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The Geek Atlas 145

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
brothke writes "A recent search on Amazon for travel guides returned over 30,000 results. Most of these are standard travel guides to popular tourist destinations which advise the reader to go to the typical tourist sites. The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive is a radically different travel guide. Rather than recommending the usual trite destinations, which are often glorified souvenir stores, the book takes the reader to places that make science real and exciting, and hopefully those who exit such places are more knowledgeable than when they went in." Read on for the rest of Ben's review.
The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive
author John Graham-Cumming
pages 542
publisher O'Reilly Media
rating 10/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-0596523206
summary A fascinating and enjoyable read
Irrespective of its travel content, The Geek Atlas is a unique and fascinating read for the information and overview of its wide range of topics. If there is a fault in the book, it is with its title. When people see Geek Atlas, they might think that this is a book that takes the reader to boring and obscure places, which is the exact opposite of its intent.

Author John Graham-Cumming writes that you won't find tedious, third-rate museums, or a tacky plaque stuck to a wall stating that "Professor X slept here." Every place he recommends is meant to have real scientific, mathematical, or technological interest.

Each of the books 128 chapters is separated into 3 parts: a general introduction to the place with an emphasis on its scientific, mathematical or technological significance; a related technical subject covered in greater detail, and practical visiting information. So while you may not be able to make it to the Escher Museum (chapter 29) in The Hague, Netherlands; the information on how M.C. Escher used impossible shapes in which the chapter describes is a fascinating read on its own.

Graham-Cumming notes that a disappointing trend with science museums today is a tendency to emphasize the wow factor without really explaining the underlying science. He notes the following 3 attributes of such museums: a short name ending with an exclamation mark, a logo featuring pastel colors or a cuddle cartoon mascot, or an IMAX theater.

Why does the book specifically have 128 places listed? See chapter 58, for the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley, UK. Graham-Cumming notes that your average travel guide would have listed perhaps 100 or 125 places. 128 is a round binary number (10000000). Of course, those who are binary obsessed might wonder why this book is not titled 10000000 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive.

The 128 places listed are for the most part divided equally between sites in Europe and the USA, with a few in the Far East and Russia. A complete listing of the sites is mapped on the books web site. Africa for some reason seems to be left out and perhaps a follow-up volume will fill that void. Of course, one could argue that Africa has had a minimal contribution to the world of science, mathematics and technology. Nigeria for example is famous for its 419 advance-fee fraud, but not its overabundance of contributors to physics.

For the US locations, there are locations for 25 states, with California being the biggest with 7 suggested places to visit. With that, it is surprising that the book lists the HP Garage, given that it is not open to the public and only serves as a shack to be photographed. Other places such as the US Navy Submarine Force Museum and MIT Museum are indeed more visit worthy.

The tours of some of the sites, like the HP Garage will take less than an hour or so (chapter 42 — Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London, UK), while others one can spend a half or full-day at the site.

While The Geek Atlas is touted as a travel guide, it is much more than that. Its 128 chapters are a wide-ranging overview of science and mathematics. Topics run the gamut from physics and pharmacology to transistors and optics. In fact, the book would make a superb syllabus for an introduction to science course. The plethora of subject covered, combined with its easy to read and absorbing style makes it a fantastic book for both those that are scientifically challenged, yet curious, and those that have a keen interest in the sciences.

The Geek Atlas is a fascinating and enjoyable read; in fact, it I found it hard to put down. Lets hope the author is working on a sequel with the next 256 additional places where science and technology come alive.

Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.

You can purchase The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Geek Atlas

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  • by Em Emalb (452530) <(ememalb) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday July 20, 2009 @02:28PM (#28759573) Homepage Journal

    And I am the exact opposite. I've been in the IT industry (not coding, but routing/switching/WAN/LAN/Security) since the early 90s. When I go on vacation, I want to get as far a way from anything tech-related as I can.

    I already spend enough of my life doing IT/technology related things, why would I want to do more of it on my vacation?

    Obviously, to each their own, but I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the need for this book.

  • Hey! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johannesg (664142) on Monday July 20, 2009 @02:30PM (#28759601)

    So while you may not be able to make it to the Escher Museum (chapter 29) in The Hague, Netherlands; the information on how M.C. Escher used impossible shapes in which the chapter describes is a fascinating read on its own.

    That's only 15km from my house! It's quite easy to reach!

    Anyway, I notice a rather strong focus on English-speaking countries. Why only five sites in Germany? Why is the Boerhave Museum in Leiden (in the Netherlands) missing (with its fascinating exhibit of the first-ever helium liquification system)?

    And why is the Atomium in Brussels there? Talk about a crummy museum...

  • Africa left out (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @02:48PM (#28759877)

    Of course, one could argue that Africa has had a minimal contribution to the world of science, mathematics and technology.

    Ancient Egypt? Mathematics, astronomy, engineering? Definitely a significant contribution to the world of science.

  • The problem is... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday July 20, 2009 @03:20PM (#28760363)

    ...you have a limited definition of 'beautiful'.

    For instance, the Large Hadron Collider. [google.com] It is, in fact, beautiful. Beautiful in execution, beautiful physics, beautiful. And falls neatly outside your context.

    If this book being recommended can bring that sense of beauty to power sub stations and the like, then I think it's a good idea.

  • by sshir (623215) on Monday July 20, 2009 @03:49PM (#28760739)
    Ha-ha-ha!

    While I always try to keep conversations civil, but I'm sorry, your message about "art and artists" is just, well, stupid.

    Just to make a point: are bridges part of infrastructure? Yes! (answering myself to simplify it for idiots)
    What about Millau Viaduct [wikipedia.org]? Doesn't it look fantastic?! Isn't it beautiful?! Is it worth seeing?!
  • by Bunny Caerbannog (1594655) on Monday July 20, 2009 @04:55PM (#28761817)
    Dude, It's about getting excited about learning and how stuff works. Science needs the superstars and interesting places to visit because it's usually not what's glorified in popular culture. Not everybody gets to live their dream but everyone wants a chance to hit the big time. If we show kids that being smart can lead to awesomeness like being athletic they might try for that. Someone's always gotta do the grunt work and that sucks when it's you.

    But to lean on sports, You gotta be willing to play on the farm team to get called up to the majors.

  • by rlseaman (1420667) on Monday July 20, 2009 @06:36PM (#28763071)

    Hogwash!

    Not everyone gets to sit at an observatory looking for some celestial wonder. Most live in Excel spreadsheets and databases.

    Indeed - including most astronomers. Experimental design is not boring just because it has evolved to include digital cameras and computer networks and a remote operations paradigm.

    Kids need some reality

    Encouraging a bit of hopeful imagination about their futures is dramatically more realistic than your fatalistic world view. As regards science in particular, your premise is absurd. Science is all around us. A forensic accountant may "live in Excel and DBs", but uses the principles of science just the same. A baker is a chemist. An auto mechanic a mechanical engineer. And both may use spreadsheets and databases regularly - and those databases and spreadsheets, if well organized, will save them a lot of time they would otherwise spend sitting at a desk crunching numbers.

    A child who is encouraged to visit museums and libraries and Geek travel sites and to participate in "Science Olympiad" or "Destination Imagination" and to build LEGO robots and electronics kits and chemistry sets - is going to have a heck of a head start no matter what career they eventually pursue.

    I've judged (with many others) at my local science fair for the last ten years or so. I can personally attest to having seen hundreds of "Real Science" projects successfully conducted by kids over that time. Successful by your restricted definition of success, meaning with neat, complete lab notebooks and pertinent graphics often produced from spreadsheets. And successful in the true sense of revealing underlying truths of the universe and of ennobling the spirits of the participants and judges alike.

  • Re:Africa left out (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mjwx (966435) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @02:14AM (#28766385)

    Ancient Egypt? Mathematics, astronomy, engineering? Definitely a significant contribution to the world of science.

    Africa was left out because it is not exactly a safe or easy place to visit, especially for a pasty nerd. There are notable exceptions. The Pyramids make for a very geeky place to visit if your into architecture, language or history but the mainstream tourists have drowned that our. Just don't fly into Cairo if you can avoid it, makes the traffic of Mumbai look organised.

    If you like Architecture or History, check out Angkor (Angkor Wat is just the temple, Angkor is the city), outside of Phnom Pehn, Cambodia is not that unsafe provided you stick to the area's that have already been swept for mines. It's cheap and the people are friendly (English is bad though, but it adds to the charm).

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