this book, that I enjoy Mr. Petroski's writing style, and agree with his premise -- that we stand to learn more by studying a single failure than a thousand successes. Mr. Petroski makes an ample case for this through the judicious use of historic failures, some of which are more historic than others (one example, from ancient Greece, involves methods of storing marble columns).
To his credit, Mr. Petroski's writing style is approachable by non-engineers, a feat that is probably worth at least one star all by itself. But it is a shortcoming that considerable detail has been sacrificed, perhaps in an effort to make the text palatable to a non-technical audience. The resulting text glosses over mechanical reasons for the design flaws under consideration. In some instances, such details are probably not all that important. To be fair, lengthy technical explanations about collapsed bridges, broken ships or fractured colums might render this book even less marketable than it is (at present, it hovers below 14,000th on Amazon's sales ranking). In those cases, the omission simply makes the account less satisifying to the overly curious reader.
But that is not always the case, and some examples would have benefitted from more detailed explanations for two reasons. First, since the book is about learning from mistakes, it would have been valuable to understand the mistake itself. That knowledge would help the reader appreciate how subsequent engineers evaluated a problem, identifed its cause and avoided repeating the mistake in analogous situations. Second, and more troubling, some omissions are confusing. For instance, the Challenger disaster is compared to the aforementioned Greek column problem. In the former, a third O-ring had been added to the shuttle engine, in the latter a third brace used to hold up the columns, and Mr. Petroski offers this as a "red flag" that should have alerted NASA engineers to the need to reevaluate the whole system. I'm no engineer, but my understanding of what caused the failure of the shuttle's third O-ring is different in kind from the problem associated with third brace used in the storage of marble columns.
On balance, however, these are not fatal flaws. Mr. Petroski's book is worth reading by anyone who rides an elevator, works in a skyscraper or drives across a bridge. And his central point -- that system modifications justify a reevaluation of the entire system for unintended design problems -- is one that should be taken to heart by engineers and non-engineers alike.


A History of Pi
A History of Pi
von Peter Beckman
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 14,62

4.0 von 5 Sternen It's Pi, Stupid, 23. Dezember 1999
Rezension bezieht sich auf: A History of Pi (Taschenbuch)
If you're curious about where things like Pi come from, and you don't already know, this book is probably a good place to start. It is not quite as comprehensive as I would have liked; Beckmann overlooks some explanations that he probably assumed would have been so obvious as to offend the reader. But the lack of a complete explanation for some points is not fatal to the book. After all, the subject matter has a deliberately narrow focus.
Some of the criticisms have pointed out Beckmann's tendency to use this book as a sounding board for his biases. And, to be sure, the book is peppered with curious asides that are largely irrelevant to the tale of Pi. Happily, they can be overlooked without detracting from the main story.
If I were addressing my comments to the readers of Grisham or King, I'd be concerned about the power of those comments to offend. But mindful that the 'average' reader of 'A History of Pi' is nothing like the 'average reader' of books generally, I suspect most readers will be either amused or bored by these little diversions, but that few will be offended. (I was amused by Beckmann, who reminds me of a cantankerous uncle.) Overall, the reader comes away with a greater appreciation for the history of this curious number.


Galileo's Commandment: 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing
Galileo's Commandment: 2,500 Years of Great Science Writing
von Edmund Blair Bolles
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen A Casebook for Science, 23. Dezember 1999
Bolles has collected an assortment of what he describes as "great" scientific writings. Great in this context refers to writings that, in Bolles' subjective analysis, are among the best scientific literature has to offer. As a result, what appear in this anthology are not always landmark papers that advanced a particular branch of science or introduced a new theory. They are, however, a fascinating collection, dating back to the dawn of science and provide a wonderful sense of perspective on the slow and steady progress of natural philosophy.


The Battle for Christmas
The Battle for Christmas
von Stephen Nissenbaum
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen A Curmudgeon's Christmas Carol, 23. Dezember 1999
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Battle for Christmas (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Christmas traditions, having originated before the memory of any living person, seem eternal and unchanged, like mountains. But, of course, they started somewhere. What was most surprising to me was not the source of the traditions, but their relatively recent origins.
Nissenbaum presents the origins of America's Christmas traditions in a pleasantly readable form. His book is enjoyable, enlightening and downright fun. And, because the enhanced knowledge of Christmas is not presented in such a way as to detract from their present enjoyment, you'll like this book even if you're not a curmudgeon.


Summer For The Gods: The Scopes Trial And America's Continuing Debate Over Science And Religion
Summer For The Gods: The Scopes Trial And America's Continuing Debate Over Science And Religion
von Edward J. Larson
  Gebundene Ausgabe

1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A fascinating chapter in American history, 22. Dezember 1999
Like a lot of people, I had a vivid mental image of the Scopes trial, thanks to having seen the highly entertaining movie 'Inherit The Wind' on several occasions. Unfortunately, the movie was not historically accurate -- nor was it ever intended to be. Larson explains that the movie was a parable -- a fact that its initial, intended audience understood, but which was lost on later audiences. Seen out of context, subsequent audiences just assumed the movie portrayed historical reality.
Larson explains all of this, as well as the events leading up to, during and following the 'real' Scopes trial in highly readable prose that justifiably earned him the Pulitzer Prize in History. For anyone interested in this chapter in American history, or as historical foundation for the current debate over religion in the schools, this book is well worth reading.


What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race
What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, the Origins of Life, and the Future of the Human Race
von John Maddox
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 26,95

5.0 von 5 Sternen Plenty remains to be discovered, apparently., 21. Dezember 1999
Periodically, some hack makes the preposterous claim that science is almost 'done,' and that all of nature's major mysteries have been, or are about to be discovered. Non-scientists (and scientists, occasionally) swell with pride that their generation is the one that finally knows everything. A new discovery invariably throws cold water on such effete theories, usually before the book proposing it has been issued in its hardback edition.
It is a pattern Dr. Maddox takes as the norm, presenting a parade of scientific quandries. Some are fundamental questions that remain unanswered. Others are irreconcilable contradictions. But continued work on those questions will probably result in a fundamental course correction in the path of a given scientific field. He can't say what WILL be discovered, but he has a sense about where science has hit a logjam, and is due to break loose. It's fascinating now. It will be doubly so in the year 2100.
Some reviewers have criticized the book as less than easy to read. To be sure, Dr. Maddox is no Dr. Seuss; the greater ones' familiarity with technical terms and concepts, the easier the book will be to follow. But I managed, even though I lack a PhD in a 'highly technical' field. Besides, Dr. Maddox discusses so many subjects that if one seems overly burdensome, there is always another, perhaps more agreeable topic just over the horizon.


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