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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pretty close, but not totally my head.  [grin]

Just Finished Reading: The Incredible Human Journey – The Story of How We Colonised the Planet by Alice Roberts

I remember catching a few episodes or bits of episodes of this excellent BBC series and thinking two things: how gorgeous and delightful the presenter was and how interesting and well presented the information/story was. So when I saw the book I jumped at the opportunity to explore the subject in more depth.

Dr Robert’s writing style is very chatty and, in this volume at least, very personal and down to earth. Having heard her speak before on TV I found that, rather than reading words off the page, it was like listening to her tell me about the journey she made across the world following in our ancestors footsteps – literally as we basically colonised the planet on foot – from Africa, across the Middle East, into the Far East and India, across the sea via island hopping to Australia, a later move into Europe and then finally across the land-bridge over what is now the Bering Strait, down North America and into South America. Following the archaeological evidence as far as it went – which is very patchy and sometimes deeply disputed in some areas – and the more recent breakthroughs in DNA analysis Dr Roberts made a very good case indeed for the Out of Africa Hypothesis (so much so as to make it as close to fact as we’re likely to get) after bringing up and addressing the major counter proposals. She also made a good case for how early humans crossed to Australia – obviously in boats that, because of their very nature, left no archaeological evidence behind them and even travelled a short distance between islands on a bamboo raft that would not have been outside the capabilities of our ancestors at the time.

That was one great thing I liked about the book. It was the authors have a go attitude. Not only did she risk crossed the Pacific Ocean (or at least a little part of it) on bamboo but she also crossed the arctic tundra practically freezing in her state-of-the-art clothing only to be rescued from frostbite by the gift of a pair of locally made reindeer boots, she bedded down on the African plain protected only by a collection of thorn bushes and listened with dread to the noises of animals – including lions – using a near-by waterhole in the pitch-black dead of night. She’s definitely braver than I am! She is also clearly fascinated by the history of our species and this fascination communicates itself throughout the book. This is a woman not only passionate about her subject but one able enough to communicate the sometimes detailed and difficult information to a non-specialist audience. Although I have had a very long and abiding interest in all things scientific I am the first to admit that I am not a scientist. That being said, Dr Roberts did not lose my attention once and I now know a great deal more about our ancestry and how, over thousands of years we managed to move into and thrive in very different environments across the globe and thereby become arguably the dominant life form on the planet. If you’ve ever wondered where we came from and how we moved from just another ape-like creature in Africa to the peoples we are today them this is definitely the book for you. Very highly recommended. More on this subject and from the delightful Alice to come.   

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Favourite Movies: Donnie Darko (The Directors Cut)

I wasn’t exactly dragged to see this 2001 movie but it was close. For one thing I’d never heard of it or of its main star Jake Gyllenhaal but, bowing to her superior knowledge of all things culturally significant and ‘happening’ I tagged along with RCA to our local ‘Indie’ movie theatre. Being friends with RCA certainly introduced me to things I never would have watched or listened to without her influence. I guess that’s one of the things friends are for – introducing you to new stuff. Some of what RCA dragged me along to was crap – or at least I thought so! But not in this case. I loved Donnie Darko (the movie, not the character) from minute one – from when he woke up on a mountainside and rode his bike home to an 80’s classic.

After the film RCA and I, as usual, debated the film on the drive home. As with many of our rambling discussions we had very different ideas about what various elements of the plot meant and we were both articulate enough and educated enough not only to make our points but to return to them – for enjoyment – time and again. Of course the Directors Cut answered many of the questions we endlessly debated – which is why RCA didn’t like it, preferring the original theatrical version. But what about the story? Basically it’s this: Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a disturbed teenager who sees and hears things. He also sleepwalks (and cycles). One night early in October he hears a voice, gets out of bed and goes outside where a giant rabbit (called Frank) tells him that the world is going to end in 28 days. Next morning after waking up on the local golf course he goes home to find that an airline jet engine had crashed through the roof of his parent’s house and had landed in his room. If he hadn’t been out sleep walking he’d have died that night. To make matters more bizarre, if they needed to be, the serial number on the engine matches one on a plane still flying and no one can explain the duplication and no planes have been reported lost. In the next 28 days Donnie falls in love with a very cute newcomer to his school (Gretchen Ross played by Jena Malone), goes on a few destructive adventures directed by Frank, causes trouble in school and tries very hard indeed to get to the bottom of what’s going on in his world. After finally figuring it out he has to make a decision which could save everyone he loves – at the cost of his own life.

There is no doubt that this movie is definitely high on the strange scale. When I first saw it and spent some weeks thinking about it I came to the conclusion that some of it simply didn’t make sense and it was another one of those films that tried to be clever but, due to lack of substance or lack of intelligence, failed in its execution – that in effect the movie unravelled once you started investigating it (hey, I’m a Philosophy graduate – it’s what I do). Nice try, I thought. Of course then I watched the Directors Cut which made a whole lot more sense and I went from ‘nice try’ to ‘nicely done’. It certainly helped that this version left in the excerpts from the book ‘Philosophy of Time Travel’ written by one of the characters. I can see why they edited them out in the original (generally audiences don’t want to read during the movie) but so much was lost ,or according to RCA so much was left to debate, that some elements became unintelligible. There are some great scenes scattered throughout this movie but I’d hardly do justice to them all by only focusing in on a few of them. Needless to say that the acting was outstanding, and often surprising (especially from Patrick Swayze who blew me away) with very nice performances from Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell and Maggie Gyllenhaal who actually played next to her brother as his (fictional) sister. If you haven’t seen this, or it passed you by when it came out I’d recommend you look it up on Netflix – but root out the Directors Cut, it’ll cut down the debating time in your house by quite a lot!  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rights Groups Call for Ban on Futuristic Killer Robots

by Thalif Deen For Inter Press Service

Monday, November 19, 2012

The predator drone – an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – is one of the relatively new lethal weapons used by the United States for targeted killings of suspected terrorists, particularly in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

But the weapon has increasingly come under fire because of the collateral damage in the spillover killings of innocent civilians, including women and children. On Monday, a report jointly published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) has warned of an even more deadly weapon: killer robots. Described as fully autonomous, these weapons will have the capability to select and fire on targets without human intervention in future wars. The primary concern of HRW and IHRC is the impact fully autonomous weapons would have on the protection of civilians during times of war. In the report released Monday, they called on governments to pre-emptively ban these yet-to-be deployed weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict.

Asked how feasible it was to garner support at the United Nations for an international convention to ban such killer robots, Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS that many governments are not yet aware of the status of development of, and plans to produce fully autonomous weapons systems. So, a good deal of education needs to be done, he said. “But we are convinced that the obvious and undeniable inconsistency of these future weapons with existing international humanitarian law, and the degree to which they will be repugnant to the public conscience, will make an international prohibition on killer robots achievable in the near term,” said Goose. Asked how drones differ from fully autonomous weapons, Goose said drones have a “man in the loop” – a human has remote control, a human selects the target and decides when to fire the weapon.

The 50-page report titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots” expresses concern over these fully autonomous weapons, which would inherently lack human qualities that provide legal and non-legal cheques on the killing of civilians. In addition, the obstacles to holding anyone accountable for harm caused by the weapons would weaken the law’s power to deter future violations. “Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Goose, pointing out that human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimising civilian deaths and injuries. Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, and major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them, according to the report.  However, the most high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield, it said. The United States is a leader in the technological development of killer robots, while several other countries, including China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom have also been involved. “Many experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years, and some think even sooner,” HRW said. Both HRW and IHRC Monday called for an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. They also called on individual nations to pass laws and adopt policies as important measures to prevent development, production, and use of such weapons at the domestic level.

Asked what weapons are currently banned under international conventions, Goose told IPS that banned weapons include poison gas, chemical and biological weapons, blinding lasers, antipersonnel mines, and cluster munitions. The 1995 ban on blinding lasers (spearheaded by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch) is a key example of banning a weapon before it was widely produced or fielded by armed forces – a pre-emptive ban such as HRW and others are aiming for with fully autonomous weapons, Goose said. The report analyses whether the technology would comply with international humanitarian law and preserve other cheques on the killing of civilians. But it finds that fully autonomous weapons would not only be unable to meet legal standards but would also undermine essential non-legal safeguards for civilians. “Our research and analysis strongly conclude that fully autonomous weapons should be banned and that governments should urgently pursue that end,” the report says.

[We do seem to be moving towards a world where autonomous weapons walk our battlefields – all in the name of reducing human casualties. Of course this means that we might be sleepwalking into a world patrolled by SF-style Terminators or ED-209 Urban Pacification Droids. The question we need to ask ourselves is: If we are going ahead and developing these machines are we confident enough that we can control them? If the technology becomes readily available – as it has with all other weapons technology eventually – are we prepared to live in a world where our enemies send killer robots against our civilian populations, maybe as infiltration units disguised to look like real people who only reveal themselves to be ‘cyborgs’ just before they attack…… although it will mean that the plethora of metal detectors already in place everywhere will certainly come in handy if we ever get to that stage!]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Failing to make being out in the rain fun........

Just Finished Reading: The Blockade Runners by Jules Verne

As the economic consequences of the Union blockade of Confederate ports starts to bite Glasgow businessman James Playfair proposes a daring plan to his father. As the dockyards are world renown for their shipbuilding skills he will commission them to build a fast ironclad steamer capable of running the blockade to deliver much needed armaments into Charleston harbour and return with a fortune in cotton. With an eager crew and the best technology money can buy the voyage is all but certain to return a fine profit. But it quickly becomes apparent that two of the newest crew members are not what they at first appeared to be. A self advertised ‘old-hand’ turns out to be a landlubber and his young assistant turns out to be a woman in disguise. When called to explain herself she tells a story of her father languishing in a Confederate jail and her wish to free him in any way possible. Begging James’s assistance in the matter he soon sees it as a matter of personal honour to see to his release no matter the consequences to his original mission.

This was actually the book, seen advertised in my usual Sunday paper over breakfast, which started my interest in the Confederate navy in particular and the transition from wood and sail to iron and steam in general. The book itself is, sadly, nothing very special. At a mere 92 pages it is more of an outline of a novel than a novel in itself – even a short one. The story is sparse in the extreme and the characterisation barely deserves the name. The only section of the book which made me sit up and take notice was the dramatic entry into Charleston harbour and the outwitting of the Union warships and the even more dramatic escape from the harbour under fire from both Union and Confederate forces! What I found more interesting in this particular volume was a 23 page discussion of the Geographical and Historical context of the novel by Professor Ian Thompson which gave a great deal of detail of both Glasgow and Charleston at the time of the novel (published in 1865) as well as a discussion of the real, rather than fictional, blockade runners.

This was a Verne book I had never heard of prior to the paper article and, despite being easy to read, it didn’t really do very much for me. Saying that it certainly hasn’t put me off reading more of his well known works.  

Monday, November 19, 2012


I've just added another Label over on the right - WW2 - to reflect the fact that there's quite a few upcoming books, both fiction and non-fiction, based in and around World War 2. It appears that my interest in history has blossomed (again) into a renewed interest in military history.

Watch this space.

Just Finished Reading: The Odin Mission by James Holland

April, 1940. As the German army advance through Norway a hastily thrown together British force is dispatched to aid the hard pressed and heavily outnumbered Norwegian armed forces. As part of that effort Sergeant Jack Tanner, newly returned from active service in Palestine, is assigned to look after an infantry unit that has never seen action and is led by officers who resent Tanners experience and natural command abilities. After their heavy equipment is lost to U-boat attack and the promised air-support fails to arrive, Tanner and his men are forced to begin a long retreat almost as soon as they land. Separated from his unit Tanner leads the remains of his platoon into the Norwegian hills where they meet a small group of French mountain troops, Norwegian Royal Guard and a strange civilian code-named Odin who must reach British lines at all costs. With the German advance seemingly unstoppable and an elite German unit hunting Odin, Tanner certainly has his work cut out for him. But Tanner is not a man without resources and he’s certainly not going to go down without the enemy knowing that they’ve been in one hell of a fight!

I think that one of the comments on the front page pretty much nailed it – this was indeed ‘Sharpe for the Blitz years’. Tanner is a great character, an outsider being a Southerner in a unit from Yorkshire, an unknown quantity to the men he’s forced to lead after his officer retreats ahead of him, mistrusted by those above him because of his fighting experiences who resent his effortless aura of authority and above all his competence and coolness under fire. No doubt they would be horrified to discover that he has modified his standard issue Lee-Enfield, with his own money, into a highly effective sniper rifle – totally against regulations damn it…!

Told with gusto and a Boys-Own love of the dramatic all action tale this was a definite page turner. Just don’t expect any kind of nuance or subtlety between these covers. In this story the Germans are as bad as they come and the Brits despite being out of their depth and often incompetent, are at least on the side of the angels. Full of daring do and heroism, great fight scenes and dramatic escapes I can honestly say that I really liked this romp of a novel. I shall definitely be looking forward to meeting Jack again in his next adventure when he faces a much bigger challenge – the retreat from Dunkirk!     

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Well, that's an interesting way of moving cars....... 



Jan. 26, 2012

MOFFET FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler mission has discovered 11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. These discoveries nearly double the number of verified planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in front of, the star. Such systems will help astronomers better understand how planets form. The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter. Fifteen are between Earth and Neptune in size. Further observations will be required to determine which are rocky like Earth and which have thick gaseous atmospheres like Neptune. The planets orbit their host star once every six to 143 days. All are closer to their host star than Venus is to our sun.

"Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky," said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits."

Kepler identifies planet candidates by repeatedly measuring the change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars to detect when a planet passes in front of the star. That passage casts a small shadow toward Earth and the Kepler spacecraft. Each of the new confirmed planetary systems contains two to five closely spaced transiting planets. In tightly packed planetary systems, the gravitational pull of the planets on each other causes some planets to accelerate and some to decelerate along their orbits. The acceleration causes the orbital period of each planet to change. Kepler detects this effect by measuring the changes, or so-called Transit Timing Variations (TTVs)

Planetary systems with TTVs can be verified without requiring extensive ground-based observations, accelerating confirmation of planet candidates. The TTV detection technique also increases Kepler's ability to confirm planetary systems around fainter and more distant stars. Five of the systems (Kepler-25, Kepler-27, Kepler-30, Kepler-31 and Kepler-33) contain a pair of planets where the inner planet orbits the star twice during each orbit of the outer planet. Four of the systems (Kepler-23, Kepler-24, Kepler-28 and Kepler-32) contain a pairing where the outer planet circles the star twice for every three times the inner planet orbits its star.

"These configurations help to amplify the gravitational interactions between the planets, similar to how my sons kick their legs on a swing at the right time to go higher," said Jason Steffen, the Brinson postdoctoral fellow at Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics in Batavia, Ill., and lead author of a paper confirming four of the systems.

Kepler-33, a star that is older and more massive than our sun, had the most planets. The system hosts five planets, ranging in size from 1.5 to 5 times that of Earth. All of the planets are located closer to their star than any planet is to our sun. The properties of a star provide clues for planet detection. The decrease in the star's brightness and duration of a planet transit, combined with the properties of its host star, present a recognizable signature. When astronomers detect planet candidates that exhibit similar signatures around the same star, the likelihood of any of these planet candidates being a false positive is very low.

"The approach used to verify the Kepler-33 planets shows the overall reliability is quite high," said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper on Kepler-33. "This is a validation by multiplicity."

These discoveries are published in four different papers in the Astrophysical Journal and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

[More planets, more environments – no matter how weird – for life to develop, more chance of life out there elsewhere in the Galaxy.]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Although I prefer the term ambush myself.........

Just Finished Reading: Paganism – A Very Short Introduction by Owen Davies

I have long thought that, if in some alternate whacky world where religion was compulsorily, I’d choose to be a Pagan. For one thing I’ve always thought that having different gods doing things and other gods trying to stop them whilst still more gods play tricks on them (and the rest of creation) made much more sense than a single God responsible for everything – which is why monotheists have such a hard time explaining the ‘apparent’ contradictory nature of the universe!

Of course pre-Christians didn’t call themselves pagans. Pagan was a word coined pretty much by Christians to describe, in derogatory terms, people who practiced the ‘old’ religions and hadn’t or wouldn’t upgrade to the new belief system. Of course as the power of Christianity grew the number of pagan adherents reduced until, it was believed, Christianity was eventually (if somewhat briefly) triumphant. First on their home turf, then in the North and finally in the far flung America’s and Far East Christianity pushed what they perceived as pagan (and hence inferior) religions to the margins and into the realm of superstition.

Things began to turn around for pagans with the Renaissance when ancient (pre-Christian and therefore by definition pagan) texts came into general circulation and intellectual stars such as Plato and Aristotle became revered throughout Europe. It wasn’t long before Enlightenment studies into the origins of all religions and early anthropological forays into so-called primitive religions in far away lands brought paganism back into the mainstream. Of course it was only a hop, skip and a jump from studying paganism to practicing it. With the general decline of religious feeling and observance in Europe after 1945 paganism in its many forms began re-emerging (or often reinventing itself) and has been growing ever since. Taking the long view – given that pagan religions existed long before the advent of Christianity – it is arguable that monotheism in general might be seen as a temporary aberration in an otherwise pagan universe.

This short volume certainly covered all the bases – briefly no doubt but there’s only so much you can say on this enormous subject in 122 pages – and would prove an invaluable resource to anyone wanting to know more about ‘old’ religions – both ancient and modern. Recommended for those who like to take the long view and to think outside the box. Oh, and no doubt some of you will be relieved that this is the last VSI book for a little while. Back to normal reading shortly! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date.................

How could I possibly have missed it? What could have been on my mind that the date, the important date, passed me by without comment? Approximately 4 weeks ago (yup, 4 WEEKS!) it was this Blogs 7th Birthday.... and I FORGOT! (hangs head in shame here). But 7 years.... SEVEN... Who'd have thought it? I certainly didn't all those years ago. It was only yesterday, or at least a few months ago, that I remember SaLT's 6th birthday. How quickly they grow up without (obviously) you noticing.

Anyway... Happy Birthday to Seeking a Little Truth! Here's to the next 7 years and beyond!

Cartoon Time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Favourite Movies: Dog Soldiers

Whilst not exactly a huge fan of the Horror genre (most of which I find either pointless, silly or unnecessarily gory for gore sake) I do have a ‘thing’ for vampire or werewolf films – maybe I’m just hung up on the classics?

Anyway when we saw the trailer for this film back in 2002 it certainly piqued my interest. I mean, British soldiers fighting werewolves in the Scottish Highlands? It’s pretty much a no brainer!  So to the story: Private Cooper (played superbly by Kevin McKidd) wants to go Special Forces but is failed and sent RTU (Retuned to Unit) because he isn’t considered to be made of the ‘right stuff’ by hard-case Captain Ryan (played by Lian Cunningham). Months later, whilst on a training exercise in Scotland, they meet again but this time in very different circumstances. Captain Ryan’s elite unit have been killed – torn apart by unknown assailants – leaving Ryan himself mortally wounded. Before they can fully assess the situation they are attacked by creatures they can barely comprehend. Fighting a running retreat through the woods they are rescued by a passing naturalist (Emma Cleasby) who has been studying the creatures in their natural habitat. When they find an empty farmhouse they find time to tend to their wounded (including the squad leader Sgt Harry Wells played by the always excellent Sean Pertwee) and think about what they have experienced so far but still find it hard to believe what is happening to them. As the creatures attack the house again and again it dawns on the squad that the farmhouse is in fact the home of the werewolf family and that they want their house back – and that their weapons are useless against them!

Despite the fact that this is clearly a comparatively low budget film (the British excel at this sort of thing because of a long history of underfunding) this is nevertheless highly entertaining. For most of the film the werewolves are hidden or seen in glimpses for seconds only as they race between the trees ignoring the bullets fired at them by clearly frightened soldiers who have never seen anything like it before. Realistically there’s lots (and I do mean lots) of swearing before, during and after the hectic fight scenes – just as you might expect in that situation. The portrayal of the squadies is very realistic and makes it all the more heart-rending when one by one they are taken by the creatures or infected with the virus(?) that brings on the condition of Lycanthropy. The scientist – Megan – gives them enough information to work out that their position is hopeless but holds back things she doesn’t want them to know. Ryan is enigmatic but slowly reveals his orders which cast the soldiers in the farmhouse as bait in a much larger exercise to weaponise the werewolf strain (nice touch this I thought). The dialogue is snappy and often peppered with darkly funny gallows humour and I laughed out loud more than once. All in all – if you don’t mind some gore and a fair amount of colourful language – this is a well made, action packed and honestly riotous film. I’m sure that they had lots of fun making it and I’ve had lots of fun watching it more than once. If you’ve never heard of it – and I doubt if many people have – don’t let this put you off. Give it a try. You’ll be surprised. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Redheaded donors are being turned away at sperm bank

By Laura Bleakley for BBC News

21 September 2011

Redheads might have more fun but it seems there is an overabundance of them. That is if one goes by the view of the world's largest sperm bank, Cryos International, in Denmark. It has announced that it is turning away red-haired donors because there is a lack of demand for their "product". Its director, Ole Schou, has said no to all Scandinavian types, not just the redheads "because we simply have too much in our stock. We are overloaded with donor sperm from these groups so we have had to stop
requesting them," he said.

Apparently Ireland is still one of the places requesting red-haired donors along with Denmark and Germany. However, as many of Cryos clients are in Spain, Italy and Greece, there is a need for more brown-eyed Scandinavians, Mediterraneans and men of other ethnicities as donors. Mr Schou said his company had already got 600 red-headed donors on a waiting list should children of this hair colour become more fashionable. "We are very happy with redheads and what hair colour people have, but our job is to supply all races, all hair colours and all eye colours and our problem is that we are located in this part of Northern Europe," he said. "We supply worldwide so we need more of non-typical Danish characteristics in our crops."

Award-winning writer and comedian Owen O'Neill is a proud redhead. "I've used my ginger hair adversity throughout my life to a good-end," he said. "If I wasn't ginger, I would have to lose at least 20 minutes of material for my act - so I'm quite happy with the jibes - it has made me who I am and I like my ginger hair.

[It might be my Irish or possible Viking ancestry but I do have a definite ‘thing’ for red-heads. I know that for some bizarre reason they divide opinion quite a bit – I know of some people who really don’t like them – but honestly, what’s not to like? Demand, however, appears to be low. Go figure….]

Thursday, November 08, 2012

We'll always have Paris.........

Just Finished Reading: The Scientific Revolution – A Very Short Introduction by Lawrence M Principe

Although not exactly a new subject – having read several books about the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries – I was kind of looking forward to reacquainting myself with a period of history that changed the direction of global human culture and gave us much of what we increasingly take for granted today – a world suffused with science and technology.

But from quite early one in the narrative I began to wonder about an underlying agenda. Subtly at first and then with increasing clarity I started questioning what I can only describe as the authors tone. Although he was treading the well worn path of enquiring minds, early scientific observations, slow dissemination of the new discoveries leading to the early scientific community questioning much of the accepted understanding of the world which led to an increasing level of breakthroughs, revelations and many surprises the author seemed, on more than one occasion, either ignore the increasingly bitter disputes between the new scientists and the all powerful Catholic Church. The iconic, if now rather clich├ęd, dispute between Galileo and the Church about the Heliocentric or Geocentric nature of the Solar System was reduced, according to the author, to a personal disagreement between the scientist and his good friend the Pope – who actually agreed with him that the Earth did (obviously) go around the Sun and not the other way around. Indeed how could the Church possibly have thought anything else? The classic practically founding case, it seemed to the author, of the ‘war’ between religion and science turned out to be a complete myth put about by atheists to undermine the truth of the matter – that religion and science are actually two sides to the same coin: humanities desire to understand the universe. Conflict? What conflict?

He says it all in his conclusion: “The vision of a tightly interconnected cosmos has been fractured by the abandonment of questions of meaning and purpose, by narrowed perspectives and aims, and by a literalism ill-equipped to comprehend the analogy and metaphor fundamental to early modern thought.” If the author had said this rubbish at the beginning of his text rather than at the end I would have saved myself a days reading. This is the first VSI book I have found to be distasteful – it purports to be a book about the history of the European scientific revolution while in fact it is actually a barely disguised revision of history that downplays the real disagreements between early scientists and the dogmatism of the Catholic Church. Luckily for all of us the church never managed to control, suppress or greatly influence the spread of real knowledge (rather than the faux knowledge they held on to for far too long) helped along by the development of the printing press. I was very disappointed that Oxford University Press could publish such a disingenuous book which attempts to pass itself off as a history of what ‘really’ happened rather than the rewrites of anti-church historians in later years. Interesting only as a work of poorly concealed propaganda.