When I was in college, my days were filled with reading literature and writing papers. English majors do a lot of that stuff, and while I enjoyed packing my head with prose and poetry, part of me craved classes devoted to scientific fact. Thank goodness for introductory courses. Over several semesters I signed up for basic classes in astronomy, geology and biology, stretching my literature-crunched brain to new horizons.
What did I learn from these science classes? Many things, but especially this: Facts are great, but some facts are so mind-boggling that even a lifetime of study may result in only a partial understanding. Take astronomy. It’s easy to say that our galaxy, the Milky Way, is really big. OK, how big? Compared to what?
Enter Joel Levy’s fascinating new book, “A Bee in the Cathedral.” Using mostly easy-to-understand analogies, the author provides the reader with unique ways to comprehend big concepts.
Whether it’s the size of our galaxy or how nuclear fission works, Levy manages to scale down complex subjects into small, non-brain-fatiguing morsels for English majors such as me, and anyone else interested in science. Do you think it’s possible for a monkey to sit in front of a keyboard and randomly reproduce Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Page 13 will answer that question. If the blood in an average human adult circulates through the body three times every minute, how many miles does it travel in one day? Check out Page 185.
You’ll also learn what bees and cathedrals have to do with each other, why a cat named Schrodinger is important to physics, and why the phrase “respect your elders” applies to a glass of water.
Now, back to the question of just how big the Milky Way is. Our solar system has completed 21 orbits around the galaxy since it formed. Not impressed? Try this: one orbit takes 220 million years to complete. In other words, don’t mess with the Milky Way.
Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at youbetterreadnow.blogspot.com.