Author: John Graham-Cumming
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2009
Aimed at:: Armchair traveller with interest in science and technology
Pros: Plenty of places to visit both in person and in cyberspace
Cons: Not particularly computer-oriented
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
With "Geek" in its title and published by O'Reilly, well known for its programming titles you might imagine that this book was aimed at programmers. In fact it has a wider remit as its subtitle, "128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive" makes clear. It does, however include several important sites relating to computing - chief among them the Computer History Museum at Mountain View, California, USA and also with as many exhibits online as you can see if you visit in person. The UK counterpart, the National Museum of Computer, where visitors can see the reconstructed Colossus computer, is one of 45 UK entries. It has a separate entry for Bletchley Park (where the focus is on the machines that broke the Enigma code) despite being located at the same place.
Programmers will also find an entry for Charles Babagge's Difference Engine (Science Museum London), the Alan Turing Memorial in Manchester, England; and the National Cryptologic Museum, Fort Meade, Maryland, USA.
The entries are arranged by location, in an alphabetical order that starts with Australia - the Parkes Radio Telescope being the one entry for the whole continent. Europe is fairly well represented - 12 locations in France, including the Jacquard Museum where you can see a punch card loom; five in Germany and two in Switzerland including CERN.
While the UK ones are listed in a single block, the 46 US ones are subdivided by state. The first entry, under Alaska, is Aurora Borealis with Fairbanks being recommended as a good place to see the spectacle also known as the Northern Lights. Another ephemeral event, the emergence of the Magicicada periodical cicada which will next happen in 2021, is listed under Miscellaneous, a category which also includes the Magnetic North Pole.
The book gives the reader plenty of information without expecting them to visit all the locations it covers. Every entry consists of three or four pages with the first introducing the location and its importance and the subsequent ones cover a related topic. So for the Kennedy Space Center you'll find an explanation of Escape Velocity, the jet engine and Newton's Laws of Motion are discussed in the context of the Farnborough Air Sciences Museum, England and the slide rule is covered in the entry on Albury Church.
On the whole this book presents a quirky collection of places to visit and if you buy it with the intention of planning a trip you'll probably be disappointed. You would spend a great deal on air fares were you to visit them all! However if you are interested in the history of science and technology the fact that more pages are devoted to interesting theories, concepts and artefacts than to places is a plus point.
This is a great book to dip into. And while it is ideal if you can plan to visit some of its recommended sites in person, it provides many websites for a rich virtual experience.