Filed under dewey decimal project

Dewey Decimal Project: 583.22 MOO Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit

When I wasNewImage younger, my father took the family to Paw Paw Woods in the southwest suburbs of Chicago in search of pawpaws. We found a paw paw tree, but it had no fruit. I don’t know whether we had come at the wrong time of year or if the fruit had already been collected or if it was a year that the tree was not going to be bearing fruit.

It was with my father’s obsession in mind that, when I spotted this book on the shelves I decided it would be the next book in line for my reading through the Dewey Decimal system.

Moore provides an engaging account of the natural and cultivational history of the pawpaw, the only tropical fruit to be found natively in temperate North America. Unlike other formerly wild fruits, there has been little success in domesticating the pawpaw. A number of cultivars now exist, but commercial growing has yet to be successful at the scales necessary to make the pawpaw anything more than a niche farmer’s market fruit.

I happened recently to be passing through Ann Arbor and thought we might stop by Zingerman’s Deli to try the pawpaw ice cream that was mentioned in the book, but alas, it is not, as Moore claims, a year-round offering, but only available during pawpaw season so there was no pawpaw ice cream to be had. Instead, at the end of September or beginning of October, I’ll grab my dad and drag him to Paw Paw Woods in search of pawpaws.


Dewey Decimal Project: 573.3 SPE Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery

The 570s are general NewImagebiology which includes evolution which includes the Piltdown man hoax. Since it was mentioned in passing in <cite>The Last Human</cite> and I knew very little about it, when I spotted this book on the shelves, I decided it would be my next read.

It should be a great book: a fake skull was planted in a gravel pit in England, the cranium of a human with the jaw of an orangutan, a hoax that managed to go undetected for several decades despite the misgivings of some contemporary paleontologists. The mystery becomes who was the perpetrator, and unlike some mysteries examined by book authors, Spencer claims to have a definitive answer to the question.

This perhaps is the downfall of the book. To level a charge of who the forger could be, Spencer felt obligated to document his argument extensively and as a result, the book reads drily and ends up being dull. Spencer does do a good job of making his case, but sadly fails at creating a compelling reading experience.


569.9 SAR The last human : a guide to twenty-two species of extinct humans

The 560s areNewImage paleontology. I could have gone with the “sexy” choice and read a book about dinosaurs, but I remembered hearing about this book on Science Friday and decided it was worth taking a look at.

On the surface the concept is appealing: vignettes speculating on life of some now-extinct species of humans and pre-humans alongside illustrations of reconstructions of the likely appearance of these ancestral species.

In practice, the organization of the book made this promise unfulfilled. The vignettes are not preceded with the species identification which instead comes at head of the second and longest section on each species, a rather technical description of the fossil remains and what is known about the contemporary ecology for the species. I’ve never read any professional journals of paleontology, but I imagine this is what they would read like.

The illustration or illustrations generally come during this section or after it, which is a loss, since it would be nice to have it with the vignette to enable visualizing the text better.

Overall, a bit of a disappointment, but I’ve ended up knowing a lot about hominid paleontology that I hadn’t before.

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550 KRE The Basics of Earth Science

When I wasNewImage in high school, earth science was the class that was taken by the kids who didn’t really want to learn science., much like the stereotypical intro to geology in college which gets dubbed “Rocks for Jocks.” As someone who was a science nerd in his youth, I of course, didn’t take earth science (or geology) and so my knowledge of the subject didn’t expand beyond what I was taught in grade school science class.

It was with a sense of humility that I came to this book thinking that I’d learn something I didn’t know. The first problem came up when I realized that the typesetting of the book was faulty: The symbol ▯appeared in place of pretty much every special character, making nonsense of things like the descriptions of chemical reactions where ▯ appeared in place of ⇌ (somewhat miraculously, this lack of symbols resolved itself for the last few chapters).

The text itself largely consists of a dull recitation of facts. It’s as if Krebs got a hold of an outline of earth science study guide and just filled in the paragraphs. It’s enough to make the mind go dull, but then there was at least one dramatic error in the text (possibly more, but I have a grade-school understanding of earth science): at one point Krebs talks about sedimentary rocks metamorphosing into igneous rocks. I learned the correct answer as a dinosaur-obsessed first grader: Under high temperatures, sedimentary rocks do indeed metamorphose, but they metamorphose into metamorphic rocks (Krebs did manage to get this right in the section on the three kinds of rocks).

But the worst thing about this book is it turns out that Krebs is an anti-environmentalist climate change denier. Early in the book he discounts the need for things like post-consumer recycling and he repeatedly cites The Skeptical Environmentalist a much-criticized work that serves primarily to be used as propaganda by anti-environmentalist forces. When he gets to climate change, he repeats the same tired claims that have been peddled by the fossil fuel industry and their allies about how the change in the climate is probably not human caused and even if it was, it’s not worth doing anything about.

Overall, a garbage book, probably even worse than the Slovene language text that made me so angry a couple months ago.


Dewey Decimal Project: 540 NEW The New Chemistry

Continuing through the 500s and science, I get to chemistry. In high school, I was a chemistry wiz. I took tCover of The New Chemistrywo years of chemistry, acing both years, but somehow between the end of high school and the beginning of college, I managed to persuade myself that I wasn’t good at chemistry and I barely passed freshman chemistry when I was still enrolled at nerd school.

I picked this book out of all the options because I had imagined it might be a college-level chemistry textbook and I could right the wrongs I had committed against myself and finally and properly learn some chemistry.

This was not the book that I expected. Instead it’s a collection of articles that seem to assume at least a year of college chemistry knowledge to fully understand (and my year of college chemistry is three decades behind me and was pretty much forgotten on the spot, let alone available for use these many years later). Nevertheless, I gave it a try, starting with the creation of new elements and working my way through a variety of topics that culminated with chemistry and society. 

Reader, I understood less than half of what I read. I still would like to re-learn (or would that be just plain learn?) chemistry, but I’m not much closer to it now, although I have to admit that some side-reading in Wikipedia and elsewhere in trying to understand some of what was presented did bring me infinitesimally closer to understanding basic chemistry.


Dewey Decimal Project: 530 FEY The Character of Physical Law

When NewImageI was a college student, I read Feynman’s autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman. It was a breezy fun read (and I was young and dumb enough not to notice the misogyny and other problematic aspects of Feynman’s personal life). Feynman has a reputation for presenting challenging topics in an accessible way, so with that plus my experience of reading his autobiography, I thought I’d give this book a shot, despite its unpromising title.

As I expected, it was an accessible yet challenging read. The text is taken from a series of lectures Feynman gave at Cornell University and uses the idea of what constitutes a physical law as its organizing principle and gives a decent overview of physics starting with Newton’s law of gravitation and considering a number of topics including relativity and quantum mechanics. There have been a number of significant discoveries in physics since Feynman gave these lectures in the early 60s (notably the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson and the detection of gravitation waves), but Feynman’s lectures seem to anticipate these reasonably well given the state of what was known at the time. 


Dewey Decimal Project: 523.1 ALE The Jazz of Physics : The Secret Link between Music and the Structure of the Universe

Continuing NewImage through sciences in the Dewey Decimal system, I decided that this would be a good option for something to fill the Astronomy slot since I’m a musician and for a year or so of college I was a physics-English double major.

The book itself is what I would call the academic memoir, in which the author’s area of study and autobiography are presented together. I’d read a couple books with this structure earlier when I was in language and linguistics during the 400s and as I think about it, a case can be made for some writers’ autobiographies also following this schema for presenting the contents of the book.

Alexander’s life is fascinating and he’s an example of a surprisingly common class of academics, the physicist-musician (just looking at my own circle, I can point to one friend from my undergrad days with a PhD in physics who just finished his DA in music and another undergrad friend who left physics to pursue music, which is not to consider the physicists who do music on the side as an avocation). The physics is presented reasonably well, although there’s a tendency for him to occasionally dip into a bit of vocabulary or concept without explaining it (I noted, for example, that he uses parsec without ever giving a definition of it and given the famous misuse of the term in Star Wars, it might have been a good idea to be sure to explain, at the least, that it’s a measurement of distance.


Dewey Decimal Project: 509.2 YOU The last man who knew everything: Thomas Young, the anonymous polymath who proved Newton wrong, explained how we see, cured the sick, and deciphered the Rosetta stone, among other feats of genius

The title of this book NewImageoverpromises a fair amount. I’d argue that Young is far from anonymous given his prominence in the history of physics for his demonstration that light must be a wave from the two-slit experiment (although I imagine “anonymous polymath” may refer to the fact that he published a number of his works anonymously during the 1810s). Proving Newton wrong is a bit of an overstatement in that Newton (a) wavered between the wave and particle explanation of light and (2) Newton wasn’t wrong to believe that light was a particle, as later physics revealed (all of which is not to deny the significance of Young’s experiment and the significance it had). His explanation of the eye explained not so much how we see but how we focus at different distances (and was not quite correct in the end). He had all the limitations of medical doctors at the turn of the nineteenth century and their powers as a rule did not extend to actually curing the sick. His decipherment of the Rosetta stone was only partially correct, although a strong argument can be made for his critical role in opening the mysteries of the stone and an even stronger case can be made for his work on understanding the demotic script.

But even so, a polymath’s life can make for fascinating reading, especially given the essentially polymathic enterprise underlying my Dewey Decimal project. Alas, Robinson’s writing tends a bit towards being a little dry and wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked.


Dewey Decimal Project: 491.843 ALB Teach Yourself Slovene

At this point, I’ve been throughNewImage a number of language texts, enough to get a sense for what works for me and what doesn’t (I’d like to think that in a visit to a bookstore, I’d be able to flip through a text to get a sense if it’s worthwhile). This is definitely not a worthwhile text.

The problems are numerous: There was little or no proofreading done so the book is rife with typographical errors (I marked a number of corrections in the library’s copy in just the first couple of chapters), including most egregiously, in the model conjugation of verbs. In at least a couple of instances, the answers in the back of the book are incorrect (as in having no discernible relation to the question asked) or missing. The Slovene-English vocabulary at the end of the book is missing numerous words used in the text. Vocabulary is introduced haphazardly, in some cases in examples for unrelated texts. The exercises reinforce only a surface understanding of the language and in many cases are answered by simply copying word-for-word an example from the unit under examination, and in other cases, expect vocabulary which has not been introduced in any form that I could locate.

I don’t often get angry at a book, but this one enraged me. Its sole redeeming feature is its brevity, insofar as it permitted me to complete the book without investing too much time (while simultaneously preventing me from gaining much knowledge of the Slovene language).


Dewey Decimal Project: 487.4 CRO A Primer of Biblical Greek

As an NewImageundergraduate I studied a number of languages with varying degrees of success. Spanish, Latin, Hebrew and Ancient Greek. It was this last that that completely defeated me. After just one semester, I dropped out of the Greek class. From talking with others both back in the olden days and more recently, the difficulty of ancient Greek is widely recognized.

So I approached the 480s with trepidation: there would be no avoiding attempting to re-learn Greek. 

What I recalled was that in my class, there were a pair of graduate students who were similarly being crushed by the Greek class and who talked about switching instead to a Biblical Greek class being offered through the Institute for Antiquity and said that it was allegedly much easier.

Given that memory, when I looked at the books on the shelf. I decided to pick a book on Biblical Greek, and whether I was just lucky in my choice of text or those long-ago grad students were correct, I found myself having a much easier time with Biblical Greek. 

I imagine it’s both, but this text does an amazing job of introducing the complexities of Biblical Greek. Each chapter ends with four sets of exercises, a set of sentences for translation from Greek which are presumably composed by Croy, a set of passages from the Septuagint, a set of passages from the New Testament (these latter two have supplementary vocabulary provided which is explicitly not expected to be learned) and finally a short set of English sentences to be translated to Greek. The later chapters have a few words that don’t manage to make it into either the main or supplementary vocabularies but Wiktionary provides an invaluable resource for being able to find words both in canonical and inflected forms much to my relief.

It took me nearly two years, but I worked through all 32 chapters and all the accompanying translation exercises and my phobia of ancient Greek has been alleviated. I’m almost ready to pull my old Attic Greek textbook off the shelf and give it another try.