Pre-eminent among writers of mystery stories is, in my opinion, Dorothy L. Sayers. She is ingenious, witty, original – and scientific too, including themes like the fourth dimension, electroplating, and the acoustics of bells in some of her best stories. She is also the inventor of the voice-activated lock, which her hero Lord Wimsey deploys in the 1928 short story ‘The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba’.
In Rome on 22 June 1633 an elderly man was found guilty by the Catholic Inquisition of rendering himself “vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture”. The doctrine in question was that “the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from east to west, that the earth moves and is not the centre of the world.
Some individuals loom larger in mycological history than they deserve, but, to be fair, this mild indictment applies both to those with, and those without, a Y chromosome. The science of mycology blossomed in Darwin’s time, when German botanist Anton de Bary (1831-1888) began to decode the life cycles of fungi and penned the first textbook on fungi.
Those who argue that lame-duck presidents should not nominate justices to the Supreme Court have forgotten or ignored the most consequential appointment in the Court’s — and the nation’s — history: President John Adams’s 1801 appointment of John Marshall as the nation’s fourth Chief Justice.
The discovery of gravitational waves, announced on 11 February 2016 by scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), has made headline news around the world. One UK broadsheet devoted its entire front page to a image of a simulation of two orbiting black holes on which they superimposed the headline “The theory of relativity proved”.
This year, 2016, is a very special year for the Very Short Introductions (VSI) series. Not only is our 21st birthday but we are also publishing our 500th VSI title in the autumn. Since our launch in 1995, Very Short Introductions have been filling in the gaps of our knowledge with a VSI to almost everything.
Noise barriers are not regarded with a great deal of affection. In fact, they’re not much regarded at all; perhaps not surprising, given that the goal of their installers is to ensure that those who benefit notice neither the barrier nor the noise sources it hides. The majority are basic workmanlike structures, built according to tried and trusted principles.
Most people have a good idea what it is to have a Stoical attitude to life, but what it means to have an Epicurean attitude is not so obvious. When attempting to decipher the true nature of Epicureanism it is first necessary to dispel the impression that fine dining is its central theme.
Towards the end of his lecture on ‘techniques of the body’, delivered to a meeting of the Société Française de Psychologie in 1934, the sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss discussed the methods of breathing practiced by Daoist priests and Yogic mystics. Far from being instinctive, these techniques require a lengthy apprenticeship.
Though caused by microscopic agents, infectious diseases have played an outsized role in human history. They have shaped societies, lent us words and metaphors, and turned the tide of wars. Humans have eliminated some diseases, but others continue to plague us. In this quiz, find out if confusion is contagious or if you’re immune to the challenge.
Atheism is the absence of belief that God, and other deities, exist. How much do you know about this belief system? Julian Baggini, author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, tells us the ten things we never knew about atheism.
In a British Council report Martin Rose argues that the way STEM subjects are taught reinforces the development of a mind-set receptive to violent extremism. Well taught social sciences, on the other hand, are a potentially powerful intellectual defence against it. Whilst his primary focus was MENA (Middle East and North Africa) he draws implications for education in the West.
Why make New Year’s Resolutions you don’t want to keep? This year the Very Short Introductions team have decided to fill the gaps in their knowledge by picking a VSI to read in 2016. Which VSIs will you be reading in 2016? Let us know in the comment section below or via the Very Short Introductions Facebook page.
Though the winter season in the northern hemisphere doesn’t officially begin until Monday, 21 December, many of us anticipate the joyful holidays and the not-so-joyful cold weather with bated breath. To get you prepped with some trivia arsenal for holiday parties, we’ve pulled some interesting facts about winter from our Very Short Introductions Online resource.
Do mountains matter? Today, 11 December, is International Mountain Day, celebrated worldwide since 2003. The fact that the UN General Assembly has designated such a day would suggest a simple answer. Yes – and particularly for the 915 million people who live in the mountain areas that cover 22 percent of the land area of our planet.
In the last two hundred years, the concept of human rights has gained prevalence in society. We can define our rights in terms of freedom of speech, privacy, and to be treated humanely, but where did these ideas come from? Do you think you know your human rights?