What I’ve been Reading

(1) Here’s Looking at Euclid was a delightful read. Alex Bellos takes the reader on an exciting journey of mathematical curiosities. The subtitle says it all: From Counting Ants to Game of Chance – An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through the World of Numbers. The chapters are written – in a relaxed prose style – as stand-alone articles, which was really convenient for me as my reading schedule is becoming quite intermittent lately. This recreational math book is for you if any of the following gets you excited: abacus, Sudoku, Pythagoras theorem, convergence of infinite series, approximations of pi, duodecimal system and such. (A minor gripe: I thought the pun in the book-title was quite silly.)

(2) I picked up At Home: A Short History of Private Life a couple of months ago after reading an excerpt that tickled my fancy. The book was supposed to be about questions like ‘Why did we end up with salt and pepper on our dining tables, rather than say, salt and cardamom?’, ‘Why do we have four tines in forks’? The components and features of our homes are so familiar that we don’t pay much attention to them. The history of domestic life is an unexplored territory, and I thought it can be very interesting. But as I read through the initial chapters replete with British social history and anecdotes, my excitement quickly turned into apathy. The book is enjoyable in parts, but mostly it was a tedious ramble about the history of English country houses.

(3) I am halfway through The Disappearing Spoon, and it has been an interesting read so far. In a way, this book is like a memoir of elements in the Periodic table. The first chapter starts with a novel introduction to the Periodic table — an “anthropological marvel” in Sam Kean’s opinion. He takes each element in the periodic table – mercury, thallium, silicon, carbon, hydrogen, etc. – and tells engaging stories associated with these elements that were so foreign to me and at first reminded me of my befuddlement when my high-school teacher introduced this chart to our class years ago. Reading through these funny, engrossing, and often chilling episodes, I am getting acquainted with these elements, their properties and idiosyncrasies without even realizing that I am learning science. I never thought that periodic table can be this much fun. (I did like the practical joke in this book’s title – a disappearing spoon made of gallium.)