A little Ebook history is a glorious thing

These days I am fascinated by history, or rather I am fascinated by the events and actions of the past. The circuitous routes by which we have ended up in the present seem so often to be utterly improbably and doomed to failure. Yet, here we are, testament to the marvelous nature of chance and probability. I cannot say with absolute certainty anything at all but I can marvel at what I consider to be two very well written Ebooks. Firstly, “History of Science” by John Priestly: this is one of those books that manage to give life to a subject that would otherwise be dull. It is not just a collection of dates and events but captures some of the characters of the various ages of this endeavor. At times it felt over critical of the ignorance of past times but overall a splendid read and an education. I would never have known otherwise that the word gas comes from misheard pronunciation of the word chaos, or that the American Nickel coin is named after the devil, it is these facts that are the hooks upon which we can hang our memory. John has been busy publishing in the last year a range of history pieces and whilst I have not read them I would hope that they continue to bring the same passion to this subject. Science is my major life passion and I live it every day in my work and in my mind’s eye, so it is not difficult for me to be enthralled by a discussion of the history of this seemingly greatest, at least to me, of human attributes. That said, I am in awe of the bravery of humanity. The ability of so few to rise above the chaos, not gas but air this time, of battle to do what had to be done. This is described in Mark Black’s “The Battle of Britain: A Very Brief History”. If we did not know it to be true this would be too fabulous a story to be believed. This really is a history of remarkable times, tremendous bravery and knife edge choices and uncertain outcomes. Black seems to capture this and also convey the essential history in a compelling way. Again there are new things for me in this volume. I had heard some from my grandmother who watched the dog fighting over the wield of Kent and I have heard the famous quotations of Churchill, but it was not clear to me before that luck, misjudgment and empire played the roles that they did. As is always the case, it seems, life is much more nuanced and complex than the clean and crisp version that we learn in school. The history is not only written by the victor but is also written after, if not long after, the events and the chaos is often lost. We write history as if it is a logical and linear development from the past to the present, whereas it is much more like the progress of a spinning top, often standing still, sometimes moving erratically and in times of trouble making unexpected changes of direction.

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