Skip to main content

The Logician and the Engineer – Paul J. Nahin ***

For its target readership this is an excellent book – and I have to say as someone outside that market I really enjoyed some parts – but the fact remains it is aimed at a pretty narrow segment. There’s even a little section at the front of the book that effectively says ‘read this to see if you can cope with the rest.’
The bits I found particularly appealing were a few introductory logic problems (though I’m not sure I agreed with all  the conclusions) and the pocket biographies of mathematician George Boole and information engineer Claude Shannon. However, while technically qualified to deal with the other parts of the book, in truth I couldn’t be bothered – it was too much like hard work.
For bits of it I would have to wade through far too much grunt maths, and for other bits would have had to think far too hard about electronic circuits and the logic circuits beloved of basement dwellers on computer science courses. (Or was it just my university that confined the computer scientists to the basement?)
I think the author makes the mistake that many academics make when trying to write for a broader audience: they carry through too much of the textbook, and find that the aspects that often encourage people to remember things in that context (often because they involve repetitious grunt work) actually prevent popular science readers from getting the message. It’s a shame, because the subjects are interesting, but unless you are the kind of person who designs logic circuits for fun, this is probably not the book you’d want to see.

Hardback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

On the Fringe - Michael Gordin *****

This little book is a pleasant surprise. That word 'little', by the way, is not intended as an insult, but a compliment. Kudos to OUP for realising that a book doesn't have to be three inches thick to be interesting. It's just 101 pages before you get to the notes - and that's plenty. The topic is fringe science or pseudoscience: it could be heavy going in a condensed form, but in fact Michael Gordin keeps the tone light and readable. In some ways, the most interesting bit is when Gordin plunges into just what pseudoscience actually is. As he points out, there are elements of subjectivity to this. For example, some would say that string theory is pseudoscience, even though many real scientists have dedicated their careers to it. Gordin also points out that, outside of denial (more on this a moment), many supporters of what most of us label pseudoscience do use the scientific method and see themselves as doing actual science. Gordin breaks pseudoscience down into a n

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under