Raymo (Skeptics and True Believers, 1998, etc.) again proves himself a masterful scientist and affable guide as, simply by drawing on his daily walk to work, he shows how everything in the universe is connected to everything else.
For 37 years, he says, he has “walked the same path” back and forth from home to work—work being the teaching of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts. Not only have those years made him familiar indeed with the flora and fauna of his route “along a street of century-old houses, through woods and fields, across a stream,” but familiar also with the history—civic, industrial, architectural—his path takes him through. Much of the landscape, he tells us, was designed by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) for a member of the Ames family, the family that first (in 1803) harnessed the energy of the stream, Queset Brook, to begin the shovel-making factory that would grow eventually to provide most of the hand-digging tools for America’s westward expansion. “Scratch a name in a landscape,” says Raymo, “and history bubbles up like a spring.” Indeed it does, at least when Raymo does the scratching—and science bubbles up too, as, for example, he shows us how the Queset Brook (the Ames family “turned water and gravity into a family fortune”) is a small and interrelated part of all Earth’s water, and then how water in turn is an interrelated part of all life. In mid-century, the switch from water to coal power brought about “something profound,” a change that leads Raymo to guide us through still more history—all the way up to “greenhouse warming”—and still more science, botanical (“Coal is fossilized plants”), physical (“a lump of coal is a packet of stored sunlight”), even chemical, as we learn what we are made of.
A little masterpiece combining the individual and the cosmic with a fine but unflinching eye: informative, captivating, heartfelt.