Earth – Jeffrey Jerome Cohen & Linda T Elkins-Tanton

Sometimes the things we see everyday become so familiar that we forget all about them. I swear I’ve had mornings when I’ve managed to make and consume cereal, fruit and a refreshing cup of tea and I don’t even remember opening the fridge. And I can get home after work and have no memory of the bus at all. Odd isn’t it, how the stuff that is the most use, is just not even on the radar? I mean, I’d really notice if the bus wasn’t there as it would be a 4 mile walk home (and uphill all the way…), but once my bum hits the seat it is virtually invisible to me. The very clever people at Bloomsbury noticed this phenomena and have commissioned a series of books called Object Lessons – which they describe as a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Objects covered include remote controls, dust, bookshelves, bread, passwords and hair (which sounds like my average day to be honest) but the volume I read covers a slightly larger subject: the Earth.

29875710I’m not sure how the other books in this series are written but this one takes the form of a series of dialogues (letters, emails, transcripts of conversations) between two academics in very different fields. One a scientist who studies planets and their formation and the other an English professor specialising in medieval studies they don’t seem (even to themselves) a natural pair of collaborators but they find that they have enough in common to write this book. I found their discussions fascinating – they both sound like interesting people who don’t allow themselves to be limited by their academic disciplines – and they ranged from why Noah encourages us to be selfish in our attitudes to  climate disaster, how hard it is to  grasp the scales involved when thinking about space, time and temperature to the Dream of Scipio. They talk about the Earth but also about their lives and families: birthdays are celebrated, cake is eaten and many questions are pondered.

If you are interested in science or intelligent discussion then this book could be worth a read. Science used to be known as ‘natural philosophy’ and this book seems to combine the scientific and the philosophical. And, of course, if the earth isn’t a subject which particularly interests you then you could always check out other books in the series – I’ve got my eye on Bookshelf (but that’s possibly just a professional interest…)

Jane

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