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    • lidja

      The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

      I took a motorcycle engines class at a local college a few years ago to learn vocabulary and mechanical concepts. I had no idea going into it just how precise the whole operation of a motor is! (Give me a break - I was a humanities major. Heh.) When I heard this interview on the radio today, I got kind of excited about this new book...

      https://www.npr.org/2018/05/07/608590826/in-the-perfectionists-simon-winchester-looks-at-history-of-precision-engineering

      The author says there are now more transistors in operation than there are leaves on all the trees in the world. 😲

      The book has not been released yet and there are already five people on the library waiting list ahead of me! 🤓

    • Richard

      The author says there are now more transistors in operation than there are leaves on all the trees in the world.

      Way more. It's hard to get reliable numbers (partly because as of a year ago the world was producing 20 trillion transistors per second), but rough estimates show there are 1000 times more transistors than leaves. It's on the order of a sextillion transistors (a 1 followed by 21 zeros) compared to a mere quintillion (18 zeros) leaves. Note that these numbers are based on the rigorous method of looking at the first page of Google hits, but what's a few trillion here or there.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Years ago I read The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. I don't remember how I discovered it, but I LOVED IT!! I was completely engrossed and I've thought about it for years, over and over. Every time I wonder what a word means I think of this book. Can you imagine how you come up with definitions to over 200,000 words, citing first use, before the invention of computers?

      The madman was a brilliant prisoner with schizophrenia. I completely related to that because my mom was a brilliant schizophrenic in a mental institution, who, far as I could tell, knew the definition of any obscure word I could possibly ask her about. Simon's characterization of the madman seemed so very spot on to me, and his own language is incredible.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Yeah, I just read your origin of cotton post. Very interesting. One quirk of cotton is they figured out you could make cottonseed oil and sell it as food, even though cotton isn't a food crop. Not being a food crop meant you could spray cotton fields with arsenic in fairly heavy amounts without the regulations that applied to other foods.

      The issue is that the cotton fields have been converted to rice in many cases, and the arsenic in the soil gets into the bran of the brown rice, and from there into brown rice syrup, a common sweetener, etc.

      The answer seems to be not buying your rice from the south.

    • Felicity

      Winchester is wonderful in general! He is my favorite creative non-fiction author. He's an ex-geologist, and his books on Krakatoa (titled as you'd expect) and the San Francisco quake of 1906 (A Crack in the Edge of the World) are fabulous.

    • Ch

      It looks like I am the first patron to borrow this book from my local library. I'm hooked by page six! This book appears to have been written specifically for me. It will answer questions that have been gnawing at me for 60 years. Thanks again for bringing this to my attention.

    • Pa

      Based on the recommendations on this thread I ordered it for my Kindle and I loved it. I read it straight through. Classic Winchester, informative, entertaining, and even a bit philosophic at times. Like Lidja and Chris, I have read several other books by Simon Winchester, including "The Professor and the Madman", "A Crack in the Edge of the World", "Krakatoa", and "The Alice Behind Wonderland". I enjoy the new history and the new facts that I never was aware of before reading Winchester - I also like his "British Accent"

      Another writer that I have enjoyed greatly is David Roberts. He has written many, many books, about climbing, exploration and the desert southwest and other parts of the world. He started his life as a mountaineer while a student at Harvard, with many first ascents in Alaska after graduation. The first books of his that grabbed me were "In Search of the Old Ones" and "Sandstone Spine -Seeking the Anasazi on the First Traverse of Comb Ridge" because a dozen years ago I was riding and exploring a bit in southern Utah around Bluff and Blanding, mostly chasing petroglyphs and pictographs. I liked those books so much that I have read most of his work. Another that fascinated me was "Four Against the Arctic - Shipwrecked for six years at the top of the world" about 4 Russian sailors abandoned on Svalbard ( Spitzbergen) - Edgeøya in May of 1743 - and surviving for 6 years in the high Arctic with out any tools or firearms, killing polar bears with spears at times. Svalbard has the highest concentration of polar bears per square kilometer in the world. How do you survive scurvy - lack of Vit C - on the high arctic with no green plantlife? Roberts went to northern Russia to research the story which was unknown in the west, but the survivors went before the Czar in St Petersburg in 1749 so the tale was well documented in old Russia. Then Roberts decided to spend a month on Svalbard. This book is what led me to go looking for polar bears in Svalbard in 2016. I recommend a visit to Svalbard highly, the light in the high arctic is gorgeous. David Roberts latest book "Limits of the Known" is largely a reflection of his own imminent mortality - he was diagnosed with throat cancer, stage 4 in 2015, but has continued to travel and write as well as he can. Reminds me of another author with throat cancer that continued to write until near death - Ulysses S Grant, who's autobiography is worth reading as is his recent biography by Ron Chernow, who felt that Grant was the man who made Lincoln's proclamation of freeing the slaves, a fact, and an Amendment to the Constitution and hence a reality.

      I am rambling now but always interested in discovering new well written and informative books.

      I loved the early books of "The Expanse" more than the later ones.

    • Chris

      Wow, Pathfinder, I don't know how I'm going to keep up with your reading. These all sound amazing. So many great books!

    • lidja

      Sorry I neglected to reply to you, Chris. I started The Perfectionists, and it was as good as the others have said, but I got sidetracked by another book that was recommended to me: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is her memoir of growing up as a Muslim child/young woman in Somalia and then seeking asylum in Europe in 1992 to escape the intensely patriarchal culture of her upbringing. Her internal struggles bring to mind many of the same issues I faced as I gradually distanced myself from Mormonism. Fascinating.

      When I finish internalizing this one, I will revisit The Perfectionists.

    • jl

      I just took a look at your blog -- really interesting stuff, and great writing too! Keep it up, I've been finding (to my surprise) that there's a lack of high quality/engaging blogs about interesting subjects, but yours is definitely all of those things.

    You've been invited!