Archive for the ‘Roy Lewis’ Category

The Science of Discworld, by Terry Pratchett

This is a charming book discussing science from the viewpoint of Discworld–the wizards have made a little universe, and what do you know? In this universe, the WORLD IS ROUND–not a turtle in sight, let alone elephants! And, it ROTATES ABOUT THE SUN rather then the other way around! And other obviously unrealistic features. During the process of building the thing, all kinds of observations are made:

 “I mean, things fall down because they’re heavy, you see? The thing that causes them to fall down because they’re heavy is, in fact, the fact that they’re heavy. ‘Heavy’ means inclined to fall down. And, while you can call me Mr.Silly”– “Oh, I wouldn’t do that, sir” . . . “I somehow feel that a crust of rock floating around on a ball of red hot iron should not be thought of as ‘solid ground’ “.

Each part of the wizards’ experiment is followed by a chapter explaining the science, in clear and cheery language. Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, two men who are not only eminent scientists but also fine writers provided these interludes. This book, though perhaps somewhat dated–science always moving forward!–presents a fascinating account of the origins of the universe, the earth, mankind–and speculations about the future. In the introductions, the authors state that “We have, we are afraid, mentioned in the ensuing pages Schrödinger’s cat, the Twins Paradox, and the bit about shining a torch ahead of a spaceship traveling at the speed of light. This because, under the rules of the Guild of Science Writers, they have to be included.”  And of course, there is mention of that excellent answer to the traditional question involving infinite regression, “if the world is supported on a turtle, what supports the turtle?” Answer: “It’s turtles all the way down“. This was supposedly said by a sharp little old lady in response to some eminent and sarcastic scientist, though to whom and when is not clear).

Evolution Man: Or, How I Ate My Father, by Roy Lewis

Pratchett praised this book in The Science of Discworld, and I instantly purchased a copy.  I found it absolutely topping–elegantly written, and very witty to boot! Along the lines of Cosmicomix, but not nearly so precious. The cave family father (who speaks in the educated tones of a 19th century upper class Englishman) is determined that they shall advance the species—develop larger brains, learn how to make fire without actually having to visit a volcano (he accidentally causes a huge forest fire during his research) and develop the skills of the cuisine (=fishing the meat out of the fire before it becomes a cinder). His uplifting message is often gainsaid by Uncle Vanya, who makes occasional visits to the cave, always lamenting the day they ever climbed down from the trees. And this notion of eating meat!! Nuts and berries were good enough for HIM! However, he enthusiastically joins in the feasts, begging his nephew to pass another auroch haunch. Silly wonderful book! Unfortunately out of print, but still, I shall be giving it to family and friends for birthdays and Christmas.

Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear long ago and dismissed it as Cosmo Cave Girl, which still fits actually–but rereading it I find again what I liked so many years ago–accurate and clear descriptions of flora and fauna. Lots of herb lore, combined with careful accounts of hunting–not only small rodents and deer, but even mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, aurochs–and how our ancestors used every single bit of the animals they killed, the hides for shelters and clothes, the bones for implements, the intestines for storing the rendered fat, the stomach for carrying water–fascinating stuff, really. Even if not very well written. But the author often steps back to describe the overwhelming beauty of the scenery, the plains and tundras, the blooming meadows in the spring, the glacial streams and lakes and high desolate peaks. And, after all, she can write a good story, if not very elegantly. There are several more books in the series, and while there is a certain amount of dubious social history, and a certain amount of sex, there is an underlying structure of actual history, so far as it is (or was, though I don’t think the theories she espoused have been proven wrong) known. Indeed, there has been modern scientific proof, using DNA research, that the Neanderthals did indeed interbreed with our ancient ancestors. We are ALL part Neanderthal!

A (fairly crappy, alas) movie was made of the Clan of the Cave Bear, which I haven’t seen. Though the beauteous Daryl Hannah plays the heroine, and she might be fun to watch, swathed in her furs.

See also this review-written on my other blog. Can’t shut up about this book!


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