The two books I am reading most actively right now both make me miss Oxford. They also make me regret the fact that I am not out traveling or working somewhere exciting.
The first book is Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China: The fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. I have read several of his books before: one on the Mercator projection, and another on the genesis of the Oxford English Dictionary. While I am only halfway through this latest book, I think it is better than Mercator but worse than OED, though that probably reflects my own interests as much as anything else. In any case, the book conveys a wonderful sense of what was possible for a motivated and intelligent individual in the position of its protagonist: Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham.
The second book is Oliver Morton’s Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet. Evidently, it is largely a study of the nature and history of photosynthesis. The book contains a good summary of early climatic science, with engaging and informative asides on nuclear physics, biochemistry, and much else. It also includes a great many references to life in Cambridge, during the period between the early outbreak and late aftermath of the second world war. It is a period of unusual interest for climatologists, for reasons I described in my barely-remembered thesis. Personally, my impressions of Cambridge are dominated by the music video to Pink Floyd’s “High Hopes” – one of the very few music videos I have ever watched, and one of the handful I have enjoyed.
What they brought to the forefront is that it is possible to be out and doing interesting things (though certainly more challenging if you mean to do it in a low-carbon way). I would certainly be strongly tempted to strike away from Ottawa to more interesting places, once societal dues have been paid. Where or what that would involve, I cannot yet guess.