Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I've been reading

And these made me stop to think.

1. Under the Influence : the unauthorized story of the Anheuser-Busch dynasty, by Peter Hernon and Terry Gainey.

Besides the usual revelations about misbehavior and brushes with the law over drinking and driving and auto accidents, the part of the book that was eye opening for me was the Prohibition era and the extent of the corruption and cronyism that was prevalent. It's a reminder to me to read up a little more of the Harding administration and the Teapot Dome scandal.

Some bits that I found interesting: The original AB founder did not like beer - he preferred wine; AB supported mostly Democrats for much of its existence until the later part of the 20th century (after Nixon) because of Roosevelt's repeal of Prohibition; the most common payoff was in terms of distributorships to favored politicians and their relatives.

Question: How did the temperance movement gain so much momentum to lead to Prohibition and then die off with its repeal?

2. The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway.

I found this to be tragic, sad and mainly depressing. The reviews on the jacket made me wonder if the reviewers ever read the book. Her father and brother dies, and she finally abandons her mother to come to the U.S. just as her mother seems to be on the verge of what in retrospect appears to be onset of Alzheimer's. There was no postscript in the edition I read as to what happened after her successes in the U.S. but I suspect that they may have been bittersweet.

I enjoyed the prose and the first chapter on the flora and fauna of the Australian outback reminded me a little of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Her writing is wonderful and she can draw those tears out. Perhaps I should follow up with True North.

Some reviews that made me wonder if I was reading the same book:
"The Road from Coorain is a small masterpiece of scene, memory, and very stylish English. I've been several times to Australia; this book was the most rewarding journey of all."-- John Kenneth Galbraith

"Sheer delight." --Washington Post

3. Physics for the Rest of Us, by Roger Jones

This was not as enlightening as I had hoped to be. The first half of the book was readable and comforted me in that my confusion during high school Physics was justified. Quantum theory and chemistry's approach to reactions were at odds with each other and I still remember the difficulties in keeping them straight. The latter half seemed a little disjointed and the chapter on quantum electrodynamics was more confusing that I had hoped it would be.

The book asserts the following which made me rethink:
1) If we can write an equation for some physical process does this necessarily imply that we have determined causality?
2) If we can measure something does it make this measurement objective? Can we separate the subjective from its measurement?

I may excerpt some parts of the book in another post.

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