Some end-of-year nonfiction book reviews

November 27, 2008

The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel’s Astronomical Ambition by Claire Brock
I bought this biography at the Herschel Museum of Astronomy in Bath. It was a really interesting story about Caroline Herschel‘s life, beginning in Hanover (in modern-day Germany), doing most of the housework and being a general slave for her ungrateful family, then her move to England to be with and help her brother William who was working as a musician in Bath. While she was to help run her brother’s household, Caroline was also trained by William in music (singing and playing instruments) and they performed together many times. Caroline followed William’s interest in amateur astronomy and generally she has been portrayed as William’s helper but she herself discovered many nebulae and comets and was a very interesting woman. She had a lifelong wish to be financially independent which was only fulfilled quite late in life. The book says she was the first woman to be employed as a scientist but I can’t help but wonder whether she was the first woman in modern-era Europe (do we know for certain that no other woman in other eras in other civilisations were not employed as scientists?).

Ada Lovelace: The Computer Wizard of Victorian England by Lucy Lethbridge
Don’t know much about the origins of the computer? Well read this tiny book (81 pages) and find out about the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who became interested in Charles Babbage‘s Analytical Engine (or Thinking Machine – the first computer) and her work with him on it which is now seen as the first computer programming. The book focuses on Ada Lovelace and not really on Charles Babbage, so I’d like to find an equivalent book on him.

Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley
A good introduction to psychogeography. It looked at the literary tradition and the flaneur and the situationists, and novels set in Paris and London (and New York) and I now have a long list of novels and nonfiction books to check out.

Occult London by Merlin Coverley
An interesting book covering Elizabethan, Eighteenth Century, Victorian and Twentieth Century London, looking at witches, witchcraft, Nicholas Hawksmoor, secret societies (like The Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), and more. I wish I’d taken notes of all the interesting places I could visit while living here in London (I took a lot of notes when reading Psychogeography). Merlin Coverley has also written a book called London Writing which I would like to read.