Tagged with andrew robinson

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.

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2014 in reading

I set out this year to make my reading a bit more diverse. I fell a tad short of my goal for women writers making only 39.6% when I was aiming for 40% but had 13.5% non-white. I ended up choosing my next book to read 10.8% of the time in pursuit of these numbers. I had 9.9% of my reading written by dead white men and 30.1% by non-US authors.

69.8% of the books I read were by authors new to me, and I’ve met 10.8% of the authors of the books I’ve read. 60.8% was fiction and 5.9% was poetry. 3.9% was in translation and 1% was in Spanish.

And now, my top books of the year:

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Great short stories by a master of the form. 

The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim
Magical realism and brutal realism in contemporary Iraq 

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford 
I read this in college 25 years ago, coming back to it, I still love it. 

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
A great account of a mystical experience. 

The Instructions by Adam Levin
A work of pure genius. Once I finished, I went back to page one to read it again. 

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
A lyrical tribute to libraries of all kind. 

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunett, Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong
An alternate version of the Superman story done brilliantly. 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A great investigation of identity and deception, 

The Year of What Now: Poems by Brian Russell
A beautiful depiction of painful experience through poetry, even more impressive in that it’s fiction!

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