This year’s list of books for Christmas, or Isaac Newton’s birthday (in the Julian calendar in use when he was born), returns to its former length, and even includes a book published this year. My book Evidence-based Software Engineering also became available in paperback form this year, and would look great on somebodies’ desk.
The Mars Project by Wernher von Braun, first published in 1953, is a 91-page high-level technical specification for an expedition to Mars (calculated by one man and his slide-rule). The subjects include the orbital mechanics of travelling between Earth and Mars, the complications of using a planet’s atmosphere to slow down the landing craft without burning up, and the design of the spaceships and rockets (the bulk of the material). The one subject not covered is cost; von Braun’s estimated 950 launches of heavy-lift launch vehicles, to send a fleet of ten spacecraft with 70 crew, will not be cheap. I’ve no idea what today’s numbers might be.
The Fabric of Civilization: How textiles made the world by Virginia Postrel is a popular book full of interesting facts about the economic and cultural significance of something we take for granted today (or at least I did). For instance, Viking sails took longer to make than the ships they powered, and spinning the wool for the sails on King Canute‘s North Sea fleet required around 10,000 work years.
Wyclif’s Dust: Western Cultures from the Printing Press to the Present by David High-Jones is covered in an earlier post.
The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won by Victor Davis Hanson approaches the subject from a systems perspective. How did the subsystems work together (e.g., arms manufacturers and their customers, the various arms of the military/politicians/citizens), the evolution of manufacturing and fighting equipment (the allies did a great job here, Germany not very good, and Japan/Italy terrible) to increase production/lethality, and the prioritizing of activities to achieve aims. The 2011 Christmas books listed “Europe at War” by Norman Davies, which approaches the war from a data perspective.
Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages by Guy Deutscher is a science driven discussion (written in a popular style) of the impact of language on the way its speakers interpret their world. While I have read many accounts of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, this book was the first to tell me that 70 years earlier, both William Gladstone (yes, that UK prime minister and Homeric scholar) and Lazarus Geiger had proposed theories of color perception based on the color words commonly used by the speakers of a language.