by Doug Prince
A Chemical History Tour:
This handsome volume by the dean of the university's College of Engineering and Physical Sciences is a pictorial tour through the history of chemistry, "idiosyncratic," as the author explains, "in the highlights it chooses to show the tourist," and delightful in its idiosyncracy.
Greenberg's main theme is "our very human need to pictorialize matter," and the book is comprised of reproduced diagrams, illustrations and pages from chemistry texts, some quite rare. Accompanying the images are short essays that explain and contextualize them, and they are immensely readable and engaging.
For example, in his essay "Chymicall Characters," which accompanies a reproduction of chemical symbols from The Royal Pharmacopoea by Moses Charas (1678), Greenberg writes about the ancient practice of associating elements with planets: "With the naked eye, ancient people could discern that the planet Mars is red, just as is the calx of iron ('rust'). Associating Mars--the god of war--with iron--the stuff of weapons, as well as with blood--is intuitively reasonable. Late 20th-century business executives wore red 'power ties' to meetings. But in an almost too wonderful confirmation of ancient intuition, the findings of the NASA Viking Mission, which landed two spacecraft on Mars in 1976, indicated a red surface composed of oxides of iron: eyeball chemical analysis by the Ancients at over 30 million miles--not bad!"
The beautiful illustrations and knowledgeable, witty but brief commentary make this a rare commodity: a text that rewards skimming as much as in-depth reading. It will make you wish you had paid more attention in high school chemistry.
Judging Jehovah's Witnesses:
"As legal histories go," the author writes in his introduction, "this narrative is unconventional in that it relies most heavily upon the Witnesses' own accounts of their struggles in communities like Minersville, Pa., Connersville, Ind., and Rochester, N.H., to overcome religious discrimination and forge meaningful lives for themselves and their families." That unconventionality is the greatest among the many strengths of this engrossing account of the persecution suffered by Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States during the 1940s.
In his early chapters, Peters, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focuses on the Gobitas family from Minersville, whose troubles began when the Gobitas children refused to salute the American flag because their religion told them to reject earthly images or emblems. As a result, the Minersville school district expelled the children.
The Gobitas family took the case to the courts, and in 1940, the Supreme Court ruled that elected school boards and legislatures, not appointed judges, should have the power to shape educational policy. The decision triggered several years of shocking abuse perpetrated against Witnesses across the country. But the Witnesses did not give up, retaliating by continuously using the courts for protection, and the result is a remarkable body of civil rights legislation.
As Peters writes, "In retrospect, it seems apparent that the Witnesses initiated a legal counter-attack against religious discrimination to mitigate their own suffering and to use courts as forums for propagandizing. While protecting their own interests, however, they prompted courts at all levels ... to fortify safeguards for this country's most basic democratic liberties. ... One of the foremost legacies of the persecution of the Jehovah's Witnesses ... was a ... remarkably influential body of law, one that strengthened the basic democratic freedoms of all Americans."
Peters is adept at weaving together individual histories with discussions of legal issues, making this the best kind of legal history: one both fascinating in the intricacies of the law presented and moving in its account of how law shapes citizens' lives. ~
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