Monthly Archives: May 2009

W.R.Patterson (rev. G.H.Calvert), Colloquial Spanish

This Routledge course in Spanish was originally published in 1919 and revised in 1931 and 1963. Our copy is a 1991 reprint, purchased in the mid 1990′s. It’s now out of print, for reasons that this review should make clear.

The amazing thing about this book is that the publisher still thought it was worth selling it, in the same kind of cover as their other language courses, on the threshold of the third millennium.

The little stories and anecdotes provided as exercises are set in a world long gone, even in the conservative Spain of the Franco era. Vocabulary includes a long list of aristocratic ranks, and military terms (trench, gunpowder). The ‘conversational matter’ provided for memorisation by the learner is likely to be little use. ‘Whose is that horse? It is that soldier’s horse’.

It’s heavy on grammar, at least in the first half. My classical training makes me approve of this in general, but even so, I was startled to be bombarded with a multitude of verb-forms in lessons 3-6, with very little grammar in the remaining lessons 7-12. There are no exercises supplied in translating into Spanish, and in the other direction there are short passages with the English translation immediately following, (apart from the final one).

So if you’re determined you could learn some Spanish from this. The real problem is not so much the antiquated vocabulary (which could be supplemented from other sources) as the way grammar is introduced, and the lack of practical exercises.

  • ASIN: B0017D02NY
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Reviel Netz and William Noel, The Archimedes Codex

The Archimedes Codex tells two stories: that of Archimedes himself and his contributions to mathematics, and that of the small battered parchment volume which is our only source for some of his discoveries. The book alternates between these two stories.

It turns out that it is a minor miracle that these texts by Archimedes survived at all, and one can feel sympathetic even to the monk who covered Archimedes’ text with prayers, and to whoever had the text further obliterated with forged paintings, when the probable history of the volume is reconstructed.

The mathematical chapters can be hard going if you haven’t done any geometry for a while. On the other hand, I found the somewhat joky style of the opening chapter irritating at first, but fortunately this slipped away a bit in subsequent chapters. A couple of minor players in this story are known to me personally and they are recognisably described, so I feel confident that the character sketches of others are accurate too.

  • Publisher: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) (March 20, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0753823721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753823729
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