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Book Review: The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive by John Graham-Cumming

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get your geek on! The Geek Atlas:128 Places Where Science & Technology Come Alive is about to make your travels more interesting. If there is a museum with a thorough focus on math, science, or technology in the world, you won't drive past it once you get busy with this great atlas. Here's a quick tour:

In the cemetery where Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert are buried, there is a grave displaying the equation for thermodynamics. That’s the final resting place of the Austrian physicist, Ludwig Boltzmann.

The Manchester Science Walk is a17-stop walking/audio tour that ends at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry. The museum honors the work of John Dalton for this atomic theory.

In Oxford, The Museum of History and Science contains over 15,000 items collected since antiquity. Thankfully, no one there ever erased the blackboard displaying Einstein’s 1931 calculation showing the age of the universe based on its expansion.

The Eagle Pub in Cambridge, England is where the secret of life was discovered.  Yes, the structure of DNA was born in a pub, where two scientists announced their discovery in 1953. Nine years later they earned the Nobel Prize for their work.

Science is honored in the French town of Beaumont-de-Lomagne, near Toulouse. At the Fermat Museum you can explore the life of mathematician, Pierre de Fermat. The museum includes hands-on challenges with puzzles and games. See if you can prove the Pythagorean Theorem while you’re there.

Leonardo da Vinci spent years working on architectural projects for King Francois I at Chateau du Clos Luce and you can spend a day at his home and gardens, filled with reproductions of his work and of over forty inventions, including the double deck wooden bridge he built.

France is also home to The Jacquard Museum in Roubaix, where punch cards were first used in weaving fabric. The technology was later applied to a punch card system used in the 1890 census. I flashed back to my early career in the 1970's, when they were still used for data entry in business.

The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany celebrates the invention of movable type and explores 15th century printing techniques. The collection of presses and typesetting machines includes examples up to the 20th century. The technical details include an interesting passage on “letter frequency” and how it was used to determine where to store letters in a case for fastest typesetting. Since the small letter ‘e’ was used more than a capital ‘E,’ small letters were kept nearby in the lower case. Less-used capitals were, of course, in the upper case. Now know where we got the term “upper” and “lower” case. And you might want to kiss your keyboard in gratitude for today’s technological marvels.

The Escher Museum in The Hague houses most of M.C. Escher’s marvelous drawings, optical illusions and almost all of his prints along with his rare lithographs of the Amalfi coast.

Alexander Graham Bell’s summer home is in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada, where he lived from 1889 to 1922. The house is still owned by the Bell family. A nearby Alexander Graham Bell National Historic contains museum that reflects his varied interests.

United States
The U.S. is not well represented in The Geek Atlas, largely due to tightened security that prohibits visitors to many science museums. The Grand Coulee Dam and the St. Louis Arch are covered, and you can let your children laugh at your past at the Early Television Museum in Hillard, Ohio, dedicated to the mechanics and electronics of television.

The Geek Atlas author John Graham-Cumming calls himself a science junkie who wrote this book, largely because he finds it is easier to learn about dead poets than scientific discoveries, both man-made and natural, such as such as Aurora Borealis and Magnetic North Pole, located “somewhere in Canada,” since it moves about ten kilometers each year.

Each of the 128 places covered is accompanied by a technical abstract including interesting facts, diagrams and equations that increase your understanding. The book is nicely illustrated and indexed, with practical information, web links and even GPS coordinates for online mapping to your destination.

This attractive book, published by O’Reilly Media, is such a technical compendium, rich with facts, it must have been a nightmare to proofread, edit and lay out, and it’s a job well done. The author clearly put in a lot of miles to conduct such thorough and interesting research.

Geek hobbyists don’t need to travel the world to enjoy the book. They will be equally content to delve into The Geek Atlas on a rainy Saturday and enjoy the generous technical examples and stories of these fascinating museums of science and technology.

About Helen Gallagher

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