Today I go back to book that I read a couple of years ago. Whilst browsing my bookshelves I came upon it again, started reading and got stuck. What a brilliant interesting story about the old „longitude problem“ which was one of the most difficult scientific dilemma at the time – for centuries! Without the ability to measure their longitude, sailors were basically lost at sea for centuries the minute the lost sight of the land. Until then, only longitude was used, with a little glancing at the stars.
From Galileo to Newton were trying to solve this thorny problem but it was a guy who nobody had heard of named John Harrison who came up with a mechanical solution that would be able to keep precise time at sea, something that no clock was able to do even on land. „Longitude“ is a fascinating story about the scientific quest and Harrison’s personal obsession that took him 40 years to find this perfect timekeeper that we now call chronometer.
This book gives us a glimpse into the fascinating history of astronomy, mechanics and navigation that literally opened the world to us, saved thousands of lives and tremendously increased the wealth of various nations.
Despite it’s brevity, Longitude is a really engaging well written book. Sobel writes in a way that makes science and math accessible to the general reader.
Complement „Longitude“ with Andrea Wulf’s „Alexander von Humboldt und die Erfindung der Natur„.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s „The Signature of all Things“ is a novel about the longing for completion and self-fulfillment of a woman who is intelligent, scientific minded and struggles with her longings and aspirations that are hard to fulfill for a woman in the 19th century.
Alma Whitaker is a child of the Enlightenment and something of a fictitious female Charles Darwin. She arrives at Darwin’s evolutionary theory on the survival of the fittest before Darwin publishes his book purely based on personal experiences. But self-doubt on her theories and a the nagging feeling that humans might not as easily be categorised into theories as plants and animals stop her from publishing.
“Take me someplace where we can be silent together.”
Alma is a complex and fascinating character who sort of personifies an area and the age of upheaval. Gilbert writes and also structures her novel a lot like a the classics of the 19th century. The book is impeccably researched and often very funny with some (not so 19th century) explicit sexual content.
Alma Whitaker, even though she is a classic Daddy’s Girl, is one of the most memorable and relatable heroines I’ve come across of . The storytelling it wonderful and it is hard to put the book aside. It was a quick read even though the book is quite the door stopper. I loved who much I learned about plants, moss, medical plants and botany in general.
Gilbert is a great writer who’s characters are as lively as the world that they live in. The writing is poetic and we follow Alma on her odyssey of the natural world and beyond, the wonder of life shows itself in all its beauty.
This is the perfect gift for the aspiring botanist or anybody who is interested in the history of science and loves a good novel to get lost in.
„Fugitive Pieces“ is one of my favorite books and one I re-read a couple of times. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes me go back to it, but I think it has something to do how books were the safe heaven for a little boy and I could relate to it a lot. All it needs to keep a kid safe is one person who loves it, something to eat and drink, a place to sleep and some books.
Jakob Beer is a little polish boy who had buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. He is rescued by a kind Greek geologist who is not even sure he found a little human being in the mud until the boy starts to cry. He smuggles him back to Greece and fosters him back to life. He shows him the beauty of the world that is hidden in the library behind the covers of his books on plants, history, fossile, stones and slowly he helps Jakob transform from a wild Holocaust survivor to an artist.
I highly recommend this book to you, a novel about mysterious symmetries, loss, redumption and the triumph of love. I read somewhere a book that should not so much be read but you should surrender to it.
Accompany this book with Aaron Appelfelds „Geschichte eines Lebens / The story of a Life“ and Haruki Murakamis „Kafka on the Shore“
The recommendation today comes from the deepest corners of the sea. This wonderful book about one of my favorite creatures: The Octopus 🙂
This extract from the publishers site tells you best why this is the book makes a great present:
„What if intelligent life on Earth evolved not once, but twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter? In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself – a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared.
Tracking the mind’s fitful development from unruly clumps of seaborne cells to the first evolved nervous systems in ancient relatives of jellyfish, he explores the incredible evolutionary journey of the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous molluscs who would later abandon their shells to rise above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so – a journey completely independent from the route that mammals and birds would later take.
But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually ‘think for themselves‘? By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind – and on our own.“
Published by Harper Collins.
These stories are perfect for all part time insominiacs. So instead of tossing and turning from one side to the other, grab that neat little reading light and let one of these great authors soothe you slowly into Morpheus‘ arms.
Some of the stories are only two or three pages long, some nearly 20 pages. The stories themselves are arranged into specific categories within the book: “Stories to make you glad to be alive”, “Stories to send a shiver up your spine”, “Stories to read when everything is going wrong”…
An eclectic mix of writers from Haruki Murakami to Virginia Woolf presented in a beautiful hard back edition.
This also comes with a recommendation from our Reading Weekend our Bookclub went to recently, were we read a few of these stories at night in the kitchen by the fire.
Combine this with my collection of short stories for long nights and Ted Chiang’s „Stories of your Life„
Everybody knows and loves Jane Eyre, but not many people have even heart of Villette. Todays novel is Charlotte Brontë’s astonishing autobiographical novel of one woman’s search for true love.
Lucy Snow is travelling from England to find employment in the small belgish town of Villette in a girl’s boarding school. She has neither friends nor family and has a pretty hard time in the boarding school at first having never taught before and keeping her self-posession in the face of snobbish and unruly pupils is pretty difficult for her. The headmistress Madame Beck is also not exactly the ideal picture of a kind and warm person which makes it difficult for Lucy to settle in.
“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars–a cage, so peril, loneliness, an uncertain future, are not oppressive evils, so long as the frame is healthy and the faculties are employed; so long, especially, as Liberty lends us her wings, and Hope guides us by her star.”
She also has to deal with her own complex feelings. First she is in love (or so she believes) with the school’s English doctor but then falls for the strict authoritharian professor Paul Emanuel. Charlotte Brontë draws immensely on her own deeply unhappy experiences based on her time as a governess in Brussels. This autobiographical novel is the last book published during Charlotte Brontë’s lifetime. It is a strong and very moving study of loneliness, isolation and the pain of unrequited love. The novel is narrated by a strongwilled independent spirit who is incredibly resilient in the face of her difficult circumstances.
Lucy Snow is not as easily likeable as Jane Eyre and there are quite a few occassions were I just wanted to shake her when the pining was a bit too much for me. But in general I really loved this novel, loved it in spite of the many weird contrived coincidences, the unreliable narrator and it’s sparse plot. Lucy Snow is like Jane Eyre’s dark twin sister and the study of a the complex inner world of a really interesting person.
Charlotte Brontë (1816-55), was the eldest of the Brontë sisters. She was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire and Jane Eyre was first published in 1847 under her pen-name Currer Bell. The book was followed by Shirley (1848) and Villette (1853). In 1854 Charlotte Brontë married her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. She died during her pregnancy on 31 March 1855 in Yorkshire. Her novel The Professor was posthumously published in 1857.
Virginia Woolfe is being quoted as having said that „Vilette is Emily Brontë’s finest novel“ and another high brow fan of the novel is George Eliot who said „I am only just returned to a sense of real wonder about me, for I have been reading Villette“
So follow the advise of these brilliant ladies and immerse yourself into this novel. You might want to accompany your reading with Wilkie Collins „The Woman in White“ for something else equally quintessentially british.
Today I would like to introduce an audiobook to you that I was listening to and that got my hooked from pretty much the first few minutes of it. The Sleeping Giant is the first part of the Themis trilogy by the Canadian author Sylvain Neuvel.
Neuvel’s debut is a real page turner a combination of SciFi, political thriller and mystery. Neuvel weaves a complex net where some ancient machinery buried deep in the Earth meet shadow governments and geopolitical conflicts.
I can’t summarize it any better than this blurp:
„A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?“
The story is told in a series of interviews – reports submitted by an anonymous interviewer who is pulling most of the strings behind the project. This narrative structure is very easy to follow and the book is a real page turner.
The second book is called „Waking Gods“ and the last book „Only Human“. A trilogy with a satisfying end in my opinion.
This trilogy is a great gift for all SciFi and mystery lovers. Combine this article with Cixin Liu’s „The Three-Body Problem“ and Madeleine Ashby’s „Company Town“