Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mark Denny

Mark Denny is a theoretical physicist who worked in academia and industry. He is the author of a number of books for scholars, students, and general readers, including Gliding for Gold: The Physics of Winter Sports; Their Arrows Will Darken the Sun: The Evolution and Science of Ballistics; Super Structures: The Science of Bridges, Buildings, Dams, and Other Feats of Engineering; and the recently released The Science of Navigation: From Dead Reckoning to GPS.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading.  His reply:
I’m an avid reader, usually with three or four books on the go at any one time—a book by my bed, a book in the living room, another in my truck and one in my car. (No, I don’t read while driving.) So it is particularly easy or hard for me to describe what I’m reading, depending on who is asking. The editor of this blog wants to know about all my current reading, so he is making it hard, but I’m happy to oblige.

First thing in the morning these days (after making my wife a pot of tea) I am re-reading Little Dorrit. I’m a trained scientist—no sophisticate in literary appreciation—and I just can’t get past nineteenth century English fiction (Sherlock Holmes is a perennial favorite, though I have daringly ventured into the early twentieth century with G.K. Chesterton’s amazing Father Brown stories). Dickens is just jaw-droppingly good, especially for history buffs who appreciate the contemporary social references. His characters are so strange and so real (though Little Dorrit herself is irritatingly idealized) and he uses humor as a sharp sword.

Mostly I read non-fiction, and in my truck am just finishing a bizarre account of the French philosopher René Descartes. It is Descartes’ Bones by Russell Shorto. Part philosophy and part historical detective story, it tells us about the very weird peregrinations of Descartes’ skeleton since his demise. The story is weaved into the author’s interpretation of his subject’s impact on all aspects of modern thought. You make think that some humor wouldn’t go amiss for such heavy and morbid fare, and fortunately Shorto agrees.

Permit me to pass quickly over my car book: The Rise of American Democracy by Sean Wilentz. A detailed and thorough academic account of your strange and interesting country (I write from across the border in Canada) it is tedious in large doses, so at 1,000 pages it will take me some time to digest Prof. Wilentz’ tome, though by the end I hope to understand a lot more of the peculiar workings of the United States government.

The living room book is also history, though altogether grimmer: The Pacific War, edited by Daniel Marston. Every bit as brutal as the war between Stalin and Hitler, the war against Japan resulted in an equally decisive victory and defeat. I’ve just started this book; it looks to be interesting because it gives accounts from a Japanese view as well as American, and includes the almost-forgotten war in Burma between British forces and the Japanese.
Read about Mark Denny's The Science of Navigation at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Science of Navigation.

--Marshal Zeringue