Review: Pythagoras’s Trousers by Margaret Wertheim

Surprise!  I’m alive and so is this blog.  Life happens, but hopefully I’ll be back for a while.

Published in 1995; 252 pages; ★★☆☆☆

“Who knows what talent was squandered because women were not given equal access to education and careers?  Who knows what insights and inventions were lost because more women did not participate in the great technological revolution of the nineteenth century?”

Summary:
Here is a fresh, astute social and cultural history of physics, from ancient Greece to our own time. From its inception, Margaret Wertheim shows, physics has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated activity; she argues that gender inequity in physics is a result of the religious origins of the enterprise.

Pythagoras’ Trousers is a highly original history of one of science’s most powerful disciplines. It is also a passionate argument for the need to involve both women and men in the process of shaping the technologies from the next generation of physicists.

(From Goodreads)

Physics is not my scientific field of choice.  I’ve struggled with it since middle school, for a variety of reasons.  Still, it’s an important field and one which drives much of our modern society – and also one in which women have comparatively little participation.  Pythagoras’s Trousers was loaned to me by my grandmother, who read it for her book group, and thought I might find it interesting, and I did… though not precisely as the text it purports to be.  Wertheim has produced a sound history of physics, and of sexism and religiosity within the science, but I left the book feeling like she hadn’t really presented a case for a causal relationship between those qualities.

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Review: You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen

Published in 1990; 298 pages.  ★★★★☆

“So there it is:  Boys and girls grow up in different worlds, but we think we’re in the same one, so we judge each other’s behavior by the standards of our own.”

Summary:
Women and men live in different worlds…made of different words.
Spending nearly four years on the New York Times bestseller list, including eight months at number one, You Just Don’t Understandis a true cultural and intellectual phenomenon. This is the book that brought gender differences in ways of speaking to the forefront of public awareness. With a rare combination of scientific insight and delightful, humorous writing, Tannen shows why women and men can walk away from the same conversation with completely different impressions of what was said.
Studded with lively and entertaining examples of real conversations, this book gives you the tools to understand what went wrong — and to find a common language in which to strengthen relationships at work and at home. A classic in the field of interpersonal relations, this book will change forever the way you approach conversations.
(From Goodreads)

You Just Don’t Understand is an impressively accessible, balanced analysis of gender-based differences in communication.  I went into it expecting neither of these things, and found myself completely shocked and impressed with how clearly Tannen lays out ideas and how even-handedly she addresses communication styles (sometimes to the point of being frustrating to read, as she defended styles I find personally annoying – but then again, those were the most thought-provoking moments for me).  While the book is approaching 30 years old, it still felt relevant and provided useful tools for examining gender and communication norms, and was well worth the read.

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Review: Travels in Alaska by John Muir

Edition published in 1979;  318 pages; ★★★★☆

…but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

Summary:
In the late 1800s, John Muir made several trips to the pristine, relatively unexplored territory of Alaska, irresistibly drawn to its awe-inspiring glaciers and its wild menagerie of bears, bald eagles, wolves, and whales. Half-poet and half-geologist, he recorded his experiences and reflections in Travels in Alaska, a work he was in the process of completing at the time of his death in 1914. As Edward Hoagland writes in his Introduction, “A century and a quarter later, we are reading [Muir’s] account because there in the glorious fiords . . . he is at our elbow, nudging us along, prompting us to understand that heaven is on earth—is the Earth—and rapture is the sensible response wherever a clear line of sight remains.”
(From Goodreads)

John Muir took me by surprise, though I really shouldn’t have been so shocked.  For some reason, I assumed this book would be dense, erudite, and difficult to read – but Muir wouldn’t have been the father of modern American conservation if his writing had been inaccessible.  Indeed, Travels in Alaska is surprisingly readable, lyrically and beautifully written.  While there’s no plot underlying this rambling travelogue, I found it to be nonetheless a fascinating and meditative reading experience.

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