Books briefly noted

August 16, 2016

Usually I try to post these short notes in thematically-related groups, but I can’t spot the theme in this batch.

***

lyrical-balladsLyrical Ballads
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(Penguin, 2007) [1798]
128 p.

This slim volume is, by reputation, one of the heavyweights in the history of English poetry, being generally acknowledged as having overturned the then-prevailing poetic conventions and inaugurated the Romantic period of English verse.

Wordsworth and Coleridge challenged the idea that poetry should attend only to lofty subjects, writing poems instead on humble, but far from trivial, matters: a lost boy, a woman dying alone, a peasant family. Many, though not all, of the poems are narrative, and the poetic forms matched their subjects: simple forms, with clear and musical rhyming schemes, such as those characteristic of folk songs.

That, at least, describes a considerable number of these poems, but there is another type too: metrical verse on personal themes, in which we are taken inside the mind of the poet as he ponders something. If you’ve any experience with Wordsworth, you’ll be content to describe these as “Wordsworthian”, and wonderful they are. They made me realize how much I’ve missed him; it has been years since I read his long poem “The Prelude”, which I loved at the time, and perhaps I am due to revisit it, or his poetry more generally.

Although authorship of the individual poems is not attributed within the book, Wikipedia says that only a handful of the twenty-odd poems are by Coleridge. The two most famous poems in the collection are Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” and Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”, being, respectively, outstanding examples of the two poetic models I just described.

***

classical-mechanicsClassical Mechanics Illustrated by Modern Physics
42 Problems and Solutions
David Guéry-Odelin and Thierry Lahaye
(Imperial College, 2010)
268 p.

Most symmetric potentials will be quadratic to a first approximation, which is why the simple harmonic oscillator is such a useful model in so many areas of physics, and if there were ever a book to illustrate that wide usefulness it might well be this one, in which concepts usually associated with classical mechanics — including an abundance of simple harmonic oscillators — are applied to problems in modern physics. The range of topics is quite wide: gravitation, friction, fluids, electromagnetics, astrophysics, atomic physics, relativity, and more. One of the most interesting sections to me was on experimental methods for cooling clouds of atoms: Zeeman cooling (my favourite), doppler cooling, and evaporative cooling. The problems are each marked with a level of difficulty, and the solutions are worked in detail sufficient for relatively easy comprehension. The book as a whole is very clearly written, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

***

guarendi-disciplineDiscipline That Lasts a Lifetime
The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids
Ray Guarendi
(Servant, 2003)
306 p.

A few months ago we went to hear Ray Guarendi speak on parenting and discipline. His talk turned out to be a comedy routine that was light on substance (and rather light on laughs too, I’m afraid), so I figured I’d better read one of his books if I wanted to learn something. This particular book is epistolary: he answers questions from parents, real or imagined. It’s still comedic, but the humour works better for me on the page. What I like about Guarendi is that he gives no-nonsense advice. Discipline is necessary, both for parental sanity and for kids’ formation. If you discipline, everyone will be happier in the end. He has some good ideas about techniques: blackouts, house rules, chore charts, and so on. We’re going to try a few of them. Our kids are savages.

5 Responses to “Books briefly noted”

  1. Vince Says:

    Thanks for the last two books! I’m no longer in physics, it’s merely a hobby for me now. I’m not a parent yet, but I still like to add good parenting books to my Amazon wish list for when I become a parent.

  2. cburrell Says:

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re no longer doing physics full-time, Vince. For some of us it’s just a privilege that we get to enjoy for a few years. If you don’t mind my asking, I’d be curious to know where you’ve landed. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Vince Says:

    Well, I have a Master’s degree and I believe I emailed you a long while back about finishing my PhD but I gave it up in the end. It just wasn’t working out. I wasn’t interested enough in my topic and I was just too far behind. Also, I ran out of TA support and I would have had to pay at the international tuition rate. I’ve been teaching math for the past year, and I’m currently transitioning into data science. I hope you don’t mind but I was curious and I looked you up on LinkedIn. Working for Defense Canada sounds interesting and challenging!

  4. cburrell Says:

    Sorry to hear about your graduate school troubles. It can be a precarious time, especially financially. Quite understandable that you’d not continue under those conditions.

    I certainly hope you’re able to find satisfying employment. People don’t always understand or appreciate what people with our training are good at. I’ve been working in Defence R&D for over a decade now, and I’m grateful for the job: interesting work and the 9-5 hours of a civil servant (or, as I prefer, a civil savant). It’s a nice combination, especially once one has a family.

  5. Vince Says:

    I like data science. It’s a fun mix of algorithms, statistics, and computation. It can also provide for a nice work-life balance so that when I come home, my future kids and I can read physics. OK, just me.


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