So. Light fortnight for books, due to running about preparing for festivities, and also due to the nature of two slow-ish bits of nonfiction.
Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. This was full of fun tidbits, some of which I've already put here. There were also long stretches where I bogged down completely, either due to less interest in the bit he'd chosen to focus on--I know explorers aren't really a separate thing from scientists in that historical context, but I just don't care as much about Mungo Park, even though he was named Mungo and that ought to help--or from already knowing a fair amount. I had read a biography of Caroline and William Herschel already, so the chapters there mostly rehashed what I already knew; I have read a fair amount about Mary Shelley also. We got to balloonists and Davy, though, and those were worth the price of admission, and maybe you weren't already en-Herscheled and en-Shelleyed enough, or you'd want them in this context. Anyway, I think it's worth the time, I just had a few moments of finding it a bit difficult to be getting on with despite the zippy popular history prose.
Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex?: Women in the Origins of Modern Science. There are some really good bits in this, thumbnail sketches of early women scientists I had no knowledge of, even in my own field. (Er. Former field. You can take the girl out of the lab....) I understand why Schiebinger felt the need to go over the change in state of the art scientific concepts of biological sex over the period she was discussing, because it was relevant to the treatment of women in the sciences, but for me it was substantially review and less interesting than learning about Laura Bassi and Maria Merian and others I'd never heard of. Also I felt there were a few spots where Schiebinger's enthusiasm sent her off the rails--for example, she was talking about Caroline Herschel as one of the women who had less cutting-edge equipment than her male peers, in this case her brother. And while that was technically true, William Herschel's cutting edge equipment was plagued with problems, and Caroline got a lot more work done with a smaller telescope than she would have if she'd been wrestling with the monster William had. So--no, it's no excuse for giving women crappy equipment in general, but this was not the best way to bring that problem up. (Yes, Herschels again! I'm surrounded by Herschels! Keep firing, Herschels! Um. Possibly I should get some food, since I wrote this after the following paragraph, and the trend is...a little goofy.)
Ekaterina Sedia, The Alchemy of Stone. When we were doing Titus Andronicus in my college Shakespeare class--no, seriously, this relates--my professor was obsessed with comparing it to an over-decorated Christmas tree. And I often kind of feel that way about things that fall under the steampunk heading: like the authors knew how to spell banana and didn't know how to stop. (Whee! My Shakespeare prof and Nanny Ogg within two sentences! Stop her before she analogizes again!) It can be endearing, but also a bit exhausting, when there are ten million props and none of them particularly well considered. But The Alchemy of Stone does not do that. The Alchemy of Stone is doing what it is doing, and its scope is very personal. The story is larger--there are implications beyond the ending--but Sedia wisely chose whose story she was telling and told it, rather than getting caught up in every last thing she could think of.
Nevil Shute, No Highway. This is the story of a homely crank who was right about the math. I am pleased. There is really hardly any of that out there, and here is some: it's about metal fatigue in airplanes. It's a novel. About metal fatigue in airplanes. Quite refreshing.