Approximately 500 years ago a Polish lawyer, medical doctor, and churchman got a radical idea: that the earth was not fixed solidly in the middle of all space, but was spinning at a thousand miles per hour at its equator and was speeding around the sun at a dizzying rate. Unbelievable, critics said. If that were true, at the equator people would be spun off into space. And it would be much harder to walk west than east.
Enjoying Rio 2016? This extract from Sport: A Very Short Introduction by Mike Cronin gives a history of the modern Olympic games; from its inspiration in the British Public school system, to the role it played in promoting Nazi propaganda. The modern Olympic Games, and their governing body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), came into being in 1894 and were the brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin. A Frenchman with a passionate interest in education, de Coubertin had visited England.
What emerged from these studies was a whole area of psychology that revealed the motives and processes that drive peoples’ prejudices. Discovering that it was a basic tendency to categorize that lies at the heart of prejudice had huge implications. It meant that to tackle prejudice we have to not only address the social, the economic and the political: we also need to tackle the psychological.
The eve of the opening ceremonies of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is a good time to reflect not only on Brazil’s role as the organizer the games, but whether the experience of the host country tells us anything about the status of the BRICS–one of the most important economic groupings in the world, and one which you may never have heard of. As nations much showcased since 2001 as big, dynamic, rising countries, much of their global projection has focused as much on spectacle as on substantive achievements.
The primaries, the conventions, and the media have focused so much attention on the presidential candidates that it’s sometime easy to forget all the other federal elections being held this year, for 34 seats in the Senate and 435 in the House (plus five nonvoting delegates). The next president’s chances of success will depend largely on the congressional majorities this election will produce.
Katie Stileman works as the UK Publicist for Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series (VSIs). She tells us a bit about what working for OUP looks like. If she wasn’t working on publicity at OUP, she would be doing publicity for Taylor Swift.
We appear to be on the verge of a great unraveling – a period in which the established arrangements of political and economic life are rapidly coming undone. And at heart of these events is the question of the welfare state and the security of working people in contemporary capitalism.
Stephen Smith, author of Taxation: A Very Short Introduction, tells us 10 things we need to know about taxation, and gives us an insight into why we need taxes, how economic processes determine taxes, and how they can make political change.
When we were finalizing our book for publication, the West African Ebola epidemic was emerging (we hadn’t picked Ebola as one of our case studies), and our publishers asked if we could include some information about it in the book.
The subject of combinatorial analysis or combinatorics (pronounced com-bin-a-TOR-ics) is concerned with such questions. We may loosely describe it as the branch of mathematics concerned with selecting, arranging, constructing, classifying, and counting or listing things.
Two hundred years ago this month, Mary Shelley had the terrifying ‘waking dream’ that she subsequently molded into the greatest Gothic novel of all time; Frankenstein. As all who have read the book or seen one of the many film adaptations will know, the ‘monster’ cobbled together out of human odds and ends by rogue scientist, Victor Frankenstein, is galvanised into existence by the power of electricity.
The so-called Suess effect in radiocarbon (14C) has been known for decades. Geological sources of carbon like coal and oil, that formed many millions of years ago, long since lost their radiocarbon through radioactive decay – they contain 14C-free “dead” carbon. From the mid-19th century the radiocarbon activity of the atmosphere declined as dead carbon from fossil fuels was dug out of the ground and burnt producing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
For all its supposed isolation out there beyond the pale of acceptable discourse — marginal words in the mouths of marginal people — we know a good deal about slang. We know its lexis, and keep chasing down the new arrivals; we know its lexicographers, some very well; we know its speakers, and note that far from monosyllabic illiterates, they coin some of the most inventive usages currently on offer.
So, what is crystallography? Put simply, it is the study of crystals. Now, let’s be careful here. I am not talking about all those silly websites advertising ways in which crystals act as magical healing agents, with their chakras, auras and energy levels. No, this is a serious scientific subject, with around 26 or so Nobel prizes to its credit. And yet, despite this, it remains a largely hidden subject, at least in the public mind.
Stephen Smith, author of Environmental Economics: A Very Short Introduction, gives us an insight into what environmental economists do, what environmental economics is about, and how it measures and influences our impact on the environment. He also explores the steps we need to take to protect it at an international level.
We are currently living through a period when “antisemitism” seems to be on the rise in Europe, and is now a hot topic of debate in Britain, because of a few clumsy statements by some prominent Labour politicians (along with a very few statements that do appear to have an actual antisemitic animus).