Saturday, December 4, 2010
When you're finished reading this book you'll know that Thomas Jefferson was responsible for introducing the french fry to the American palate (damn him, I say!), and that Benjamin Franklin was partial to taking "air baths," in which he would bask naked in front of an open upstairs window. "This can't have got him any cleaner, but it seems to have done him no harm and it must have at least given the neighbors something to talk about." And you will have a greater understanding of the complex geometry and engineering involved in building a functional staircase.
The book opens with an introduction by Bryson, followed by an essay by novelist Margaret Atwood on the mad scientists of literature and film. And then the book gets a bit more serious, including James Gleick tracing the birth of modern science, Richard Dawkins writing on the world-changing legacy of Darwin and evolutionary science, Neal Stephenson writing on the strange feud between Newton and Leibniz, Richard Holmes writing on man's first success at flight, Henry Petroski writing on engineering, and Martin Rees (president of the Royal Society from December 2005 to December 2010) looking forward to the future of science in the twenty-first century and beyond. In all, the book offers twenty-two essays. It's lusciously produced, with creamy pages and lots of photographs and illustrations.