Posted by: billpurdue | June 13, 2010

The boundaries of science and one way to research your family history

Science – we’ve still got a long way to go

There was a time not so long ago when many people believed that there wasn’t much left to discover: all the major scientific questions of the day appeared to have been answered. Well, of course, it didn’t take long for people to disabuse themselves of that state of mind and realise that there’s a lot more out there that we don’t understand. To get just a taster of the multitude of topics that is still taxing the scientific brains, just have a look at Michael Brooks’ book 13 Things that don’t make sense [Profile Books £12.99 9781861978172 ].

If you’re not interested in science, don’t let that put you off: Mr Brooks works his way through a wide variety of topics in a very readable fashion, though occasionally I did find that one or two passages needed a re-read to be understood properly, but then, that’s just me. The topics covered include life and death (not everything in the animal kingdom falls apart and dies – see Blandings’ turtle), sex : are there better ways to reproduce?, extra terrestrial intelligence, the discovery of a giant virus and the fact that we can only account for 4% of the cosmos – what happened to the rest of it? The author also asks such questions as -do we really have free will?, homeopathic medicine – it sounds absurd, but why is it now more popular than ever? ,and why does the drug diazepam not work unless you know that you are taking it (instead of a placebo)?

It’s a thought provoking and fascinating book and not just for the amateur scientist. I read it from start to finish. There’s a website which takes the book title as its name : it was set up to provide a forum for discussion about the various topics discussed in the book. The most recent postings however are about a year old.

Family history – how not to do it?

There are probably thousands of books about how to research your family history, but not that many which describe how one person went about looking into his/her past. Comedian and “News Quiz” panellist Jeremy Hardy has done just that in My Family and other Strangers [Ebury Press £11.99 9780091927509] Like many families there are stories about ancestors handed down from one generation to the next which often turn out not to be true when the research is done. Jeremy wanted to find out if his grandmother was right when she claimed that they were descended from Sir Christopher Wren or did a great aunt run illegal alcohol during the prohibition period in the USA.

I enjoy listening to Jeremy hardy on the News Quiz and he writes in just the same way that he talks, so what you hear on the radio is what you get in the book. It’s not a straightforward account of “how I traced my family history”, but he frequently goes off at a tangent, when he is reminded about episodes in his own past or he is moved to express his opinions about the affairs of the day. I often found myself agreeing with him. It’s really the “other stuff” rather than the actual research which is the most interesting part of the book. It’s also written in the present tense as he appears to have written each chapter as the research progressed. Good for a bit of a laugh, but not a lot of use for the serious family researcher

Coming soon

The Lowdham Book Festival starts on 15th June. For a full pdf. format programme go to the website or you might be able to pick up a booklet somewhere. I got mine at Reg Taylor’s Garden Centre, near Southwell, but I would have thought that libraries at least in East Notts would have some.

I’ve enjoyed reading some of Gervase Phinn’s books and I’m looking forward to the next one, but this is a little different. Gervase Phinn’s Yorkshire Journey [Dalesman £17.99 978-1855682788] is due out at the end of July. It includes photographs of some of the places that have meant a lot to him such as Roche Abbey near Rotherham. There are also paintings by his son Matthew Phinn who is a very talented artist.

And finally, did you know that 14th – 20th June is National Crime Fiction Week. Look at the website for details of events around the UK.

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