Book recommendations?

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Andy Kev.

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20 Aug 2013
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I would imagine that a lot of people are using the current period of enforced inactivity to catch up on their reading. So I'll offer one book recommendation: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf.

It is essentially a biography and explanation of the work of Alexander von Humboldt. Having just finished it, I am amazed that when I did biology at university Mr H was not mentioned once. He effectively invented the modern approach to what we could loosely called environmental science, something which covers everything from ecology to geology.

It is quite possible that without Humboldt's work Darwin would never have been set on the train of enquiry which led him to the ideas published in The Origin of Species. Darwin is certainly clear about the debt he owed him.

Humboldt has largely been forgotten, certainly in the English speaking world. This is possibly due to the cultural knock on influence of two world wars fought against Germany (Humboldt being Prussian). Yet this man has more places and geographical features named after him than any other human being and deservedly so IMO. I suggest that he did for the study of the natural world what Einstein did for physics.

The book itself is a delight to read and it is in my view an important one, which anybody interested in the development of the way we look at the world these days will find interesting.

All I ever knew about Humboldt was that he walked around S America for a bit and had a current in the Pacific Ocean named after him. Having read this book, I now regard him as being one of the all time greats of enlightened western thought. There's also a BBC documentary on YouTube about him which is quite informative.
By Henry Marsh who is a Neurosurgeon.
A fascinating insight into the mind of a brain surgeon with very interesting points of view on the NHS.
Not as highbrow as the previous two but a good read, especially if you're ex-mob, is 'Air Force Blue' by Patrick Bishop. A history of the RAF from its birth in 1918 through to the end of WW2 with lots of personal recollections and an insight into its main characters.
Just Six Numbers, by Lord Martin Rees.
Fermat's Last Theorem, by Simon Singh.

Both mathematical subjects for non-mathematicians. Very good.
"The Making of the British Landscape" by Nicholas Crane. The story of how Britain changed from the Ice Age to the Present.

"The English and Their History" by Robert Tombs. I've read a fair few history summaries, and this one is by far the best on how England developed from it's birth in the 8th century to the present. Beautifully written, and unlike so many other books of it's type, it doesn't just concern itself with the doings of kings and princes, but with all manner of the aspects of life in England.

"A History of Wales" by John Davies. Well written and very readable; perhaps a little political in the most recent history of the Principality.

"Scotland - A History from Earliest Times" by Alistair Moffat. Just started this one, which records the history of what is now Scotland from the end of the last Ice Age. Very well written so far - but I've only just got as far as the Vikings (nasty lot, they were!).

I've got one lined up for Ireland, too ("Ireland, A History" by Thomas Bartlett). Not read it yet, so can't comment!

As you can maybe tell, history has fascinated me for years. How did the world come to be the way it is? is a question I've been asking myself for a while. School history was a dry and boring subject, and studiously avoided the things that interested me, and my chosen field of Engineering (the history of which did interest me!) didn't allow much study of the world's development in other ways. Now, in later life, I'm starting to try to fill in a few gaps in the knowledge - and slowly coming to terms with just how vast a subject history is. The above books are the best of the reading I've done so far. Oh boy - are there some also-rans out there!
Cheshirechappie":1x8dqhk6 said:
As you can maybe tell, history has fascinated me for years. How did the world come to be the way it is? is a question I've been asking myself for a while.

Then you should read'guns, germs and steel'. If you have not already. Mindblowing breadth of enquiry.
If anybody's looking for a very good and seriously different novel, I would recommend Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott. I'm not sure that reading reviews of it is sensible because it is so original that comparisons are meaningless. (The commonest comparison is with Gormenghast, as fine an example of critical paralysis as one could hope to quote. I love Gormenghast BTW but it bears no resemblance whatsoever to Rotherweird.)

Suffice it to say that the book is entertaining, mysterious, thrilling, comic and a sort of riddling intellectual riot. It's very, very English in its everyday surrealism. It's hard to recommend highly enough.

With ref to non-fiction: I've just finished a biography of General de Gaulle by Julian Jackson. It badly needs a sub-title: "Too damned French for his own or anybody else's good".

And I've also finally finished the three volume official biography of Mrs Thatcher. It brought home to me how little attention I paid to politics during those years.
Well after a lengthy pre order with Amazon for
Goodman's British Planemakers 4th Edition I should be well into the listed revision of planemakers.
However, I've just been told that it is now unable to fulfil the order.
Thanks Muppets
Cheers Andy
RogerS":wqhw5f15 said:
All the books by Ian Banks. Then his other genre under Iain Banks. Sadly missed.

Do you mean Iain Banks and Iain M Banks? If you do I whole heartedly concur. With the exception of the Wasp Factory. Which is a bit wierd.

I would also recommend WIlliam Gibson, China Mieville and Jon Courtney Grinwood, and with some exceptions Neal Stephenson.

And on a completely different tack the Aubrey Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien which I have been re-reading. And which takes us back to the OP, as at one point Aubrey is taking observations during an expedition for Humboldt, as a fellow memeber of the Royal Society.
Hi All

If you like detective novels with a historical twist try the Falco and Albia Novels of Lindsey Davies, They are a cracking read and give an insight into life in 1st century Rome under one of the more beguine Emperors.

As an alternative try Mudlarking by Lara King. Fascinating.