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Saturday, May 10, 2003

Another masterpiece from Bryson


Am reading Bill Bryson's latest work. It's excellent, as could be expected. He's also followed in the admirable lead of Dr. Armand Nicholi (in what is an excellent book, putting between two covers the substance of the best Harvard course I've taken) in putting a loose notes section at the end of his book. Bryson has heretofore avoided notes altogether, at least in the books of his (nearly all of them) which I've read, probably because foot/endnotes break up the reading. What he has done in this book, however, is to put a notes section at the back, where all references to page and line stand in the note itself rather than in the text, serving as a resource for those interested in further information (or in fact-checking him, as I quite enjoy doing -- he writes back to letters and is a most entertaining correspondent!) but not demanding that casual readers see his citations. The best part of the whole book? I seem to have a companion in my often impenetrable writing style. In the midst of a fascinating and hilarious recounting of the exploits of insane and masochistic semi-professional scientists of the 18th century, he quotes one Mr. James Hutton:
The world which we inhabit is composed of the materials, not of the earth which was the immediate predecessor of the present, but of the earth which, in ascending from the present, we consider as the third, and which had preceded the land that was above the surface of the sea, while our present land was yet beneath the water of the ocean.

Or again:
In the one case, the forming cause is in the body which is separated; for, after the body has been actuated by heat, it is by the reaction of the proper matter of the body, that the chasm which constitutes the vein is formed. In the other case, again, the cause is extrinsic in relation to the body in which the chasm is formed. There has been the most violent fracture and divulsion; but the cause is still to seek; and it appears not in the vein; for it is not every fracture and dislocation of the solid body of our earth, in which minerals, or the proper substances of mineral veins, are found.

See? I could be worse!

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