Monday, November 10, 2014

And we're back!

Keep calm.  We're back.
borrowed from the website of someone
with better graphic skills than I have
thank you!

Hello, again. After a short hiatus (lasting longer than we'd intended) we will begin posting again in Reconnect to Reading.

In the November 7, 2014 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education is an interesting article entitled, "What Book Changed Your Mind":
The Chronicle Review asked 12 scholars what nonfiction book published in the last 30 years has most changed their minds—not merely inspired or influenced their thinking, but profoundly altered the way they regard themselves, their work, the world. ...

Two of the ten entries stand out:

Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, talks about Timothy Ferris' book, Coming of Age in the Milky Way
I was 33 and juggling a young family, research, teaching, and the demands of a busy academic life. With the pressure to publish and to bring in grants as my tenure decision approached, I was also working on an ulcer.
When a friend gave me a copy of a recently published book by Timothy Ferris called Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988), I thanked him and set it aside. It was a popular book on astronomy, and I somewhat arrogantly assumed it had nothing to teach me. When I did pick it up, a month or so later, I was instantly absorbed. By the time I finished it, I was blown away.....
William Ian Miller, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, talks about Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe 950-1350 
One of the greatest history books of the past 30 years is Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe 950-1350 (1993). I can think of no better nonfiction book I have read written in that period. But did it do more than teach me something and influence my thinking? Did it profoundly alter the way I regard myself and the world? Not on your life. I suspect that the author, though flattered, would think any reader nuts who so claimed. What Bartlett did show was that it is possible to write a learned book that informs the expert as well as the lay reader. Nary a compromise to dumb it down to sell. Just good writing, good ideas, and powerful material. ....
.... I am 68; if you had asked me the question about a self-transforming book when I was 19, I would have had to say just about half of the ones I read. You could say these books changed my mind, but my mind was pretty much a tabula rasa when I was in my first year of college. Rather they made my mind. Each week was a transformative experience. In one course these: the PensĂ©es, which made a callow teenage atheist suspend his judgment; The Red and the Black, which is fiction, I know, but I took it as how psychology would look if properly done. Besides, my first true love was Madame de RĂȘnal. Fear and Trembling followed, and it caused me to give up biochemistry for the humanities, because who in his punk teenage mind would have thought that you could write 46,000 words on 18 verses of Genesis and still not come close to exhausting the topic? It showed me what it meant to read, really read. But then next week it was The Genealogy of Morals. Oh, my. Transformed again. ....
Two different perspectives.  It's an interesting article.


Local Author Interview: Dalton Schnack

Editor's Note:  We had interviewed Dalton Schnack in late 2013.  He has since passed away.  Here is the interview, posted posthumously.  

What inspired you to write your book, Lectures in Magnetohydrodynamics?

I taught a graduate MHD course in the Physics Department in Fall 2007. Before the semester started I made the "mistake" of writing up the first few lectures for handout to the students, and then felt obliged to continue for the rest of the semester.  It was a lot of work!  After it was over I thought maybe I could send them off to a publisher, and Springer was kind enough to publish them almost verbatim. Not very inspiring, I know, but there it is!
The material in the lectures was, for the most part, actually given in a classroom setting, and is presented as close to verbatim as possible while attempting to be organized and grammatical.  With very few exceptions, if it is in the lectures, it was said in class.  I tried to strike a reasonable balance between rigor and physical intuition given the time available for the presentation.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?

I learned that you can write a fairly complete 300+ page book in about 3 months if you have to; like ones' impending demise, it serves to concentrate the mind.  I had to be persistent and couldn't allow myself to get side-tracked.  It's a good lesson for lots of things.

Did you come across any unexpected challenges while writing?

One challenge was devising good homework problems, and I failed. I assigned problems about every two weeks, but I was quite dissatisfied with their quality.  They turned out to be either impossibly difficult or trivially easy, and it was hard for me to judge ahead of time. I don't think the students learned much from them, so I left them out of the book.  Maybe the second edition?

How was it different than writing a journal article?

When writing a journal article, you usually know more about the topic than almost anyone else; you can simply cite "as known" all the background information, and you are forced to be too brief to really explain things.  This makes it relatively easy.  However, when preparing lectures or writing a book (as opposed to an article) you must  be prepared to understand, present, explain, and answer questions in detail about all the background information, derivations, etc.  This is much more difficult, and requires much more work.

What are some books that have inspired you, either professionally or personally?

In no particular order:
The Feynman Lectures (
Hydrodynamic and Magnetohydrodynamic Stability by Chandrasekhar (
Methods of Mathematical Physics, Vol. I by Courant and Hilbert (
Difference Methods for Initial Value Problems by Richtmyer and Morton (
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (
Any volume by Landau and Lifshitz.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring physicist or suggestions for the young student about further studies?

1. Show up
2. Pay attention
3. Tell the truth
4. Keep an open heart
5. Don't be attached to the outcome
"Follow your bliss."
      - Joseph Campbell

What are you reading now?

The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner

What do you enjoy most about Madison? Do you have a favorite restaurant, hangout spot, etc.?

Madison has an eclectic mix of university intellectualism, statehouse sleaze, downtown ambiance, and big time college sports. It has 2 beautiful lakes, sailing in the summer and ice fishing in the winter, and a real railroad that runs right through town.
It is the just about the right size; you can get from anywhere to anywhere else in about 15 minutes.  So, why are the drivers so aggressive?
The Chop House at the Hilton (Mary Ward is the best bartender in the world!) and Johnny Delmonico's are my neighborhood bars. 
L'Etoile, Harvest and The Blue Marlin are all excellent restaurants.
The best beer is New Glarus Spotted Cow ("Only in Wisconsin").

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Secrets are Lies
Sharing is Caring
Privacy is Theft
   - "The Circle", Dave Eggers

Friday, July 25, 2014

TED Blog Reading List

Check it out!  The folks over at the TED Blog have provided "Your Mega Summer Reading List" of books at's a wide variety of subjects covered.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Recently Reviewed Books in the Physics Library!

Happy Friday!

We have lots of recently reviewed books for your reading pleasure. Check one out today!

Book Reviews (Physics Today)

Aaronson, Scott. Quantum Computing Since Democritus. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
QC174.17 M35 A27 2013
Reviewer: Francis Sullivan, Physics Today (March 2014)
  • "Scott Aaronson’s is lively, casual. . . . [But] this book touches on profound issues, subtle questions, and debates that have not been—perhaps can’t be—resolved. . . . In short, is intended to be popular, but not popular. "

Dean, Stephen O. Search for the Ultimate Energy Source: A History of the U.S. Fusion Energy
Program. Springer, 2013. QC791 D43 2013
Reviewer: David H. Crandall, Physics Today (March 2014)
  • " provides original historical information and updates Joan Bromberg’s (MIT Press, 1982)."

Greenstein, George. Understanding the Universe: An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the
Nature of Scientific Research. Cambridge University Press, 2013. QB61 G744 2013
Reviewer: Mario C. Diaz, Physics Today (April 2014)
  • " is an introductory textbook to be used in an astronomy course for nonscience majors, and I would definitely recommend it for that purpose. . . . Sections that reappear throughout the book—“Now you do it,” “Detectives on the case,” and “You must decide”—entice students to examine critically what was covered and to elaborate and examine hypotheses by themselves."

Lele, Ajey. Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality? Springer, 2013. E-book.
Reviewer: Asif Siddiqi, Physics Today (April 2014)
  • "In , Ajey Lele seeks to untangle the complicated moves of those maturing space powers and other smaller ones, including Israel, Pakistan, and the two Koreas, and to “explore the character . . . of the investments made by various Asian states in the space arena.” The fundamental question for Lele, a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, is a simple one on the surface, although it masks a complicated set of factors at play: “Is the Asian space race for real or is it a subject more of an academic debate?”"

Morris, Charles R. The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution. Public
Affairs, 2012. HC105 M73 2012
Reviewer: H. Frederick Dylla, Physics Today (May 2014)
  • "Charles Morris expertly illustrates how the tradition of innovation in the US began just as the new country was getting started. . . .  In his epilogue, he contrasts [America's] history with the current landscape, where the US has taken the role of incumbent, facing a fast-growing China for 21st-century dominance."

Ostriker, Jeremiah P., and Simon Mitton. Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the
Invisible Universe. Princeton University Press, 2013. QB982 O78 2013
Reviewer: John C. Mather, Physics Today (March 2014)
  • "The book’s introductory material includes an overview of Hipparchus and the methods of the Greek astronomers. It also traces the beginnings of modern astronomy and physics. . . . also discusses the evidence for dark matter as seen by Fritz Zwicky in the 1930s. . . . And the text offers some delightful salvos against those who claim that the end of science is nigh or that scientists don’t change their minds until the “paradigm shifts.”"

Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the
Illusion of Safety. Penguin Press, 2013. U264.3 S45 2013
Reviewer: Alex Wellerstein, Physics Today (April 2014)
  • "I am pleased to report that Schlosser’s is an impressively researched, beautifully written, and carefully considered work of history. Though written for a popular audience, is a serious piece of nonfiction and the best book on nuclear weapons to have been published in several years."

Stone, A. Douglas. Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian. Princeton
University Press, 2013. E-book.
Reviewer: David Kleppner, Physics Today (April 2014)
  • "In the book, Stone shows how Einstein’s ideas animated the development of quantum mechanics from its infancy through its first quarter century. He argues that the full extent of Einstein’s impact is not appreciated because his iconic status in the world of physics, and also for the greater public, was due primarily to his creation of general relativity. Furthermore, Einstein himself sabotaged (my word, not Stone’s) the history of his role. . . . is delightful to read, with numerous historical details that were new to me and charming vignettes of Einstein and his colleagues. By avoiding mathematics, Stone makes his book accessible to general readers, but even physicists who are well versed in Einstein and his physics are likely to find new insights into the most remarkable mind of the modern era."

Weiner, John, and Frederico Nunes. Light-Matter Interaction: Physics and Engineering at the
Nanoscale. Oxford University Press, 2013. E-book.
Reviewer: Lucio Claudio Andreani, Physics Today (May 2014)
  • "Altogether, is pleasant to read and does a good job of introducing the reader to electromagnetic waves in matter and to nanoscale radiation–matter interactions, with a focus on surface and interface phenomena. . . . will find a useful place in the libraries of students and researchers in the field and could be used as a main or supporting textbook in a one-semester course for undergraduate or graduate students in physics, photonics, or electrical engineering—or even better, in a course with a mixed audience of students from those disciplines."

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Do's And Don'ts Of Book Reviewing

Laura M. Brown, the author of "How to write anything", offers commentary and advice in her Huffington Post article "The do's and don'ts of book reviewing". Here is a preview of what she has to say:

"Book reviewing used to be the purview of the elite. Now, thanks to the Internet, everyone's a critic. Your online book reviews can make a real difference: people almost always scan the reviews of a book before they make a purchase decision, and your insights can be a big help."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Local Author Interview: Clint Sprott

It’s been a while since we added a new local author interview. University of Wisconsin-Madison Emeritus Professor Clint Sprott is a very prolific author and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for our blog. Some of his more recent books are Robust Chaos and Its ApplicationsElegant Chaos, and Physics Demonstrations.

What inspired you to write your books and what need do they fill?

I never intended to write books, but I've now authored six of them and coauthored four more. Each one has a story beginning with Introduction to Modern Electronics which to my amazement is still frequently used as the text in Physics 321. It came about when the excellent text by Wilmer Anderson and Bill Beeman went out of print while I was teaching the course, and I naively thought I could do even better. I won't bore you with the other nine stories.

Have you thought about writing a second edition to Introduction to Modern Electronics?

I stopped teaching the Electronics course shortly after that book was published and haven't much kept up with the modern developments in electronics. The subject is a bit peripheral to my research, and so I'm not very motivated to do a second edition even if the publisher asked, which they haven't.

Is there a connection between the Wonders of Physics and your book, Physics Demonstrations

Oh, yes, very definitely. That book was inspired by the five volume set of Chemical Demonstrations that Bassam Shakhashiri wrote. In fact he greased the wheels to get UW Press to publish it, and it has been selling very well despite their limited marketing. It helped that it got an excellent review in Physics Today and is being sold by the American Association of Physics Teachers. My aim was to document most of the demonstrations I have used in The Wonders of Physics over the years. It's now been ten years since I wrote it, and so there are some additional demonstrations that could be included in a second edition, but I have no plans to do that. I'm hoping that others will inherit The Wonders of Physics program and perhaps write a more up-to-date and comprehensive book.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing these books?

My first big surprise was how short the life was on my early books. I spent a few years writing, and then a few years later they were already out of print. This is less of a problem now with many publishers using print-on-demand.

Did you come across any unexpected challenges while writing, and how was it different than writing a journal article?

One the reasons I write books is that after a few years of writing only journal articles, I get tired of fighting with reviewers and editors. A nice thing about writing a book is that once you sign a contract, you can write almost anything you want and no one seems to care. I actually had to request that some of my books be reviewed before going to press. It's also really satisfying to see the finished book on the shelf and great to watch the royalties roll in year after year, long after the work is done, so long I don't think about dividing the total dollars by the total hours spent. But then journal articles are even less financially rewarding.

I'm surprised to hear that you don't fight with editors when writing a book.  Do you think it's different for non-fiction vs. fiction?

Absolutely. Everybody thinks they know how to write fiction, and there's a lot of competition in that market. I've never written any fiction and assume it would be hard to get that published. By contrast, for a technical book, the editors rely on the credentials and reputation of the author and usually don't have the knowledge to question what the author writes, although they can sometimes be picky about punctuation and adhering to their house style. If such a book is sufficiently specialized, there may be little or no competition, but the market may be limited mostly to libraries, especially with the current absurd prices of technical books.

Which of your books is your favorite?  Which one was the hardest to write? 

That's like asking a parent which is their favorite child. I like them all but each for a different reason. I suppose Chaos and Time-Series Analysis was my largest and most difficult project since it's a 500-page textbook with hundreds of end-of-chapter exercises and numerous computer projects. It was an outgrowth of a special topics course (Physics 505) that I taught three times, and it was solicited by a publisher who found my course notes on the Web. In many ways, writing a textbook is like teaching a course. Many of us do that as a way to work systematically through a body of material and fill in all the details. It's often said that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I think that goes double for books since it's almost impossible to sweep your confusion under the rug when you know your words will still be on library shelves a hundred years from now.

What are some books that have inspired you, either professionally or personally?

I'm constantly inspired by Clifford A. Pickover who has now written 45 books on an amazing range of topics. We have become good friends, and I host his website ( on my web server.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring physicist or suggestions for the young student about further studies?

Sure, if you aren't very smart, make up for it by working really hard. Actually, that's good advice even if you are smart, and the combination produces Nobel Prizes.

What are you reading now?

I recently read The Beginning of Infinity by the physicist David Deutsch after reading a review in Physics Today. He offers a very optimistic view of the future to counter the doom and gloom of so many others. He agrees that we will always have problems, but as long as we are willing to learn, adapt, and change, they will eventually be solved. For him, sustainability is a curse, not a goal, since static societies have always eventually failed.

What do you enjoy most about Madison? Do you have a favorite restaurant, hangout spot, etc.?

With all this writing, I don't get out much, but the friends one makes is what makes any place feel like home, and I wouldn't want to leave Madison for that reason alone.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Retirement is great. Don't put it off too long. But don't expect that you will suddenly have a lot of free time. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Check out these and other items by Clint Sprott in the library catalog.

Physics Demonstrations     
Chaos and Time-Series Analysis


Elegant Chaos     
Robust Chaos and Its Applications



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Madness -- And the Winner is...

Harry Potter!


Harry Potter beat out Game of Thrones 67-33.  See the final bracket here

Yours truly scored second place in the Library Staff bracket.  So close!   Personal bracket winners are also posted.  Any Physics Department winners out there?Harry Potter wins Book Madness 2014