Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (2007). This review is by John Cook

Call Me By Your Name

As I have noted elsewhere, this title has been filmed (including the peach scene) and I look forward to it very much. The filming of that scene is symptomatic of much of what the book is all about.  The scene could be taken as a piece of tasteless (sorry) piece of cheap porn, yet in the book it s a remarkable moment of intense sensuality linked to a metaphoric view of the nature of life and the world. Oddly it is too easy to make too much or too little of the scene on its own. Each reader must respond for themselves.

 

This relates to another key element in this book which is repeated in his more recent ‘Enigma Variations’ – the role of antiquity, philosophy and music. The handsome young (twentyish) American professor, Oliver, arrives as a working guest at the generational Italian Riviera seaside home of the incredibly precocious 17 year old Elio. Oliver is revising his manuscript on Heraclitus whose philosophy illuminates much of the views and behaviour of the key novel characters who are often intensely sensually located in their place and moment yet equally and intensely aware of the transient nature of experience and changeability.

 

I found this a very satisfying work at a number of levels. The locations and primary and secondary characters are a delight to experience and evoke brilliantly any reader’s favourite Summer holiday experiences (Caloundra and Straddie for me). Any experience of the Ligurian coast can only intensify this pleasure and satisfaction.

 

Young Elio is in some respects a typical adolescent, moody, more than a little self-centred yet precociously talented, skilled and knowledgeable (a professor’s son) who is hyper sensitive to his constantly challenging and developing self-awareness. He is ripe physically and ready for change.

 

Change is supplied by his fellow (quiet) Jew Oliver who erupts relatively briefly into his Summer holiday world and rapidly presents challenges to Elio’s previously presumed heterosexuality. Oliver does not seem to doing this deliberately but there is a clear growing physical intensity between the two as they dance around the central issue of their mutual attraction. Elio’s fascination for Oliver’s bathers and underclothes and their fetishization rings alarmingly true. Again, I look forward to how the film will handle this.

 

Eventually there is a resolution that sees each concede ground and achieve a brief period of intense sexual pleasure. Typically, however, even as this is occurring, there is meditation on its transience. At the very least, Oliver has to return to the US and Elio is still experiencing heterosexual urges with Marzia which he consummates. There is a brief stay away from the seaside at a Roman book promotion. This was an experience both ecstatic and rather earthy which again allows Aciman to contrast the experience, its memory and the context with a series of brilliantly executed word pictures – delightful!

 

There has to be a resolution and this is supplied initially by a ‘father’s chat’ of great compassion and wisdom and the passage of time which both protagonists experience as Oliver announces his marriage plans and their eventual outcome. This phase continues later in the US when the two meet and its seems there is still an interest that goes beyond academia but no more. This process intensifies when Oliver pays a return to the Italian house where Elio now lives with his mother only. They bond over the death of Elio’s father and the reader is left with Elio musing over the reality and nature of their relationship concluding that if there remained more, Oliver should “look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.”

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A Life Apart By Neel Mukherjee (2011). This review is by John Cook

A Life Apart

I seem to have read more books about Indian life in recent times and have not been disappointed. This, like many, directly or indirectly, looks at relationships between developing Indian culture and how it deals with older and more modern Western influences. Much of this was presaged by the dedicatory quotes.

 

Mukherjee has chosen to use the device of a young Indian man, Ritnik, who is born and bred in modern Kalkot in circumstances that propose, if not propel him into departing to England to study English literature at a great and traditional University. In this, not being commercially or technologically inclined, he is typical as a young Indian who sees all kinds of education as liberating and the one key bequest he has received from his parental home and ‘tiger’ mother. The book is not entirely clear on how the opportunity arose.

 

The novel opens with a detailed description of the Hindu cremation of his mother, at once informative and symbolic of his departure from the culture into which he was born but has a love/hate relationship.

 

We are transported to England where he slowly finds his partial way in an environment in which he has longed to participate. We are then introduced to the tale of Miss Gilby, the seed of which is taken from the dedicatory quote and developed into a parallel story. Miss Gilby is living in Kalkot pretty much at the height of the Raj, though, as a thinking person, she is very aware of the emerging tensions of the ‘new’ Indian nationalism and wants to go and live with a more modern Hindu household in a two-way cultural participation aimed particularly at women emerging from traditional seclusion. Through this, the reader regularly revisits her tale where she will have some success but eventually run into the very hard edge of the consequences of British ‘divide and rule’ political interference. There is a lot in her tale that is charming and informative – certainly the elements of a complete and satisfying novel in itself. As such it serves to highlight the notion of two people looking outward into different cultures.

 

The Ritfik tale, in its earlier stages, I found less satisfying. The period of his college life had an almost dream-like quality which, perhaps it was, especially when contrasted with the grittier nature of his gay sex life.

 

In due time, the dream (for both he and Miss Gilby) has to end and Ritfik has to find some way to stay in the UK illegally as he cannot see himself returning to India as the person he has become. At this point, his tale becomes much more closely steeped in the life of an illegal which provides a linkage with the worldwide phenomenon of those in that situation. He acquires a ‘job’ working to care for a very old lady in a decrepit house supplementing his income with ‘pick-up’ labouring including fruit picking in season. It turns out the old lady also has a very picturesque connection with India of the past

 

While I found this and interesting investigation of this limited world and its occupants, I found it to be still somewhat unengaging. Again, his sex life proved to be key to his progress and the perhaps inevitable denouement.

 

This is a very well written book with passages of clarity and beauty but, for me, the mixture failed to come together in a satisfying way despite some of the thematic links I was able to detect between the two story lines.

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Bray’s Blog of Books (Jan-Mar, ’17)

errol-bray

 

This blog is sort of an apology to the group for the fact that – maybe you haven’t noticed – I hardly ever read the set books. Maybe this list will let you know why though time is my main problem. There are 4 broad types of books that I read – 1. Research for my own novels & plays (e.g., the book below on oracles);  2. Novels that might help me develop my writing style & structure (e.g., Paul Auster’s novel);  3. Gay-themed books that have come to my attention & interest, often through the QR meetings, but also for personal reasons (e.g., the McNab book about the Bondi murders which happened when I was living in Sydney & going to one of the beats mentioned in the book);  4. Books that add to particular collections in my library (e.g., the book on Dickens; the Prado book; even the Turing book is there partly because I have many books & a play about him).

These books are not presented in order of being read but I have put the 5 gay-interest books first. Three of them are “graphic books” – I don’t know why. I do like the graphic format but only if words and illustrations are of equally high standard. These 3 fit that description.

 

Queer: a graphic history by Meg-John Barker & Julia Scheele.  (Icon Books, London; 2016)

Graphic history.  This is an excellent book and the graphics help enormously in explaining complex queer issues, showing time-lines and in presenting varied points of view and definitions. It is not at all a dumbing-down book. The range of issues discussed and the range of theorists referenced is extensive. Barker has a PhD and the language does not avoid intellectual analysis or academic terms but at all stages the text and illustrations are clear and concise. Highly recommended.

 

Forever Young: the story of Troye Sivan by Alana Wulff.  (Nero, Carlton, Vic.; 2016)

Biography with numerous photos & illustrations. There have been other fanzine type biogs of course but this one is a gay coming out success story. He came out to loving parents and siblings at 13 and came out to his adoring 4 million fans on Facebook at 18 – he is now 21- with no negative reactions in either case. He has done some serious arts/performance stuff as well as music/songs success, e.g., starring in a movie with John Cleese; live-on-stage with Ian McKellen & Patrick Stewart in “Waiting for Godot”; played the young Logan in an X-Men movie; etc. The book also devotes 7 pages to interviewing our own favourite gay cutie (Ben Law) about his experience in interviewing Troye. We are told that Ben has a PhD in creative writing “but he’s kinda got a PhD in awesome as well.” Yes, that’s the sort of writing it is. But it’s kinda fun & the life is impressive.

 

Getting Away With Murder by Duncan McNab.  (Vintage Books, Australia; 2017)

Gay history; a few photos. This is an excellent narration of an especially nasty period in gay history in Sydney. It’s about the many murders of gays at well-known beats, particularly focussing on Bondi, from the early 70s to early 90s. Almost all of the murders went unsolved, mostly due to lack of interest by the police. The author was a policeman for 10 years of this time and he is scathing in his criticism of slack police investigations into these crimes which in most cases were treated as suicides – partly because many murdered men were thrown off the cliffs of Bondi – and obvious clues that murder had occurred were dismissed. He points out also how the poor relationship between gays and police meant that few gays reported being bashed and/or robbed due to fear of police.

The book is written in a rather dull, plodding police-procedural style but this entirely suits the subject matter. I kept feeling that this ex-cop was covering all the bases and was being thorough. He shows a clear compassion for the gay victims and their families. I think this is a must-read for all gay men to remind us of the awful times and warn us that even now in the good times there are still monsters out there who hate and kill what they hate.

 

The Case of Alan Turing: the extraordinary and tragic story of the legendary codebreaker by Eric Liberge & Arnaud Delalande.  (Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver; 2016)  Graphic Biography. I have a number of books about Turing – a gay icon nowadays. My interest was sparked by seeing a play about him in London in 1986, with Derek Jacobi as Turing (“Breaking the Code” by Hugh Whitemore. The “code” being not only Enigma but also Turing’s homosexuality.) This comic-book is very interesting in the way it structures and fractures the two stories of his scientific life and his homosexual life. If readers didn’t know the story already they might find it hard to follow. But it’s very well drawn and the information seems pretty accurate to me. The authors are French. At the end of the story there are 6 pages of written history with photos about cryptography and Turing and Bletchley Park. I like this type of thing as another way into Turing’s story.

 

Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas.  (Atlantic Books, London; 2015)   Short stories by the gay writer of “The Slap” and “Barracuda”. As with both those books I am in two minds about the stories. Haven’t read them all yet but a SMH review said the first story was “worth the price of the book alone.” I don’t think it is although, yes, it’s good. He does the Hemingway thing of quick blunt statements and then the opposite of putting in lots of incidental details that do not seem to add anything to the story or the tone. But he keeps you reading and that’s always a good sign. The story “Jessica Lange in Frances” is quite intriguing. The few stories I’ve read so far have gay themes and I am interested enough to keep reading.

 

The Ancient Oracles: making the gods speak by Richard Stoneman.  (Yale Uni Press, New Haven; 2011)  History; with numerous b&w illustrations. O ye gods, the ones in this very academic book are pretty boring. The detail is immense and I guess that’s why I got it – yes, research for my latest novel effort called “Oracle: 2121”. I did find out that lots of oracles were not prophesies but warnings and some were no more enlightening than present day fortune cookies or newspaper astrology columns. Many were broad predictions, not fixed fate, as in if you do such and such then these other things will follow. One of the most famous – Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother – was totally avoidable if Oedipus had been moderately sensible.

 

City of Glass by Paul Auster.  (Folio Society, London; 2008 – 1st novel in “The New York Trilogy”)  Fiction; novel. This is something of an American classic. It reads like a detective story but with deep ruminations on identity and commitment. Some of it is as confusing as a Samuel Beckett novel which it sometimes reminded me of. Auster switches backwards and forwards between reality and high “unrealism” smoothly. Quinn is a detective who writes, but when he answers his phone to take up a new case the voice asks for Paul Auster, a writer of detective stories. The fact that Auster wrote the book – in the third person – and that the detective takes on Auster’s name is interesting but at times confusing. Quinn/Auster is so committed to the case that even when the client stops paying him he continues with it. Eventually he gives up his apartment and possessions so he can sit in an alley on perpetual surveillance, only eating and taking toilet breaks at 4am. Weird but strangely compelling.

 

The Folio Science Fiction Anthology Ed by Brian Aldiss. (Folio Society, London; 2016)

Historical selection of science fiction stories by 12 authors including Voltaire; H. G. Wells; Isaac Asimov; Jules Verne; and Philip K. Dick. I enjoyed the stories but my main purpose was research, to get more of a handle on writing sci-fi as my latest novel is set in 2121. Of course as most people will already realise, the range of styles in sci-fi is just as diversified – and as brilliant – as in any other fiction writing.

 

Dickens and the Artists Ed by Mark Bills.  (Yale Uni Press, New Haven; 2012)  Based on an exhibition at Watts Gallery, Compton, UK. Survey of paintings & illustrations associated with Dickens’s novels. There are two main sections of this book: “Dickens as art critic” and “The influence of Dickens on the artists” and there are hundreds of images. I got this book because years ago I bought a fascinating book called “Paintings in Proust: A visual companion to ‘In Search of Lost Time’.” by Eric Karpeles. (Thames & Hudson, London; 2008; 206 illustrations.) In that book every painting mentioned in Proust’s 7 volume novel is shown and analysed. The Dickens book isn’t as extensive but is still pretty interesting.

 

Literary Wonderlands: a journey through the greatest fictional worlds ever created  Ed by Laura Miller with over 40 contributors; copiously illustrated; most “worlds” are given 2 pages only (which will make me buy more books that specialise in my favourites) but some of the biggies get more (Alice gets 6 pages; Tolkein gets 4; Peter Pan gets 6; Narnia gets 6; “Brave New World” gets 6 pages but “1984” only 4) the book is split into 5 historical periods  & deals with 98 “worlds”, from Gilgamesh, Utopia, Camelot, Don Quixote through to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Inkheart, Game of Thrones with all the obvious ones there along the way, Wonderland, Oz, Peter Pan, Kafka, The Little Prince, Tolkein, Clockwork Orange, etc, etc.

This is an encyclopaedic tribute to the amazing range of literary imagination. Tightly written; brilliantly illustrated and fascinating of course. I will be reading and referring to this book for years to come.

 

ADDING TO MY ART BOOK COLLECTION –  I usually hold off to buy the big, expensive art books until they’re on sale which is true of the following 2 and the third one was okay in price (and I’ve hardly ever come across books on Watteau!).

The Prado Masterpieces (Thames & Hudson, London; 2016.)  This is a back-breaker of 490 pages in largish format (33cm x 28cm) with hundreds of brilliantly reproduced pictures of the Prado’s paintings and sculptures. Lots of the usual suspects and many from El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Titian etc (including Picasso’s Guernica). Naturally I enjoy looking at the pictures – I have been to the gallery a couple of times but long ago. And, over time, I will read the detailed commentary about some of the artists who specially interest me (El Greco; Velazquez – partly because he had such an impact on Francis Bacon – and Goya though I’ve read several books on him already).

A History of Pictures: from the cave to the computer screen by David Hockney & Martin Gayford.  (Thames & Hudson, London; 2016)  A conversation – 360pp & 310 illustrations; brilliant quality!! – between (gay) artist Hockney and art critic Gayford. The juxtaposition of images is fascinating with cinema stills, cave drawings, old & modern masters all on the same page dealing with how “pictures” affect people and how artists use their various mediums and styles to represent a 3-D world most often on flat 2-D surfaces. (They don’t discuss 3-D cinema, most of which I think looks incredibly phoney.) This is another book that I am dipping in and out of and it reads very easily. Hockney’s knowledge is extensive and clever. He puts forward his idea – been around for a while – that some master painters used camera obscura for their greatest pictures. I also like Hockney’s final comments about how many billions of pictures there are nowadays with phone-cameras. He concludes that, instead of everyone being famous for 15 minutes (as Warhol said), no-one will be famous except in their own small circle of Facebook friends.

Antoine Watteau: 1684-1721 by Helmut Borsch-Supan.  (Ullmann Publishing, Germany; 2013)  Biography of the French artist with copious reproductions of his paintings and numerous illustrations. Although the book is only 140pp, the biography print is so small that it is a substantial treatment of his life and art. I “discovered” Watteau a few years back when I (somehow) got a small print of his painting “L’indifferent” & thought “here’s an early 18th century guy who’s outrageously camp”. I’d never heard of Watteau. But in 2015 when I was in Paris I found a room in the Louvre full of Watteau paintings and was very impressed. I have been looking for a book about him for a while and … found this in the bookshop at QUAGOMA, right here in Briz, a couple of weeks ago. His biog early on has the “code words”(??) “never married”. He apparently was “dissatisfied with himself to the point of bitterness” – ahh, I know that one. “The mystery of the artist as a man is also evident in the few portraits of him.” Well, here I am making mountains of assumptions out of molehills of inference. Anyway, great paintings, great material about the period too.

 

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A Very English Scandal by John Preston (2016). A review by John Cook

thorpe

 

The events in this book cover a period of almost 20 years from 1960 onwards. I was clearly unaware of the early stages of sexual interactions between eventual English Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and the handsome but unstable/dangerous Norman Josiffe (later Norman Scott). I was slightly aware of its denouement, however, with Thorpe and a raggle-taggle of others being accused of conspiracy to murder the then Scott as he simply became too much trouble and a political threat. It was just another example of establishment political hypocrisy and another married man cornered by his failure to confront the reality of his sexuality.

 

What I do remember clearly was a turn by my youthful idol Peter Cook (no relation) who impersonated Justice Joseph Cantley (the relevant trial judge) at the subsequent Secret Policeman’s Ball for Amnesty International. The key to the incident is the judge’s proclaimed independence of interpretation while summing-up yet carrying out total character assassination and whitewashing as it pleased him. Needless to say, Thorpe was lauded as an establishment person (right schools, family, background etc) while prosecution witnesses were pilloried even ridiculously so. Read the book for more details but the one I found most hilarious referred to George Deakin, one of the bumbling conspirators as ‘He was probably the type of man whose taste ran to a cocktail bar in his living room’. What?!  I offer you a link to Peter Cook’s piece lampooning this prize blimp, don’t miss it if you haven’t seen it before. As Cook said, ‘I could have been a judge, but I never had the Latin.’

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kyos-M48B8U

 

The whole thing is a sad and miserable tale typical of so much of the political double-standards and manoeuvring and cliqueiness of social and political in-groups that continues today – the backgrounding of those individuals later charged with a range of sexual offences is well worth the reading. Thorpe wanted his (rough) cake and had it but later regretted it when the pesky Norman wouldn’t go away despite being dismissively treated (what was wrong with man, didn’t he understand his place in the world?). Various strategies were tried by Thorpe and his close (worshipping) associates including small amounts of money as Thorpe attained Leadership of the minor Liberal Party in the British Parliament. A wider net was cast as more money was called for and Thorpe tried to remain as distant as possible. However, there was physical evidence in the form of compromising letters and a long lost National Insurance card. Eventually, patience at an end, a murder plot of the most bumbling and incompetent kind was hatched with the only dispatch being Norman Ross’ unfortunate Great Dane dog.

 

Preston does a good job of pursuing the tale throughout the twenty years and his lead up to the trial and its process was well done. There are other books and resources on this topic and they have been well ransacked. The main weakness for many readers lies in the repeated expressed motivations of all concerned. They are, almost without exception, so weak and lacking in personal comprehension that they seem at times unbelievable and yet they must be believed to understand their behaviours.

 

This read as quite a page turner (more so if you don’t already know the outcome of the trial, no spoiler  here). It is not available from BCC in large numbers but I would recommend pursuing it as a mixed human and sexual interest – political exposé piece.

 

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The House of Hancock: The Rise and Rise of Gina Rinehart by Debi Marshall (2012). A review by John Cook

the-house-of-hancock

 

This book was a gift from a friend who read it and passed it to me – hence the old publication date of 2012. I, like many people, have always had some mild curiosity about the Hancock – Rinehart clan but tended to regard them as obviously obscenely wealthy, highly litigious and with a decidedly dysfunctional family and business history. I didn’t want to know much more though I watched the TV series based around this book and disliked it.

 

I must confess to a degree of interest in a woman whose finances are so clouded and convoluted that guessing her wealth (real and potential) seems to be something of an indoor sport for commentators with various sources reflecting current economic conditions and the fate of an amazing range of legal actions producing estimates that currently seem to edging toward the $20 billion mark with potential worth of even $100 billion.

 

Writing anything about such an individual is fraught with a degree of jealousy and wonderment at such a person yet, when compared philanthropically with the likes of Gates, Buffet and Zuckerberg, comparisons are difficult to make because of the simple fact that so much is simply unknown or concealed about the lady.

 

The book is a competent compilation of sources gathered over a long time with contacts within and without the family. It creates a useful timeline and gives some interesting insights into the character of Lang Hancock and his extended Pilbara origins. Likewise with Gina.

 

Reading the background and behavior of Lang and Gina tended to remind me of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand transplanted into the WA context. Old Lang’s approach was shared by Joh Bjelke-Peterson in whose world I grew up. I could understand (but not appreciate) Lang’s pro-development attitude but this clearly eventually became an obsessive state blinding him to a lot of external considerations others would value (particularly by Premier Charles Court, no white knight himself). His positions seemed to not that well argued but rather a case of ‘for or against’ his personal goals. The amazing scale of company litigation, the Rose Porteus cases and the saga of Gina versus her children over the Hope Margaret Hancock Trust trustee position has created an atmosphere of concealment and fear of any over-zealous inquiry.

 

While basically useful, the book lacks the kind of intimate detail that most would look for in such a biography and this is unlikely to happen in any publication that does not have Gina’s tightly exercised imprimatur.

 

In the absence of more useful information, I feel I know all I need to know to date and am not really all that curious about the house of Hancock – Rinehart except when it strikes out publicly and politically at anything that seems prejudicial to its own narrow interests.

 

 

 

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The Gershom Scroll by Stuart Fifield (2015) . A review by John Cook

gershom

The daring detective duo ride again! After their Egyptian adventures in ‘Fatal Tears’ Rupert and Stephen are at it again (you can keep your mind in the gutter).

 

The period is roughly the same – 1930ish – with the focus on the Middle East as the potential flashpoint which it has well and truly become. This brings me to my favourite point in this series thus far. Fifield has a marvellous talent for putting his characters into time and place but with wit (‘old fruit’) while at the same time pointing out the origins of future conflicts and some of the motivations behind them. In this case, we are taken into the post WWI world of Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon as the twin forces of petro-politics and emerging fundamentalist Zionism develop their positions and prepare the long road of conflict. Paralleling this is the world or Mussolini Italy pre Imperial expansion, a glance at French manoeuvrings (never trust them) and Britain’s desires to conduct the band even as her powers steadily erode (especially as mandates drop away in Palestine and Iraq). Even the wittily named ‘Uncle’ is still still inhabiting his Whitehall close and baronial manor manfully pulling strings.

 

These books are a wonderful blend of story-telling in exotic and time past venues combined with skilfully drawn characters. I heartily enjoy the juxtaposition of these relics of WWI as they battle on the best British schoolboy manner against the background of conflicts that were then becoming increasingly real and urgent and often continue to remain the most urgent sources of contemporary concern.

 

Rupert and his pal Dr Hopkins are now more clearly in as much of a permanent relationship as the times permit though the frequent mentions of Stephen’s leg stump might signal some future concerns. As usual, the sex is described without any potential concerns  for straight readers who will not be ‘put off’ from a developing warm and deep love.

 

I again have to admit to personal resonances with this volume having visited most of the places mentioned including the desert oil zones between the Syrian-Iraq border. The descriptions are largely well done (Petra) and only add to my enjoyment and may encourage readers to visits the scenic locations when safety permits.

 

Readers can only wonder what is in store with the promised third book. I shall be waiting.

 

 

 

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The Fellowship: The Story of the Royal Society and a Scientific Revolution: The Story of a Revolution By John Gribbin (2005) . A review by John Cook

the-fellowship

I give thanks to my reliable old friend who regularly passes me Christmas gifts he knows I will enjoy reading – and this one is no exception. It might not be to everyone’s taste but to a reader of historical biography, this was manna from heaven.

Gribbins is man with very extensive scientific and writing chops of the highest degree. I confess to having read none of his work previously though it stretches from top flight astronomy and astrophysics through climate change to quantum physics. He is one of the best popular writers on all aspects of science and he has chosen here to deliver a wonderfully easy to read insightful view into the predecessors and the founders of the British Royal Society.

This could be potentially deadening stuff but Gribbin’s sure and comfortable grip of his material navigates through his love of scientific method and the explanatory role of Mathematics. It is probably lost on many readers today that the derivation and meaning of the word Mathematics is focussed on the concept of learning and when combined with the Greek approach to analysing, theorising and understanding the real world is the foundation of what became Natural Philosophy and is today largely Physics. It was unfortunate that the dead hand of the Church sidelined this form of inquiry for at least a thousand years and erected significant defences against any attempts to debunk what is now readily comprehended as hokum.

Gribbins selects a series of key persons who contributed to the revival of the scientific method as it is understood today and the role of Mathematics in developing the explanatory concepts of people like Newton and later Einstein. Fear not, he presents the absolute minimum of math and confines himself to readily understood concepts such as explaining how and why the planets have elliptical orbits and also those of the comets. (what would Newton have though of landing a piggy-backing viewing platform on a piece of matter hurtling through space!)

Three key pioneers presented are William Gilbert with his early work on magnetism, Francis Bacon’s theorising on scientific method and William Harvey’s work on the circulation of blood. Gribbins does not see these men in isolation and pays respect to others in Italy, France, German and the Netherlands who contributed. Integral to this book has to be musings over the political, social and intellectual environment that occurred in late Tudor and Jacobean times with the Puritan interregnum. The tenacity of men who lived and worked through those times was remarkable as was the frequent somewhat humble beginnings of their families. Aristocracy is the exception here though the return of Charles II from an atmosphere more conducive to a fashionable sense of inquiry was certainly helpful in promoting the infancy of the Royal Society.

Later in the book, Gribbin spends more time on Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and Edmond Halley (the comet!). I found the biographical background to all of these fascinating. I knew the basics on Newton previously but had somehow missed out on his Arianism and refusal to take a final communion. Gribbins touches lightly on his possible mental condition (somewhere on the Autism spectrum) and the possibility of his (at least) potential homosexuality with at least two partners.

The contributions of Hooke are well honoured though my favourite has to be Edmond Halley. I had no idea of what a magnificent spirit this man must have had. I had no idea that his spread of interests were as wide as they were and that he ‘captained’ his own Royal navy ship on journeys of scientific endeavour. What a character!

I found this an exciting work underlining the role of individuals who have encountered a range of barriers put in their way by human investment in blind prejudice and personal enmity. It is a more than a little saddening to look out on a modern world where the dead hand of so many of these influences still hold sway in human minds.

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