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: Cultural Misunderstandings by Raymonde Carroll

Published in 1987; 147 pages; ★★☆☆☆

“Of course, we are all human.  But we speak thousands of different languages, which makes us no less human, and do not find it inconceivable to learn a variety of “foreign” languages.  Yet we refuse to accept the idea that we communicate with others through something similar to languages, “languages” of which we are unaware – our cultures – despite the fact that we speak a great deal today about cultural differences.”

Summary:
Raymonde Carroll presents an intriguing and thoughtful analysis of the many ways French and Americans—and indeed any members of different cultures—can misinterpret each other, even when ostensibly speaking the same language. Cultural misunderstandings, Carroll points out, can arise even where we least expect them—in our closest relationships. The revealing vignettes that Carroll relates, and her perceptive comments, bring to light some fundamental differences in French and American presuppositions about love, friendship, and raising children, as well as such everyday activities as using the telephone or asking for information.
(From Goodreads)

This review requires a preface:  I am thoroughly aware that a lot of my perception of this book is, ironically, shaped by cultural premises.  For one thing, American standards of scholarship are different – it would be unusual to see an American scholarly book with no list of references or index.  A text lacking these acknowledgements of other research reads, to me, more like an opinion piece than true nonfiction.

With that said… fundamentally, I found there to be a kind of irony here.  On the one hand, I’m fairly convinced that Carroll wrote this in good faith; that she believes in the power of cultural analysis to resolve misunderstandings; and that she’s earnest in her desire to understand different perspectives.  On the other hand, there’s very little indication in this book that she actually sought out American viewpoints, and her analysis ended up feeling one-sided and shallow.

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