Sympathetic study of a man whose achievements were overshadowed by his inability to understand how science was changing.

DEGREES KELVIN

A TALE OF GENIUS, INVENTION, AND TRAGEDY

Noted science writer Lindley (Boltzman’s Atom, 2001, etc.) chronicles the life of an eminent Victorian scientist, in his time considered second only to Newton.

The author picks up the career of William Thomson (1824–1907) upon his arrival at Cambridge. The young man’s father gave him an exceptional head start, taking the family on tours of the continent and teaching them advanced science. At age 16, William published a significant paper on heat flow, a subject soon to blossom into thermodynamics and become one of the foundations of classical physics. Thomson contributed significantly to thermodynamics, even giving it its name, but never developed a full-blown theory of heat. Inability to see the larger implications of his ideas was a characteristic shortcoming, despite an impressive record of success. Accepting a professorship at Glasgow, Thomson supplemented his academic income with practical ventures. He advised the company that laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable, in the process inventing an improved receiver. He developed a compass that became the British naval standard for 40 years. Work like this, which bolstered England’s economic and technological supremacy, led to Thomson’s elevation to the peerage as Lord Kelvin in 1892, the first British scientist to be so honored. But in his practical side lay the seeds of his downfall. Thomson questioned geologists’ estimates of the age of the earth after calculating (correctly, given the energy sources known at the time) that the sun’s total lifetime could be only a few million years. When the discovery of radioactivity showed a way out of the impasse, he refused to amend his position. This failure of imagination made him a scientific fossil, the embodiment of classical physics just as its edifice began to crumble. Lindley deftly interweaves accounts of Thomson’s scientific career, his relations with his contemporaries, and his personal life, always cocking an eye to the larger historical picture.

Sympathetic study of a man whose achievements were overshadowed by his inability to understand how science was changing.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2004

ISBN: 0-309-09073-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Joseph Henry Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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