A lengthy, difficult book about a remarkable man; devoted readers will muddle through.

THE ASCENT OF JOHN TYNDALL

VICTORIAN SCIENTIST, MOUNTAINEER, AND PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL

A massive biography of one of the Victorian era’s most significant all-around scientists.

Science historian Jackson sets himself the monumental task of sorting through the volumes of writing of Irish scientist John Tyndall (1820-1893), who began his career as a surveyor for the railroads. A true autodidact, in 1847 he was hired to teach at Queenwood College, where he was able to attend lectures on chemistry and botany and learned about discovery-based and child-centered learning. He also became aware of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings, which, along with those of Thomas Carlyle, influenced his work. Eventually, Tyndall began to teach lectures in physics at a time when laboratory science held little priority in British schools. He received a doctorate in Germany, where he developed his belief in the importance of molecular structure and his consummate skill in experimental design and execution. Seemingly always at work, he read widely in philosophy and wrote about his travels for publication while studying crystal structure and transmission of heat. It was the latter work that led to the discovery that Earth’s atmosphere retained heat (greenhouse effect). His work on heat conduction in glaciers (supported by his Alpine mountaineering), structure of matter, promotion of scientific curriculum for schools, and classic demonstrations of science ensured that he was famous in his own time. He was sought after not only for his lectures, but also for his congeniality as a dinner guest. He was not, however, a mathematical physicist; he was an experimentalist—one of the best—rather than a theoretician. He disproved and/or improved others’ theories and showed that pure science could lead to practical applications. The author notes a gap in Tyndall’s journals from 1871 to 1883, a fact which readers may well appreciate. The book is chock-full of lists of friends he visited and lectures given and attended, and these sections become tiresome. Readers should have more than high school physics to comprehend Tyndall’s work.

A lengthy, difficult book about a remarkable man; devoted readers will muddle through.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-878895-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A slim, somber classic.

BLUE NIGHTS

Didion (We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, 2006, etc.) delivers a second masterpiece on grief, considering both her daughter’s death and her inevitable own.

In her 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the much-decorated journalist laid bare her emotions following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The same year that book was published, she also lost her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, after a long hospitalization. Like Magical Thinking, this book is constructed out of close studies of particular memories and bits of medical lingo. Didion tests Quintana’s childhood poems and scribblings for hints of her own failings as a mother, and she voices her helplessness at the hands of doctors. “I put the word ‘diagnosis’ in quotes because I have not yet seen that case in which a ‘diagnosis’ led to a ‘cure,’ ” she writes. The author also ponders her own mortality, and she does so with heartbreaking specificity. A metal folding chair, as she describes it, is practically weaponized, ready to do her harm should she fall out of it; a fainting spell leaves her bleeding and helpless on the floor of her bedroom. Didion’s clipped, recursive sentences initially make the book feel arid and emotionally distant. But she’s profoundly aware of tone and style—a digression about novel-writing reveals her deep concern for the music sentences make—and the chapters become increasingly freighted with sorrow without displaying sentimentality. The book feels like an epitaph for both her daughter and herself, as she considers how much aging has demolished her preconceptions about growing old.

  A slim, somber classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26767-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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