Simanaitis Says

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I LOVE both giving and getting books. It’s satisfying when the getting responds to my deftly disguised hint (“Gee, I’d like to read…”). And there’s serendipity when I didn’t even know the book existed.

Here are two mini reviews of Christmas books I’ve only just started (both of which are listed at and Plus, there’s another book that’s already a post-holiday purchase. (Hints and serendipity have their limits.)


Magnificent Principia: Exploring Isaac Newton’s Masterpiece, by Colin Pask, Prometheus Books, 2013.

Sir Isaac Newton all but defined modern scientific thought more than 300 years ago with the 1687 publication of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Latin for “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.” Indeed, scientists of the time were called natural philosophers, in the sense of “thinkers about nature.”

It’s generally thought that the Principia, as it’s called for short, is the most important work in the history of science. In it, Newton states his Laws of Motion, thus laying the foundation of classical mechanics. It also contains his Law of Universal Gravitation. And, last, it offers a derivation of Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion.

Said Professor Robert M. May, whose writings hooked me on mathematical modeling of biological phenomena, “Pask’s splendid book … [shows] mathematics as nothing more—but also nothing less—than a way of thinking clearly.”


Newton’s original was in Latin and largely geometric in its arguments. Pask retains the geometric approach, but thankfully in English.

Magnificent Principia is arranged as a series of mini lectures, some historical, others considerably more technical. Pask gives optional routes through the book, letting the reader choose a preferred level.


Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, by Linda Gordon, W.W. Norton, 2009.

Photographer Dorothea Lange is familiar to me through her poignant images of the Great Depression. “Migrant Mother” (the middle image on the cover) is famous to all. Linda Gordon’s book expands on Lange’s comment that “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”

Dorothea apprenticed her craft in New York City; moving to San Francisco in 1918, she thrived as a portrait photographer. She married artist Maynard Dixon and, for a while, shared his San Francisco Bohemian life.

The Great Depression influenced Dorothea deeply. In 1935, she divorced Dixon, married UC Berkeley economist Paul Schuster Taylor and, with him, all but created the field of documentary photography.

During World War II, with government support, Dorothea turned her focus dually to Japanese internment and to the plight of all defense workers. Though less recognized than her Great Depression work, these images are no less powerful in humanizing their subjects.


The tragedy of internment,  “Oakland, California, 1942.”

As a final injustice, Dorothea’s photographic record of Japanese internment was impounded by the same government that underwrote her activity. She did not see the photos again until 1964.

In post-war years, Dorothea’s photojournalism became a mainstay in Life magazine. Beginning in 1952, her husband worked as a consultant in agricultural reform in the underdeveloped world. She shared many of his travels, her camera in hand.

Dorothea Lange died of cancer, age 70, in 1965.


Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle, by Anthony Russell, St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

My post-holiday quest of Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle is based on its description in The New York Times Book Review, December 1, 2013 (too late for one of my “Gee…” hints).

The review notes that author Anthony Russell covers everything from fox hunting and afternoon tea to a “duck launching” and a spectacular divorce suit called “The Case of the Virgin Birth.”

My book is coming from Barnes & Noble; and my thanks to kin for a Gift Card! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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