Friday, May 16, 2014

Exposing the lie of consistency (Books - The View from the Tower by Charles Lambert)

A cursory look at Charles Lambert's Any Human Face or his new The View from the Tower and you might believe that he writes thrillers set in Rome which, rather than playing with the history and the grandeur of that stage set of a city, expose its seamier side. But the thriller, in Lambert's case, seems more a container for a story in which the main character's action becomes, through the arrival of a crisis, to uncover something that changes everything they thought that they knew.  Lambert's books are about how we face the unexpected.  Now, any good mystery does deal with the unexpected, but the difference here is that Lambert is not just willing to deal with the uncomfortable feelings this evokes in the protagonist, I would go so far as to say, that he courts and exposes those uncomfortable feelings, that they are the point of his novels and that the thriller is a form he appropriates, perhaps so that his novels about being uncomfortable might be widely read?  Perhaps simply because discomfort stems from the unknown.  Perhaps I should ask him!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wet your whistle over a little science...

I'm a big fan of grass roots projects that advance the public understanding of science. Large scale and television infotainment are great for the numbers of people they reach, but there is nothing like one person meeting with another in a small relaxed setting for engaging and sometimes even changing minds.  A group of scientists began a venture in England called Pint of Science, where scientists meet a bunch of interested thirsty folks in a pub and give a talk aimed towards a general listener about their work - over a pint, of course.  That venture has crossed the pond.  Talks over libations will be held in pubs in 5 different cities across the U.S. - New York, Chicago, Tampa, Philadelphia, and San Diego. Topics range from environmental science genetics, and particle physics, to stem cells, antibiotics, and neuroscience.  Have them wet your whistle at Pint of Science U.S.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fragmented genius became the conscience of 20th century physics (Books - Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center by Ray Monk)

I have finally finished Ray Monk's behemoth of a biography Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center (Doubleday, 2012).  It's strength is its comprehensiveness.  There doesn't seem to be a thought Oppenheimer had, or an event surrounding him, that Monk does not cover in depth.  The man and his times (1904 - 1967) are fascinating for the advances that occurred in the field of physics, Oppenheimer's leadership of the construction of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, his subsequent leadership of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, and for the stripping of Oppenheimer's security clearance by Senator McCarthy's infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.  However, as I mentioned in my initial thoughts a few weeks back, I found Monk's biography lacking in coherence and narrative drive. It's ironic, given the book's subtitle, that it seemed to have no center.