Posted in audio book, book review, history, math

Book Review-History

Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians

by Ian Stewart

Audiobooklife rating: 🤠🤠🤠🤠

This audio book was almost twelve hours in duration. Took me less than two days. The progression of math has been well studied and documented throughout history. It’s unbelievable we are able to follow it in such detail. Put me in a good mood. Quarantine has given me time to reflect and bulldoze digital audio books. What are you reading or listening to while being quarantined? Reading is therapeutic and helps make the state of affairs less painful and the sky more blue. 😀

Anyways the author is an acclaimed mathematician, a science fiction writer and Emeritus professor at Warwick in England. Math can be an intimidating and exigent subject. He makes the subject matter understandable and oh so enjoyable! It spans two-thousand years and touches on twenty five mathematicians through short biography. It’s a wonderful compendium of great minds that have discovered and created systems of math used today. None of which are alive. Shout out📢 to all living amateur and professional mathematicians! From the great geometer to the creation of algebra to the advent of super computers this book has it. There was even a chapter on Benoit Mandelbrot and fractal geometry. I love fractals! Nature is full of fractals. They are never ending patterns and you are free to get lost in them. ∛

I have a profound reverence for math myself. Everything in the universe obeys geometric rules and ratios. Through logic and deduction you can reduce all phenomenon in nature to mathematical axioms and laws. Also being a science major I had to reach at least the level of calculus. Why? Calculus was required for genetics. Genetics was required for cell biology. Cell biology was required for biochemistry. You get the idea. I spent many semesters in math class and we are well acquainted. ∞

My favorite mathematician would have to be Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. He is the father of algebra and the word algorithm derives from his manuscripts (see The Sieve of Eratosthenes). His work helped society get wages and inheritances properly and was one of the most famous scholars in The House of Wisdom. So much science and math were discovered in the ancient middle east. Pretty incredible! I guess that is one defining characteristic of people. The quest for knowledge, insight, understanding and awareness. Of course, Issac Newton (co-inventor of calculus) will always hold a special place in my heart. ∫

A little side joke. How would you define a significant figure? Google defines it as: each of the digits of a number that are used to express it to the required degree of accuracy, starting from the first nonzero digit. In a nutshell “Sig figs” are used in science and medicine to estimate how many decimal places are needed. 😆

Number is the ruler of all forms!

Michael 👊


Posted in Uncategorized

Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox

This audio book was six hours in duration and took me half a day.  This is a shorter  audio book than most. My average audio book is nine or ten hours in length. It’s nice getting through audio books in less than a day and starting a new one. I feel like I learned a great deal in less than day. Audio books are such a powerful medium!

It was well-organized, detailed and easy to understand. It is the authors’ first published nonfiction book. She is a research scientist with a PhD in Molecular biology and lives in Hawaii. She is also a popular blogger for Discover Magazine.  She’s done some pretty fascinating research. She knows her science and it shows.

Venom is a modified saliva. She goes into exquisite detail about the personal lives of terrestrial and aquatic venomous animals from all over the world plus the mechanism of action behind their specified venom for their prey species. She tells the story of numerous compounds found in venom that have been turned into FDA approved drugs. I wonder how many other compounds there are in venom that can help people.

Another great part about this book was the section on SI (Self-Immunization). Venomous snake keepers inject themselves with venom in order to protect themselves. If a hot herper happens to get bit than their adaptive immune system will remember how to fight off the venom. There is actually an SI blog. I enjoyed reading this blog and watching the videos. I even started following the blog myself. Obviously I do not recommend this.

I enjoyed the ending. I like how she pushes for conservation of wildlife habitats. I happen to agree. She is intelligent but passionate and dedicated. My favorite parts were on the cone snail (conotoxin), blue ring octopus (tetrodotoxin) and the assassin caterpillar (hematoxic).

Some of what I learned:

  1. The first scientist to manufacturer anti-venom serum (anti-venin) was Dr. Albert Calmette of the Pastuer Institute in 1896 using horses to create antibodies which were purified and used to treat cobra envenomation victims in Asia.
  2. Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium practiced self immunization with snake venom and lived to be 101 years old.
  3. The bullet ant has the most painful bite in the world. Not the first time I’ve heard that.
  4. Mongooses are resistant to cobra venom because there is an amino acid replacement in the binding site of their nicotinic cholinergic receptor. This replacement is a positively charged amino acid where there is normally an uncharged one. This prevents the alpha neuro-toxin from binding and causing paralysis.

pic: courtesy