Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/February 1901/Scientific Literature

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Scientific Literature.


American books on surveying have heretofore been prepared primarily as texts for class use, rather than for the use of the field engineer. This point of view is reversed in the volume of 900 pages, by Herbert M. Wilson, entitled 'Topographic Surveying, including Geographic, Exploratory and Military Mapping,' recently issued by John Wiley & Sons. It sets forth, in the main, the practise of the U. S. Geological Survey, and many of the illustrations have been derived from the publications of that bureau, the colored ones being printed from copper plates owned by the Government. Field work, with the plane table, the transit and stadia, the level and office methods of mapping occupy nearly one-half of the volume; about 300 pages are devoted to geology and astronomy, and the remainder to photography, camping, and the subsistence and health of field parties. In no book heretofore issued are the practical details of topographic work discussed with such fulness as here, and the numerous tables will be found of great assistance in facilitating computations. Indeed, a special effort seems to have been made in the direction of tables, some of which might well have been omitted; for instance, the space devoted to the table of Peirce's criterion for the rejection of observations would have been better filled by elementary matter on the method of least squares, and the table for the values of 0.046d, when d=10, 20, 30, etc., seems a reflection on the mathematical knowledge of the reader. The book is in general clearly written, although the frequent use of italics seems to indicate that the author was often apprehensive that he might be misunderstood. It is a valuable supplement to the text-books of the engineering colleges.

'Road Making and Maintenance,' by Thomas Aitken (London, Griffin & Co.), deals largely with European practise in street construction. The country roads of England are as a rule better than those of the United States, having been earlier built and more systematically repaired, while great attention is paid to securing uniformity of surface. An instrument called the viagraph is described by the author, which takes an automatic record of the inequalities of the street surface and gives the sum of all the vertical depressions found in paving over a mile. A road having 15 feet of such depressions per mile is called excellent, while a fair road has 40 or 50 feet per mile, and a passable one 60 or 80 feet per mile. The cost of this viagraph is moderate, and it is only necessary to drag it along the street in order to obtain the authentic record. It is surprising to learn that wooden pavements still continue to be laid in English towns, while brick pavements are practically untried. On questions of city streets American practise seems fully abreast of that of England now that the necessity of good foundations of concrete is fully recognized. *Street Pavements and Paving Materials,' by George W. Tillson (New York, Wiley & Sons), sets forth modern American practise in an exhaustive manner, giving specifications in use in different cities for different kinds of pavements. The first asphalt pavement laid in the United States was in 1870; great difficulties were met in adapting asphalt to climate and traffic, but these have gradually been overcome, and to-day we have hundreds of miles of these excellent pavements. The first brick pavement of the United States was also laid in 1870, and to-day the total number of miles is nearly a thousand, of which more than one-tenth are in Philadelphia. The cost of road construction and street paving appears to be now slightly less in the United States than in England, and hence there is little doubt but that in another half century our roads and streets will be brought into a condition fully equal to that found in Europe. These two books show that road building can no longer be left to farmers, and street construction to town councilmen, but that economic results can only be secured when they are placed under the charge of experienced civil engineers.

'Irrigation and Drainage,' by F. H. King, published by the Macmillan Company, is not strictly an engineering book, it having been mainly prepared for the farmer and gardener, but it is difficult to find a technical work which so clearly exemplifies the fundamental principles and minor details of the subject. The conditions that make irrigation imperative or desirable, the proper amount of water to be used, the methods of supplying and distributing the water, the laws of flow of ground water, and the reasons, objects and methods of draining land are set forth in a correct and lucid manner. As a text-book for use in agricultural colleges the volume appears to be well adapted, while engineering students will find that its discussions throw new light on their view of the subject. The irrigation of the arid regions, formerly known as the Great American Desert, is now a matter of great importance to both engineers and agriculturists, and the author deals fully with the peculiarities of its alkali soils and with the results thus far attained. In this connection note may be made of a recent Bulletin of the U. S. Geological Survey, entitled 'Storage of Water on Gila River, Arizona,' by J. B. Lippincott. This is a topographic and engineering study for an irrigation scheme made under a law authorizing that bureau to carry on surveys for possible reservoir sites in the arid regions. Powerful influences are at work to induce Congress to appropriate money for the construction of such reservoirs and for building canals to deliver water to irrigable areas. On the Gila River watershed it has been found that several reservoir sites are available, that the Buttes dam may be built at a cost of $2,600,000, the San Carlos dam at a cost of $1,039,000, and others for smaller amounts. It is gravely urged in this Bulletin that the Government should build one of these dams, in order to accommodate certain Indians from whom white men have already diverted water to which the tribe has a legal right. As these lines are written an effort is being made to push this philanthropic scheme through Congress by means of an amendment to the River and Harbor bill!

The literature of engineering now covers so vast a field that a person can become acquainted only with a part of the portion relating to his specialty Catalogues and indexes are indispensable, in order that he may know what has been printed and where to find it. The 'Catalogue of the Library of the American Society of Civil Engineers' is a valuable aid in this direction, although that library is far from complete. This volume, which contains seven hundred and four closely printed pages, arranges the books and pamphlets under twenty-five principal classes, each of which is divided into several sub-classes, thus rendering it easy for the engineer to ascertain exactly what the library contains on any topic. This method of arrangement has decided advantages over the usual author and subject catalogues of books whose publication is rarely advisable. The engineering literature in periodicals is, however, not represented in this catalogue, except in the titles of the journals. A 'General Index to Engineering News from 1890 to 1899' has just been issued, which supplies the want as far as the files of that journal for those years is concerned. This is a volume of three hundred and twenty-four pages, alphabetically arranged after the manner of a subject catalogue; it is an excellent example of good indexing, which may profitably be followed by other periodicals with advantage to themselves and their readers.

'Water Power,' by Joseph P. Frizell, published by Wiley & Sons, is the first engineering book to bear the date of the twentieth century. It is a book for the practitioner rather than for the student, practical rather than theoretical, descriptive rather than argumentative. Of the five hundred and sixty pages, about two hundred are devoted to dams, about one hundred and fifty to canals and water wheels, and the remainder to the construction of power plants and the transmission of power. Much of the extended experience of the author is here recorded in a form which is likely to be useful to the enginering profession, and it is certain that as the coal deposits become exhausted the energy of waterfalls must more and more be utilized. It was a marked characteristic of the engineering books of the nineteenth century that they were adapted for the use both of students and practitioners, the same works that were studied in the classroom being the manuals for field and office work. There now seems to be a tendency to issue books, embodying the experience of engineers, which are mainly useful in practise and which are needed in engineering colleges only for consultation. One reason for this is that the number of engineers is now so great that such books can be published with profit, and another is that many details of practise have become so systematized that scientific classification of them is now possible. The economic side of engineering practise has, in fact, become of utmost importance, and the multiplication of books and periodicals is necessary in order that each designer may see the good points of the designs of others, avoid their faults, and thus make his own construction of greatest stability and usefulness at the minimum cost.


A book on 'Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms,' by Prof. George F. Atkinson, of Cornell University, has been published by Andrus & Church, Ithaca, N. Y. The author's 'Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms,' issued as Bulletins 138 and 168 of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, have been so well received, and there has been such a demand for literature on the subject, that he prepared this large octavo book, containing over two hundred half-tone illustrations. Of these, seventy are used as full-page plates, and there are, besides, fifteen species in color. Nearly all the genera of North American agarics are illustrated, and many of the important genera, such as Amanita, Agaricus (Psalliota), Lepiota, Mycena, Pasillus, etc., have a number of illustrations, while the genus Amanita, containing several of the most poisonous species, represented by about fifteen species, fully illustrated with the development and differential characters, described at length. In all, about two hundred species are described, and more than three hundred names are accounted for Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer writes a special chapter on recipes for cooking mushrooms, and Mr. J. F. Clark one on the chemistry, toxicology and food value of mushrooms. There are also chapters on the collection and preservation of mushrooms, how to avoid the poisonous ones, and keys to the genera of the agarics.


In the 'History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil from the Earliest Times to the Present Day' (The Open Court Publishing Company), Dr. Paul Carus has produced an interesting and a convenient manual of a certain aspect of the an Enthropological history of religions, and of certain of the moral conceptions and the aids to their realization which these religions embody. The scope of the work is more various than the title would suggest, for it includes the consideration of the outlying topics that are indirectly but not inherently connected with the idea of evil and its personal embodiment. It thus loses in its systematic character, but gains somewhat in its acceptability as a popular presentation. The author has made good use of the extensive literature of his special topic and of the themes with which it is associated; but the compilation can not and presumably does not lay claim to any marked originality of contribution or presentation. In one aspect the volume shows commendable industry, namely, in the collection of illustrations, which give an unusually realistic account of the vagaries of the human mind, and especially the human imagination, in dealing with the mystery of good and evil. In five hundred pages of text we have three hundred illustrations, ranging from savage and Assyrian and Chaldean and Egyptian and Classic and Medieval and modern pictures of the incarnation of evil, to the acts of sacrifice and worship instituted in his honor, to Faust legends and the fate of the damned, to demon-possession and exorcism, to the scenes at the stake and the persecution of witches, to the portrayal of the devil in art and literature, in folk-lore, and finally his degradation in the caricature and drama of the day. This panoramic unfoldment of the changes of attitude towards the monarch of evil affords an interesting corollary to the conquests of culture over the terrifying realms of the imagination. The flight to evil that we know not of has in all ages been made by the fancy of the religious devotee, the ascetic, the churchman, and through them as well as by reason of the inherent necessity for a fear of consequences as an incentive to moral action, has the devil continued to live and exert his influence over the affairs of men. "The Devil of the Salvation Army," says Dr. Carus, "proves that there is still need of representing spiritual ideas in drastic allegories; but though Satan is still painted in glaring colors, he has become harmless and will inaugurate no more witch-persecutions. He is curbed and caged so that he can do no more mischief. We smile at him as we do at a tiger behind the bars in a zoological garden."

The scope of the work may be briefly indicated. An introductory consideration of the nature of good and evil as religious ideas leads to a general account of demonolatry; this cult and its various expressions in ancient Egypt, in Persia, among the Jews, in Brahmamsm and Buddhism, are then described; the new era introduced by the spread of Christian conceptions is portrayed, and its combination with the conceptions of Greece and Rome, its later encounter with the traditions of Northern mythology are further characterized; the successive periods of inquisition, witchpersecutions, reformation, constitute the zenith of the diabolical epoch; the reconstruction of the notions in regard to Satan is well illustrated in the literature, while the philosophical problem of good and evil still remains for discussion, even after science and the progress of civilization have crowded the personal devil out of his occupation.

The main value of this volume is the service which it is capable of performing as a work of reference, and again as an interesting presentation of a range of ideas with which many scholars with various purposes have to deal, and which forms a significant chapter in the history of culture.