IF you loathe reading heavy books and yet curious about things, the Oxford University Press has the answer in it’s ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series. Initiated in 1995 the series has covered 200 topics. The latest in this series are on Genius, Numbers, Paganism and The Scientific Resolution. Each of these is power packed with material that gives a quick and satisfying guided tour on the subject.
Hundreds of psychologists have grappled with the question of defining genius. When does talent become genius? Is there a dividing line? The questions are too many with little definitive answer. This edition Genius by Andrew Robinson takes the reader through the definitions, followed by discussions on genetic inheritance of talents. The stories of geniuses vary from one another so much that there is almost no pattern. Experts have suggested a certain connection between genius and streak of madness. Then there is the eternal debate if genius can be in any area i.e. science and art. Robinson tackles these issues rather well leaving one’s appetite well-whetted for more. Robinson is the author of a well acclaimed book Sudden Genius? (reviewed in Organiser Weekly) and several others on the subject.
There is an anecdote in the life of mathematics genius Ramanujam. While on deathbed, his friend and mentor British mathematician G H hardy comes to call on him. He tells Ramanujam the number of the taxi he came in. In a few seconds, Ramanujam amazes hardy by telling him that number is the square root of such and such number. How do some people have such a connect with numbers? Numbers have fascinated humans since the beginning of mind. Numerology has become a scientific astrology now. Peter M. Higgins’s Numbers gives the history of numbers, their various names like primes, perfect, and sequence. After familiarising the reader with numbers, Higgins, a mathematician gently leads the narration to slightly higher levels, discussing ‘Numbers that count’ and ‘To Infinity and beyond.’
The term paganism was used by Christianity to describe derogatorily, the indigenous religions in Asia and Africa, which contain rites, rituals and nature worship. When the West colonised these two great and ancient continents it was confounded by the religions flourishing there. In the arrogance and superiority of the victor, they chose to denigrate what they did not comprehend. But the attitudes are changing, though slowly. The book Paganism by Owen Davies takes a chronological trip on the topic. As a sort of disclaimer Davies says in the introduction that since the term paganism was used by Christians on the non-Christians, the narration is done from the Christian point of view. But the last chapter Return of the old gods discusses how the older religions were revived in Europe, through such movements as Theosophical Society and how the word pagan began to be understood differently. Davies is Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire.
The Scientific Revolution
“The Scientific Revolution – roughly the period from 1500 to 1700 – is the most important and talked-about era in the history of science” says Lawrence M Principe, author of The Scientific Revolution. This period was marked by series of discoveries and innovations that changed the world from medieval to modern (at least the Europeans). The six chapters following the introduction give a racy account of the exciting centuries when the West discovered that the earth was not flat and it was not the centre of the universe. These were all common knowledge in ancient civilizations like the Hindus. Centuries before this scientific revolution took place in the northern hemisphere, the ‘other world’ had done wondrous feats, unmatched till date. Be that as it may, since it has now become routine for the West to view scientific temper and development and modernity as their gift to humanity. This short introduction nevertheless gives a comprehensive picture of the developments in the field of science that were converted for common good. Principe is Drew Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.
All the ‘A Very Short Introduction’ books carry a substantial list of follow-up reading suggestions. They are indexed and fortified with notes. What makes the books sellers is the size. In a compact 17X11 cm size, pages hovering around 140, they are easily tucked inside the bag for anytime anywhere reading and reference. The font size may be a slight inconvenience. All the books also carry the entire list of topics under this series
(All books by Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6DP, all are priced £7.99) —VN