In the air and across the Cosmos

This month’s science reading served up two surprises, both pleasant.

When I arrived at university and joined the Astronomy Club, which met once a month to aim a giant telescope at the skies and gasp as we saw Saturn’s rings or two blobs of gold and purple emerge from what previously had been a single point of white light, I was surprised to find it operated under the auspices of the math department. In retrospect, that was remarkably stupid of me, since (as this book reminds) astronomy and math are joined at the hip. Our distant forebears studied the skies and realized there were patterns — patterns they could use to track time, to guide planting. Math enabled civilizations like the Greeks to begin constructing an idea of what the world and the cosmos were like, determining the Earth’s spheroid shape long before sailing ships and satellites Math and patterns have continued to allow humans to see what is there before we had any other tools, and Stewart reviews with us how math led us to the theory of universal gravitation, exposed the presence of planets and smaller bodies beyond our optical range, and revealed the presence of dark matter. Much more readable than expected. and an enjoyable review of one of humanity’s best tools for discerning the order of the Cosmos.

Next up was Air: The Restless Shaper of Our World, by William Bryant Logan. I expected this to be something like 18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and Weather, but it’s much more of a delightful grab-back. There are indeed sections on weather and climate — how air, unevenly heated and moisturized, is driven into circulation and creates terrifying and wondrous weather across the world — but Logan looks more broadly into how air serves the world, not only by giving animals and plants stuff to breath, but by constituting the platform through which creatures great and small live and move and have their being — giving fungi a way to get around, drawing animals together with pheromones, and filling the world with beauty in the form of birdsong. I love a science book that makes me feel like a kid again, drinking greedily at the inexhaustible fount of wonder that is the natural world, and Logan does that. Even more interestingly, though, he writes with a poet’s quill, using the discussion of natural phenomenon to drift into other discussions. The chapter on pheromones, for instance, turns into a muse on love and living within its mystery. Logan has two other books which I was already interested in (Dirt and Oak), but the varied pleasures of Air mean I’m definitely pursing more of his work.

Next up: Johnny Reb and (hopefully) completing the science survey with consciousness and clean thinking.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
This entry was posted in Reviews, science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to In the air and across the Cosmos

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I’ve just had a few books delivered you might find interesting – about cities. Essentially (I think from the blub etc) they’re critiques of modernist urban planning from an Anarchist(ish) PoV. They’re both by Richard Sennett:

    The Uses of Disorder – Personal Identity & City Life
    Building & Dwelling – Ethics for the City

    • Ooh! Thanks. Will have to take a look once away from work. I’m currently reading a title that’s proven far more interesting than expected — “The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science”.

  2. Pingback: May 2023 in Review | Reading Freely

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s