Schubert, symphony no. 8 in B minor, D. 759
“Unfinished”. This featured in Spielberg’s recent
Minority report to good effect.
- Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten.
This is a very enjoyable book. It is a mix of about three
parts science history to two parts autobiography, and Sacks does
both very well. The story of his childhood is an interesting
one, being set in war-time London and England, in a well-to-do
household (servants), in a Jewish extended family.
It’s a mix of autobiography and science because science was
a very importannt part of Sacks’s childhood. He became quite
obsessed with chemistry and did all sorts of neat experiments.
(Sacks mentions in passing that many of these would now be
impossible for a child to do. The chemicals involved are so
dangerous that no-one would sell them to children over the
counter.) Sacks was encouraged in his hobby by his family, and
particularly by two uncles. One of these is the Uncle Tungsten
of the title, a man who part-owned a light-bulb factory, and who
had lots of tungsten (used in filaments) on hand to show his
Sacks frames his scientific stories with plenty of
background about the science he was investigating. So, the
reader is treated to descriptions of the famous chemists of the
past (Lavoisier, Priestley, Mendeleev, among others) and the work
they did. This material is written engagingly and held my
interest, though much of the material will inevitably be
familiar to anyone sufficiently well-educated in popular
There is also room for quite a bit of material that is
completely unrelated to chemistry, and describes episodes in
Sacks’s life as he grows up. He has quite a traumatic time when
sent away to the country to be safe from German bombing attacks
on London, for example. There’s all sorts of family life
described, and I found this all quite fascinating. People’s
lives are usually pretty interesting to read about, and Sacks
writes about them very well, and often very amusingly.
To review next:
Arthur Ransome, Winter holiday.
I heard on the news this morning that the Australian government
had to act quickly yesterday to stop 13 Turks who landed on Melville
Island in the Northern Territory from applying for refugee status.
The Governor-General was called away from the Melbourne Cup stadium so
that he could do his bit on the Executive Council and approve a new
regulation to excise Melville Island from those bits of Australia
where immigrants can apply for refugee status. I don’t know why they
don’t just require wannabe refugees to present themselves to the
debating chamber of the House of Representatives in Canberra.
And what about this Melbourne Cup madness? The whole country
seemed obsessed by it yesterday. Lead stories in the radio news
bulletins were about this, and work-places had special afternoon
sessions to watch it on TV. How anyone can get in the least bit
excited about horse racing is beyond me.