Down the Great Unknown (book review)

A book review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon, by Edward Dolnick (2001).  I think my sister gave me this book as a reminder of a vacation we took in Utah some years ago.  If memory serves, she and her friend Jane and I were blowing through the tiny town of Green River when we decided to stop at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum.  I, at least, knew nothing about Powell or his crazy expeditions to float down the Green and Colorado Rivers back in 1869 and 1871.  And I think we were a little punch-drunk from long days of driving, because we pretty much laughed our way through the museum without learning much.  Anyway, this book tells you everything you’d want to know about the 1869 expedition (the 1871 expedition gets only a brief mention).  Powell was an interesting character—a one-armed veteran of the Civil War and an amateur geologist.  Dolnick’s prose is generally fine, but he loves metaphors and sprinkles them liberally on almost every page.  A favorite:  “The river holds the boat in place [against a rock] with overwhelming force, like a sumo wrestler smothering a kitten. . . .  A kitten might claw or bite a wrestler and sneak away in the ensuing confusion, but a river never ‘shifts its weight.’”  And at only 292 pages, it’s just the right length.

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The Clockwork Universe (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick (2011).  Aw.  I just pulled this book off the shelf and discovered it still bore a price tag from my beloved Borders Bookstore, may it rest in peace.  Anyway, this is an enjoyable read about the scientific revolution in and around the time of Sir Isaac Newton.  Dolnick keeps it pretty simple and even interesting, which is saying something considering that I generally find science pretty boring.  But Dolnick knows how to tell a story, leavening the science stuff with juicy tidbits about the plague, methods of execution, and the wicked personal rivalries between some of the scientific figures of the day.  I plan to send this volume on to my scientist sister and see what she thinks of it.