Category Archives: book review

Bullets and Shells, Book Review

Bullet and Shell, the Civil War as the Soldier saw it is an inexpensive book at Amazon and a good read. The mild fighting as the Arab regions shake off old dictators gives me a reason to write a book review for it: it’s a lesson on why civil war should be avoided.

The book was written in 1884 by George F. Williams, an author with a very common name and possibly several other books. The book is a fictionalized memoir of the U.S. Civil War, 1861-1865, and follows the experiences of a young college graduate who enlists in the union side.

Cover of Bullet and Shell

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Filed under book review, History

An Immorality Tale

She was born with given name Johanna Maria Magdalena and a last name of either Behrend or Ritschel, my sources disagree. Her parents were unmarried, did she receive the last name of her father, Oskar Ritschel, or her mother, Auguste Behrend? In either case it was November 11, 1901. She was one of the most fascinating personalities of her time.

Bild 183-R22014

Her mother worked as a servant in Berlin and her father was an engineer who worked in various places around Europe. Soon after her birth, they married, but only for 3 years. Until she was 5, she stayed with her mother. Then she went to Belgium to visit her father who, after a delay of two years and insistent requests from the mother, finally told her that he had sent their child to be educated by the nuns at a convent (Catholic) boarding school in Brussels.

Her mother met and married a Jewish businessman, Richard Friedländer. When, the couple saw the conditions at the convent her mother decided to transfer her daughter to another convent, one that was less strict, in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Her parents moved to Schaerbeek, near Brussels (Belgium), and now she was able to come home to visit. With the marriage, she became Johanna Maria Magdalena Friedländer, and from the age of 7 she was raised in a household that observed both Catholic and Jewish customs.

In 1914, the world descended into the horror of the first world war. As German aliens living in Belgium, overnight the Friedländers became refugees. Eventually they made it to the German border, probably feeling fortunate that there was space available on a cattle car for them. As the modern world is one of passenger jets, the railroad was the transportation mode of the first half of the 20th century. Transport by livestock car is not a pleasant thing. Later, in the second world war, many thousands would be transported this way to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where Richard Friedländer died. But let us return to her story.

Survivors at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945

Survivors at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945

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Filed under book review, History

Book Review: My One Contribution to Chess, F. V. Morley

The Crossroads chess club provides me with the entertainment of watching chess games, along with the discussion that is natural to accompany such. Only rarely does my excessive kibbitzing force me to accept a challenge to play; though I have been practicing with such books as 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate, my ability is somewhat lacking (too much mathematics, perhaps, which spoils one by allowing one to easily retract errors). My feeling is that chess is like football. It’s relaxing to watch a game but far too much effort to play. If I’m going to endure an hour of aggravation, memorize sequences of play and their likely chance of success, suffer nervous sweat until it drools down from my armpits to my belt, and run up my heart rate, I’d like to reach orgasm at the end of it. And with much better odds than the (under) 50% I achieve at the chess club.

Anyway, while observing a game, Nathan Jermasek (perhaps with the object of quieting my comments) handed me a slim book by F. V. Morley, “My One Contribution to Chess,” the subject of this book review. It should probably be noted that F. V. Morley and his book are supposed to be fictional creations of Stephen Potter in his famous 1952 book on gamesmanship, at least according to Wikipedia’s entry on fictional books:
Wikipedia entry on Stephen Potter\'s \"Gamesmanship\" showing F. V. Morley\'s book as fictitious
You can’t buy My One Contribution on Amazon at the moment, but you may be able to find a used copy if you look around a bit. Perhaps eBay once caught a whiff of one.

Does the book exist or not? It’s hard to say, and certainly I’m not going to “correct” wikipedia on this. But the choice of the name F. V. Morley is interesting in that it leads to some mathematics which might vaguely have something to do with the physics we’re working on around here.
F. V. Morley\'s one bad idea about chess

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Filed under book review, chess

Review: ‘t Hooft’s The Conceptual Basis of Quantum Field Theory

I should be preparing for my 10 minute lecture on classification of hadrons at the American Physical Society’s Northwest meeting on Saturday, but instead I am reading Gerard ‘t Hooft’s beautiful introduction to quantum field theory, The Conceptual Basis of Quantum Field Theory. I like the approach of this book because it concentrates on what I think of as the heart of quantum field theory, Feynman diagrams.

The author begins with classical field theory, but unlike most he defines the solutions to classical field theory with Feynman diagrams! The difference with the quantum theory is that there are no loops; he calls the loops the “quantum corrections” to the classical theory. So all the diagrams are tree diagrams looking something like this:
Tree type Feynman diagram
In the above, the points each correspond to a single point in spacetime. These points are labeled x_j . The G_{49} in the above is a propagator, the Green’s function. Each of the legs carries one of these. The g_{jkl} and \lambda{jklm} are included for the 3-point and 4-point vertices. They are coupling constants. Uh, I’ve been sloppy in the above, please refer to the ‘t Hooft paper for details.
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Filed under book review, physics

Book Review: River Run Red; The Fort Pillow Massacre, Andrew Ward

The Fort Pillow Massacre dates to April 12, 1864, the fourth year of the American Civil War, on the banks of the Mississippi river in west Tennessee. I bought this 530 page hardback by Andrew Ward at Half Price Books at a bit of a steal for $3 or so:
River Run Red by Andrew Ward

The book is peculiarly interesting in that it reminds one that our current arguments over the rules of war, that is, the definition of enemy combatants, and the mistreatment of prisoners, were also the subject of great controversy 140 years ago.

Perhaps a sign of my maturity, or perhaps some other thing, it no longer bothers me when youngsters (those aged, say 20 to 30) make appalling statements regarding history. Instead, I simply assume that they’re just trying to piss me off, and I ignore it. This sentiment was brought up when I showed the book to a chess player at the Overlake Mall just after buying it. “The Civil War? Oh that’s one of my favorites. That was when the slaves were freed. Or was that World War I?” Under the assumption that the comment was rooted in ignorance rather than in wishing to see me blow a gasket, I write this book review.
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Filed under book review, History

Book Review: West With the Night, Beryl Markham

West With the Night is the autobiography of Beryl Markham, a pioneering aviator of pre WW2 Africa. This remarkable autobiography dates to 1942 and is so beautifully written that if you know someone who loves flying you should pick them up a copy. As usual, let me introduce the book by a few quotes:

From the time I arrived in British East Africa at the indifferent age of four and went through the barefoot stage of early youth hunting wild pig with the Nandi, later training race-horses for a living, and still later scouting Tanganyika and the waterless bush country between the Tana and Athi Rivers, by aeroplane, for elephant, I remained so happily provincial I was unable to discuss the boredom of being alive with any intelligence until I had gone to London and lived there a year. Boredom, like hookworm, is endemic.

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Filed under book review, History

Lulu Print-on-demand books

On January 4th I found out about, a “print on demand” book publisher. They are the modern equivalent of a vanity printer, whatever you send, they will print, so long as they don’t think it will get them in trouble, in both hard back and paper back in a variety of sizes. Their prices are quite attractive. There are no fees. Your first book costs the same fairly low price as the last, assuming you do not put together a bulk order to get them even cheaper.

Since Lulu is a vanity press, of course it has plenty of crackpot physicists selling books. But it also has some quite good material, and it is easy to distinguish. (My New Year’s Resolution is to be more professional in my physics so that could make my work easier or more difficult to distinguish, depending on your point of view.) For example, they have a tempting copy of Euclid in Greek, with translation (which you must preview to appreciate, and a series of books by Benjamin Crowell such as Vibrations and Waves which can be previewed at its website and is delightfully done.

As any regular reader knows, my physics subject is density matrix (or density operator) formalism, implemented with Clifford algebra (or Geometric algebra). I started writing a book on the subject in 2006 but then didn’t add anything to it until quite recently. Part of the reason for not working was that I didn’t see any easy way of getting it published. Finding Lulu convinced me to begin work again. Just to see what their books look like, I uploaded my LaTeX formatted copy, along with some cover art, and printed a copy. The cost for a hardbound 8.5″ x 11″ book with 175 pages was $24, with shipping. I ordered it January 4, and it arrived a few days ago, on January 21:
Lulu book cover
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Filed under book review, latex, physics

Book Review: The Search for Eldorado, John Hemming

I’ve wanted to get back to the topic of the history of San Antonio, but the next step was the conquistadors. I put off writing anything up because I had an unread book on my shelf, The Search for Eldorado”, by John Hemming. This originally came out in 1978, but I have the $21.95 paperback from Phoenix Press in 2001. I’m pretty sure I bought it at Half Price Books, probably for under $5.
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Book review: 五輪書, “The Book of Five Rings”, Miyamoto Musashi

Cover to The Book of Five Rings

Miyamoto Musashi, or Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no Genshin was a famous swordsman in Japan in the 1600s, the Edo or Tokugawa era. He was born in 1584 when the samurai were the elite of society. At age 13 he killed his first man, the renowned samurai Arima Kihei, a practioner of Shinto Ryu.

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Book review: The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco

I just finished The Island of the Day Before, by Umberto Eco. The original is in Italian, I have the English translation. It seems like a good novel to review here, as it has a smell of physics and mathematics, philosophy and history about it. The subject is set in the 17th century and has to do with a sort of castaway.
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Filed under book review, heresy, physics