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Fly on the Wall 

July 15, 2010

Summer Reading Suggestions

Galapagos expedition

Beach reading? No, these intrepid explorers have landed on the Galapagos to study its wildlife. This photo was taken during the Academy’s 1905-06 expedition.

Summer is a famous time for beach reading. Fortunately, you don’t really have to sit on the beach to read. It’s delightful but optional. You can use a Kindle or an iPad to read, but I’ve also heard that in the old days people used a remarkable technology based on paper to store text. Rumor has it that they could read print on paper during takeoff and landing. Now that’s an idea!

Here are suggestions of three good summer reads, each having to do with Academy themes of science and exploration. I’ve read them all and stayed awake with a minimum number of short naps to freshen the little gray cells, as Monsieur Poirot would say.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
By Dava Sobel
A major development in the 1700s was a means to determine longitude. Determining latitude had been relatively easy, but there was no reliable method to accurately determine longitude on a ship far from land. As a result, ships occasionally plowed into land with predictable consequences. This was such an important challenge that the British Government established a prize of 20,000 pounds for the person who succeeded in developing a method to determine longitude, a sum equivalent to about $12 million today. Ultimately, the problem was solved by John Harrison, a Lincolnshire carpenter with little formal education. He devised a portable clock that kept very precise time even on a ship in motion. After considerable controversy, he was awarded the prize in 1773, three years before his death at 84. It didn’t allow for much time to enjoy his newfound wealth. This book by Dava Sobel tells Harrison’s story. I recommend it.

The Victorian Internet
By Tom Standage
This book recounts the invention of the telegraph in the 1800s, and the profound impact it had on the world as the “Internet” of its day.

The Lost City of Z
By David Grann
In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett disappeared during an expedition to find Z, a fabled city in the Amazon rainforest. Fascinated by this mystery, author David Grann embarks on his own quest to learn more about Fawcett and the City of Z. This book is available in the lending library of the Naturalist Center (Level 3 of the Academy). Borrowing privileges are a member benefit, so during your next visit, don’t forget to come browse our wide selection of books and DVDs.

Have you read any of these books already? Or do you have other summer reading recommendations? If so, share your comments below.

Filed under: Other News — Greg Farrington @ 3:20 pm

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