Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

book cover

The Disappearing Spoon:
...the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
by Sam Kean

Hardback: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
First Released: July 2010

Source: Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
Learn about the history of the world through the story of the periodic table. From the tale of how the Big Bang created all of the natural elements to stories from the international race among scientists to discover and then create new elements, it's not a peaceful history. Sam Kean teaches the chemistry and physics surrounding the elements on the periodic table through stories of the Noble-winning scientists who studied them. It's science and social history with some trivia (like the prank involving a dissolving metal spoon) scattered throughout.

The Disappearing Spoon teaches the chemistry and physics of atoms and the periodic table. It's taught primarily in the context of short biographies about the Noble prize winning scientists (plus some others) who discovered the various elements or who discovered important things about how the elements or atoms are put together.

Based on the book description I was given, I was expecting more trivia about the elements and how they are and have been used rather than a book teaching science with a main focus on scientists. However, the author's casual, lively, and sometimes crude tone made the stories entertaining--probably even more so to young males than to me. I did get a little tired of the author's judgmental attitude, though. It seemed like every human action had to be either brilliant or insanely stupid.

The author's explanations of how things worked (atoms, periodic table, etc.) were easy for me to follow, but that might partly be because I took a lot of science courses in college. The initial science lessons were high school level, but the ending lessons were more college level (though high schoolers can probably follow them).

The book primarily focused on science and scientists, but there were a few stories of invention, greed, destruction or just plain weirdness based around non-scientists. Though I didn't actually check to make sure, it seemed like every element on the periodic table was covered at least briefly. Some of the areas in which he discussed the use of the elements were warfare (chemical warfare, nuclear bombs, dirty bombs), medicine, politics, art, biology (especially DNA), as poison, as money (counterfeiting, a strange gold rush), and under super-cool conditions. He also covered a Big Bang model of how the elements were formed (with a "see, no god needed!" emphasis), how radiometric dating methods were thought up and used to generate dates for the age of the Earth that were old enough to give biological evolution a chance of occurring (since previous dating methods gave too "young" of an age to allow for it), and how biases can prevent critical viewing of scientific data (though he didn't seem to notice his own bias).

He worked a lot of "there is no God, humans & Earth aren't special, and evolution is true" apologetics into this book. I wouldn't mind so much if, in the appendix, he hadn't presented what "young-earth creationists believe" by mixing true statements with misrepresented and apparently ridiculous ones as well as completely inaccurate ones. So now, if these readers come across the true argument, they'll dismiss it without really considering it--they'll think they know all about it when they don't.

There were a few black and white photographs of scientists and a few charts. I thought it funny that the author mentioned how important bubble research proved to be in furthering atomic research, yet my grandpa--who was world-renown for doing some of the basic bubble research the author kept referring to--was never mentioned by name. (It's funny because I could never understand why researching bubble formation was important until after he died, when I'd read books like this one.)

Overall, the book was entertaining and interesting, though not so much so that I'd want to read it again. The people who'd be most interested by it are probably high school or college age males who idolize science as pure and untarnished but who also like somewhat scandalous tales about scientists, their competitions to make Noble-winning discoveries, and their fights over who made a discovery first.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 47-48:
Disappointingly, German chemist Robert Bunsen didn't actually invent "his" burner, just improved the design and popularized it in the mid-1800s. Even without the Bunsen burner, he managed to pack plenty of danger and destruction into his life.

Bunsen's first love was arsenic. Although element thirty-three has had quite a reputation since ancient times (Roman assassins used to smear it on figs), few law-abiding chemists knew much about arsenic before Bunsen started sloshing it around in test tubes. He worked primarily with arsenic-based cacodyls, chemicals whose name is based on the Greek word for "stinky." Cacodyls smelled so foul, Bunsen said, they made him hallucinate, "produc[ing] instantaneous tingling of the hands and feet, even giddiness and insensibility." His tongue became "covered with a black coating." Perhaps from self-interest, he soon developed what's still the best antidote to arsenic poisoning, iron oxide hydrate, a chemical related to rust that clamps onto arsenic in the blood and drags it out. Still, he couldn't shield himself from every danger. The careless explosion of a glass beaker of arsenic nearly blew out his right eye and left him half-bind for the last sixty years of his life.

Read an excerpt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Christianity on Trial by Caroll & Shiflett

book cover

Christianity on Trial
by Vincent Caroll & David Shiflett

Trade Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Encounter Books
First Released: 2002

Source: Book I bought.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
"While there is nothing wrong with remembering the evil that men do, there is something altogether perverse in consistently disregarding the good that men do.""

In Christianity on Trial, the authors don't shrink from confronting the tragedies that have been perpetrated throughout the ages in the name of Christianity. But they argue that the current indulgence of anti-Christian rhetoric in our culture involves not only bad taste but tunnel vision and willful historical illiteracy as well. Carroll and Shiflett dispassionately consider the indictment of Christianity--specifically that it has justified racism and misogyny, encouraged ignorance, promoted the despoliation of the environment, and even justified genocide. Then they answer these charges.

Christianity on Trial challenges readers of all beliefs--even those with a belief in disbelief itself--to reevaluate the role of Christianity and discover that it's not only a source of consolation but of enlightenment and human liberation as well.

Christianity on Trial explores if the charges critics most frequently level against Christianity are true and if they accurately represent the history of Christianity. The authors kept a neutral tone throughout (though they obviously thought Christianity more good than bad) and discussed both the good and the bad in Christian history. They looked at the actions of all Christians--Catholics, Quakers, Puritans, Protestants, etc.

Each chapter started with common charges laid against Christianity by various critics, then discussed if the specific examples often cited were true, then looked at the bigger picture to see if these were isolated incidents, if more was going on to cause the effect than just a Christian influence, and what good things Christians and the Christian ethic was responsible for. The authors quoted people's own words, people writing around the time of the event, and other (not necessarily Christian) historians who have carefully researched the events in question.

The first chapter covered some of the ways Christianity laid the foundational ideas we see in Western society. The next chapters answered: Did Christianity endorse and support slavery? (Ch. 2); Does Christianity hinder science and invention? (Ch. 3); Is religion the primary cause of war and discord? (Ch. 4); Was Hitler a Christian who was simply carrying out the Christian anti-semitism feelings of the time? Did Christians fail to protect Jews from the Holocaust? (Ch. 5); Are Christians more interested in condemning those in need than in helping them? (Ch. 6); Does Christianity teach a destruction-causing view of the environment? (Ch. 7); Are Christians dangerously intolerant of other religions? Where the founding fathers wary of religion and trying to establish a country free from religion (rather than with freedom of religion)? (Ch. 8).

I felt like the first chapter tried to cover so many topics that they didn't give enough information for me to fully understand some of the points they were trying to make. However, some of those points were dealt with more fully later in the book. The rest of the book was easy to follow and was very interesting and enlightening. I knew a lot of what was covered, but the chapter on Hitler was an eye-opener for me.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to Christians and those who are open learning if these charges against Christianity are justified and what positive things have come about because of Christianity.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 75-76
Galileo, whose Sidereal Messenger had propelled him to fame in 1610, was personally warned by the Jesuit scholar Cardinal Robert Bellarmine to soften his noisy promotion of the Copernican view. Galileo, being Galileo, this could not be. He was a controversialist, an intellectual who relished the parry and thrust of debate. He misjudged the value of his relationship with Pope Urban VIII and pushed the pontiff beyond his limit. With almost suicidal rashness, Galileo created the character of Simplicio in 1632 for his brilliant Dialogue, and then let the simpleton mouth the pope's own arguments. This was the insult that brought the great scientist down.

Church apologists are sometimes ridiculed for pointing out that papal authority itself was never invoked against Copernican ideas, as if this were mere hairsplitting. After all, Urban VIII actively supported the charge against Galileo and the disgraceful punishment of house arrest. But hairsplitting is precisely what helped save Catholic astronomy, as J.L. Heilbron explains in his ground-breaking 1999 work, The Sun in the Church:

Galileo's heresy, according to the standard distinction used by the Holy Office, was "inquisitorial" rather than "theological." This distinction allowed it to proceed against people for disobeying orders or creating scandals, although neither offense violated an article of faith defined and promulgated by a pope or a general council....Since, however, the church had never declared that the biblical passages implying a moving sun had to be interpreted in favor of a Ptolemaic universe as an article of faith, optimistic commentators...could understand "formally heretical" to mean "provisionally not accepted."

Galileo's great offense was disobedience, and this was not lost on his contemporaries. They "appreciated that the reference to heresy in connection with Galileo or Copernicus had no general or theological significance," writes Heilbron.

If the heresy had no theological significance, why should it have decisive scientific significance? The answer is, it didn't--not even in astronomy. "Catholic scientists in France and elsewhere (outside Italy) cheerfully ignored the decree" of 1633, Boas Hall reports. But the full truth is even more surprising. As Heilbron painstakingly relates, the church continued to support astronomical research actively in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even in Italy, in the Papal States, in Rome, and even though the research inevitably reinforced the Copernican system....Indeed, the church "gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and probably, all other institutions," Heilbron maintains.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Quotes: Sailing Ships

From Compass by Alan Gurney (pages 46-47):

...sixteen winds could be designated....One of the reasons for this multiplicity of winds was the improvement in the sailing qualities of ships due to a number of technical developments. A rudder hung at the stern instead of the two steering blades; the introduction of the bowline for hauling tight the leading edge of a squaresail when the yard was braced around for winds other than those coming from stern or on the quarter; the adding of one or two more masts, one of them being the lateen-rigged mizzen mast. All these improvements enabled square-rigged ships to sail closer to the wind and increase their arc of sailing. Using the analogy of a clock face, a merchant ship of Aristotle's time, with a wind blowing from the north or twelve o'clock, had a sailing arc restricted to the hours between four o'clock and eight o'clock. Later square-rigged ships, with the new technological improvements of rig and rudder, had increased that arc of sailing from two o-clock to ten o-clock. Yards could be braced around, bowlines hauled tight, and the attempt made to sail upwind.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Cave Book by Emil Silvestru

book cover

The Cave Book
by Emil Silvestru

Hardback: 80 pages
Publisher: Master Books
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from a local Christian bookstore.

Book Description from Back Cover, slightly modified:
Explore deep into the hidden wonders beneath the surface as cave expert Dr. Emil Silvestru takes you on an illuminating and educational journey through the mysterious world of caves. Discover the beautiful formations, thriving ecology, unique animals, and fragile balance of this little-seen ecosystem in caves from around the globe.

The Cave Book will teach you about:

* Several theories on how caves form & how long it took
* How caves have been used by humans for shelter and worship
* The world of Neanderthals and their connection to modern humans
* How to make a stone axe and about early tools
* How long it takes for cave formations to form
* Unusual animals that make caves their home
* Examples of caves in the mythology of many cultures
* The climate, geologic processes, and features of caves and karst rocks
* How ice caves form
* Exploration, hazards, and record-setting caves

Filled with beautiful and fascinating color photos of caves from around the world, The Cave Book is wonderful guide to this hidden world of wonders. Enjoy learning on your journey of exploration into these exciting and mysterious places underground!

The Cave Book is an educational nonfiction book for high schools and adults. It had lovely pictures from caves all over the world plus illustrations of the things being taught in the text. The author is a scientist who studies and explores caves, so the reader gets a view of what it's like to do that (which I haven't seen in other books about caves). The author is also a Christian, and he tied in what he was discussing with the history recorded in the Bible (like how "cave men" and Neanderthals fit with the Biblical view of history).

He talked about: (chapter 1) cave art & people who lived in caves; (chapter 2) caves in mythology, animals found living in caves, and the climate in caves; (chapter 3) cave rock types and cave formations; (chapter 4) exploring caves; (chapter 5) how scientists study cave systems (which includes studying the surrounding above ground terrain and climate).

The author used some scientific terms and chemical equations, but the terms were defined in the text and in a glossary located at the back of the book. I found the book interesting and enlightening (and it made me want to go on another cave tour soon), but I would've liked a couple more illustrations. I had to concentrate to follow some of the descriptions in the text (like the cave journey in the example "day in the life of a cave scientist") and a few additional illustrations would have allowed me to more quickly and easily follow the text in these spots.

There's also a pull-out poster at the back of the book. I'd recommend this book to any Christian who's interested in caves or who's about to go on a tour of a cave.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

View an excerpt.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Essential Oil Experiment

Some time ago, I reviewed several books on essential oils (Advanced Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D. and Aromatherapy for Health Professionals by Shirley & Len Price). I said then that I was going to buy some essential oils and I'd let people know how they worked.

I've really enjoyed working with the therapeutic grade essential oils that I've bought from The Ananda Apothecary. They smell so nice, and essential oils are amazing stuff. I've now used 27 different essential oils, but I'll just talk about the three essential oils I've found the most useful (plus they're some of the cheaper ones).

Peppermint Essential Oil is great for digestive problems. One undiluted drop on the tongue will temporarily clear stuffed up sinuses, calm an upset stomach/nausea/vertigo, and stop diarrhea.

I get motion sickness very easily. One drop, and it's gone. Immediately.

My dad and a friend of mine get upset stomachs frequently. I've tried this, too. One drop, and the upset stomach feeling is immediately gone. (I recommend following the drop by drinking some water, by the way, but this doesn't appear to be a critical step.)

For diarrhea, one drop is enough for mild forms. Two seems enough for bad cases.

Note that peppermint oil should not be used with children under two years of age.

Tea Tree Essential Oil is great for healing cuts and such. It's safe to use undiluted on your skin or on your tongue.

I got a "paper cut" from some grass I was trying to pull up while weeding. Before I went to bed, I put one drop on the cut, then put a band-aid over it. I removed the band-aid about 10 hours later, and the wound was closed, not-red, and almost completely healed. With no further action from me, it was completely healed by the next day.

One of the first wounds I used it on was a huge (about 2 inches in diameter) puss-boil-thing on my dad's back. My mom (a nurse) carefully sterilized a needle and popped the puss pocket. Lots of puss. Yuck. Anyway, using sterile pads, she worked out as much puss as she could, then I put a drop of tea tree oil in the opening of the wound (much to her initial shock--I was apparently supposed to put it on the edge of the wound if it was normal medicine--but she saw it wasn't a problem, so we continued putting it in the wound opening). We did this morning and evening every day for a week. My mom was amazed. There was no infection, and she'd never seen a wound heal so quickly. It took a few months for my dad's body to "fill in" the depression left after the puss was gone, but all other evidence of the wound was gone long before that.

As in, it's powerful stuff. And as a bonus, it (locally) numbs pain for several hours, so it soothes a wound rather than stinging it.

In fact, when my mom had some dental work done, she rubbed a couple drops over her aching gums afterward. No infection, and no pain.

I also use Tea Tree, Peppermint, and Thyme (Linalool) in a home-made mouthwash that doesn't sting and does a great job. You can also use it as a gargle for sore throat. My recipe: 16 oz water, 5 drops tea tree essential oil, 5 drops thyme essential oil, 3 drops peppermint essential oil. Shake well before using.

Lavender Essential Oil (Lavendula angustifolia) is great for burns and insomnia.

I have a mixture of 100 drops Hazelnut oil, 1 drop tea tree essential oil, and 1 drop lavender oil. I'll rub a very small amount of this on my forehead if I'm tired but having mild trouble going to sleep. If my muscles feel sore and that's keeping me awake, I rub some over the sore muscles. The tea tree numbs the pain (for a few hours) and the lavender helps me get to sleep. I was originally using this mixture on skin blemishes and sunburn, which it also works well on.

Also, if you're interested in making your own lotions, I love Ananda Apothecary's Organic Coconut/Jojoba Cream Base. For a massage oil base oil, I use Organic Sweet Almond oil.

I'd be happy to chat with anyone wanting to know more about essential oils. And, no, I'm not getting anything from Ananda Apothecary. I'm just been very pleased with their service and their oils. Their prices are good, too. (A 5 ml bottle has about 100 drops of essential oil and a little goes a long way, so it lasts longer than you'd expect.)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Inmate 46857 by Eddie Charles Spencer

book cover

Inmate 46857
by Eddie Charles Spencer
with Lafon Walcott Burrow

Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Winepress Publishing
First Released: 2005

Source: A neighbor recommended this book to me and loaned me her copy.

Book Description from Back Cover:
INMATE 46857 sat on his prison cot at Parchman Penitentiary in 1982 fingering his homemade knife and contemplating murdering two fellow inmates just to strengthen his tough reputation. As the nineteen-year-old convict visualized himself stabbing his intended victims, God intervened and provided deliverance. The encounter took only a moment, but getting there had taken a lifetime. Instantly, all the years of anger and rejection flashed before Eddie Spencer's eyes.

As memories flooded back, Inmate 46857 felt the pain and poverty of his childhood. He pictured himself the morning his only pair of shoes had fallen apart and his mother sent him to school wearing his sister's shoes. As Eddie stepped into his first grade classroom, his classmates taunted him, "Look at Eddie Spencer. He's got little-girl shoes on!" Humiliation and revenge gripped his young mind, launching him on a journey of crime and violence in the streets of the Mississippi Delta

Finally, Eddie recalled the night he slipped into a house, pointed a gun at a sleeping man's face and demanded, "Give me all your money!" His victim handed over the cash, but he also spoke some amazing words that Eddie would never forget.

As the words replayed in his head, Inmate 46857 knew exactly what he must do. He put away his "shank" and made the choice that changed his heart.

Inmate 46857 is an insightful Christian memoir. Eddie described memories of events in his childhood of abuse, neglect, and poverty that formed him into an angry, violent child who longed for respect and security. He went on to steal--initially, for food, then to supply his drug habit and for the thrill and feel of power. By the time he was sent to prison, he didn't see any hope for his future. He was controlled by his anger, and all he knew how to do was create fear in people. But God reached out and offered him another way--one that would only occur if Eddie truly surrendered to Him.

Eddie's childhood was a sad one and not very fun to read about, but it was very enlightening as to how someone can grow so hard and so angry. He "got religion" as a child because he felt pressured to, but no one explained what that meant. He later "accepted Christ" to please those who had shown kindness to him, but it was only when he'd lost control of himself that he finally, truly surrendered to God. Then he faced the scary prospect of the other inmates now viewing him as weak and attacking him. He wondered how God could protect him as well as how he was going to keep from losing control to his temper again. But God knew the answers.

The last 33 pages described Eddie's post-conversion struggles, which were very interesting. I'm involved in prison ministry and work with a young, angry man that's like Eddie in many ways. I'm planning on giving him a copy of this book to encourage him that it's safe to surrender to Christ. Right now, he believes in Christ, but can't let go of maintaining "his reputation." (I work with other inmates who know him and, ironically, his reputation isn't one of fear-inspiring awe like he thinks it is. But now I better understand why his reputation--what he thinks it is--is so important to him.)

This book was written in a conversational tone, was well-written, and kept my interest from start to finish. I'd highly recommend this insightful memoir to those who work in jail and prison ministry, those who work with troubled kids and teens, and those who have anger and trust issues.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
It only takes a moment to turn your life around. It doesn't matter who you are or what circumstances you find yourself in, God can make things different if you'll just let Him. I know that for a fact. I used to be the angry inmate in the prison mug shot on the front of this book before God gave me a new shot at life.

Inmate 46857, that's me. At least the me I used to be. A convected felon imprisoned by my anger and sentenced to ten years mandatory in the Mississippi State Penitentiary for armed robbery and attempted murder. Take a look for yourself. My seventeen-year-old face is already hard with hate. My lips are tight, barely able to hold back the cussing and hollering. My dark eyes defy everybody in authority.


That prison camera pretty much captured the real Eddie Charles Spencer the day in June of 1980 when they locked me up at Parchman Penitentiary. A furious boy living in a grown man's body. I'd been chased by inner demons since before I learned to write my own name. By the time I was ten years old, I'd turned into a gun-toting kid-criminal so out of control the law couldn't wait to lock me up. I had finally gotten myself incarcerated on account of the violence and crime I'd created running in the streets of the Mississippi Delta and, even though I knew I didn't really have anybody to blame but myself, I was dead set on getting even with the world.

Except for God's grace, I know where I'd be today--either lying in my grave or still locked up in some prison. Instead, I've been out of jail for more than a decade and I don't even resemble--inside or out--the angry criminal in that mug shot.

Now I want to share with you the story of the person I used to be and how God transformed me into the new man I am today. I'm hoping that once you hear about my life you'll see for yourself that if God can change me, He can change anybody.