At last I’ve finished reading The Clue Bible. It’s been many years since I finished a book I was not enjoying, and it was a struggle to get to the end of this one. My brother lent it to me, saying he would be interested to know what I thought of it – he’d found it an effort to read, too.
The book starts with the undergraduate days of the stars of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, and worked its way through to the death of Humph. Quite a long period, and so quite a lot of information, but this is one of those books that would have benefited from an attack by an editor – excising perhaps a third of the text; just because an author has done a lot of research and found out a lot of information doesn’t mean it has to be used, especially when it’s irrelevant to the subject in hand. It is also effusively, ecstatically, enthusiastically irritatingly repetitive; badly written; with words used incorrectly and sentences badly constructed (when reading an Eighteenth-century novel I expect on occasion to have to pause to deconstruct a convoluted sentence, but in this book it’s just annoying) in an attempt at literary greatness, and on other occasions using language that’s too informal; it’s too digressive, and jumps from pillar to post, making it hard to follow.
To compound my irritation, I didn’t learn that much new either, as an awful lot of what’s in here is already well-known, and there are great chunks of script. Prior to this book Jem Roberts wrote for fanzines, and this reads like an extended piece of fan writing. It’s a shame, because I am very fond of both ISIHAC and ISIRTA. I’ll stick to listening to the programmes again on Radio 7 (or Radio 4 Extra as it is to be).
My other recent disappointment was the talk I went to at the Royal Society Friday before last, part of their Library lunchtime lectures on the history of science: Ghosts of Women Past by Patricia Fara. I heard her speak once before at the Science Museum, giving a talk about her book Science: a Four Thousand Year History, and that was quite enjoyable, as was the book – although I did have serious misgivings about her attitude. As in this talk.
One of the reviewers on Amazon of her book said ‘in her haste to promote her socio-political agendas, her work is littered with sweeping generalisations, logical fallacies and prosaic inconsistencies that, more often than not, result in outright contradictions or the ridiculous rehashing of long discredited canards’. I felt that this also applied to her talk, although I suppose it’s not possible to give a complete argument in a 45-minute talk. I did feel a little dissatisfied at the end, as did a couple of the audience members who engaged in some acrimony in the Q&A which followed.
I have higher hopes for this coming Friday’s talk from Graham Farmelo: Paul Dirac and the religion of mathematical beauty. I enjoyed reading his The Strangest Man: The Life of Paul Dirac, and I look forward to his lecture.