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Home Forums Useful Stuff Books and online things to keep you busy, part 1

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  • #23755
    Andy Sawers
    Topics: 134
    Replies: 604

    One of our Members recently suggested we provide a regular email with ideas for books to read, podcasts to listen to and webinars to watch. We thought that was a great idea, so here’s our first one. It’s a fairly random, eclectic mix of things that have caught our eye recently. Feel free to add your own suggestions, too!



    No Shadow of a Doubt, by Daniel Kennefick – This is the story of the 1919 solar eclipse and the expeditions led by Arthur Eddington in Cambridge and Sir Frank Dyson, Astronomer Royal, Greenwich, to observe whether the Sun bends light and if it does so in a way that confirms Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This volume has a terrific mix of story-telling as well as details about the actual observations and measurement errors to satisfy both the novice and the enthusiast observer. Remember that planning for the expeditions began when the first world war was still raging: Einstein was a German whose ideas therefore weren’t even given the time of day by many academics, while Eddington was a Quaker and a conscientious objector – and had the intellect to grasp Einstein’s work. – About £22.50 or so.

    Einstein’s War, by Matthew Stanley – In many ways, the flip side of the coin to the book above. This tells in effect the same story, but more from Einstein’s perspective. Lighter on the science, but another great story-teller. A bit cheaper at £15 or so, or £10 on Kindle.

    A Random Walk in Science, by RL Weber – If you’re looking for an amusing book about physics – yes, you read that correctly – then search this out. Second-hand book retailer AbeBooks should be able to find you a copy of this 1973 book for just a few pounds. It is a compilation of tongue-in-cheek essays, a few jokes, some satire (such as the explanation as to why theoretical physicists are always right), the story of the utterly fraudulent detection of ‘N rays’, funny poems and rhymes, and failed predictions (“The [atomic] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” – a US admiral to President Truman, 1945). As for the 1964 article on “The art of finding the right graph paper to get a straight line”, it reads like the kind of thing that certain US news agencies are doing now to try to get the coronavirus data to fit their agenda. If jokes about Planck’s constant might tickle you, this is well worth a fiver.

    The Lonely Planet Guide to the Universe – Published by Lonely Planet and in their usual style, this is a remarkable book and great value for money at around £13 or thereabouts. The scope of the work is pretty immense, the detail is impressive and the photographs are great. Terrific factoids, as well: Olympus Mons may be the highest volcano in the Solar System, but the slope of its sides is only 5% – so it’s quite a gentle walk the next time you find yourself on Mars.



    Last year’s BBC World Service podcast, 13 Minutes to the Moon, was absolutely excellent. In a dozen episodes, it analysed what was going on in those last crucial moments before Eagle touched down in the Sea of Tranquillity, and looked at the background in eye-opening detail: the 26-year-old kids who populated Mission Control; the guidance computer that was literally woven into the fabric of the space craft; the political background and how Apollo “saved 1968”; and Michael Collins, the third man. Truly excellent. Find it on the BBC Sounds app or here online.

    The same team has also produced a new series of ’13 minutes’ which is about the Apollo 13 disaster (which I have yet to hear), but the final episode is being delayed because presenter Kevin Fong is, in fact, a specialist doctor who is now actively involved in the national Covid-19 strategic team.



    As you will know, the Flamsteed’s lectures are now being done online. Dr Colin Snodgrass from the University of Edinburgh recently spoke to us about ‘Oumuamua, comet Borisov and the ESA Comet Interceptor projects and you can see it by clicking here.

    The British Astronomical Association is also now doing its talks online, every Wednesday at 7pm, and they are worth having a look at as well. Check out for details.

    And last but by no means, do check out the material being posted online by Royal Museums Greenwich, here at !

    Topics: 0
    Replies: 1

    Hi Andy, everyone! Great idea and lots of information for at-home entertainment. I am re-reading the Jungle Books at the moment (one of my favourites!), but I finish this then I will try one of these recommendations … maybe A Random Walk in Science, sounds like fun!

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