Selected Books

by Andrew Robinson

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SCIENCE AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE

The Shape of the World: The Mapping and Discovery of the Earth

(George Philip/Rand McNally, 1989/90)—with Simon Berthon
which accompanied a  Granada Television series sponsored by IBM shown worldwide
 
Read a related feature ("How do we know how to measure longitude?") in (BBC) Focus, Summer 2014.

Earthshock: Hurricanes, Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Tornadoes and Other Forces of Nature 
(Thames & Hudson, 1993, rev. edn 2002) 
which has been translated into four languages; it won the US-based Association of Earth Science Editors Outstanding Publication Award for 1994
--"The pictures alone make this book worthwhile for anyone interested in the workings of the world. ... Combined with the text, they make Earthshock a wonderful book for anyone curious about natural phenomena—I would have loved a copy for Christmas when I was a teenager." (Sue Bowler, New Scientist)
--"A wonderful compilation of the things that can happen when our planet does no more than turn in its long sleep." (James Lovelock, writer and Fellow of the Royal Society)
--"This is quite simply a delicious book, thought provoking, informative and witty." (W. J. Albery, Fellow of the Royal Society and Master of University College, Oxford, University College Record)

Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity
(Palazzo/Abrams, 2005; Metro, 2010

which has been translated into six languages. Published during the 2005 centenary of Einstein's discovery of relativity, the book is a biography, with additional contributions, edited by the author, from physicists, writers and others, including three Nobel laureates, Philip W. Anderson, Joseph Rotblat and Steven Weinberg, and Arthur C. Clarke, Freeman Dyson, Philip Glass and Stephen Hawking
--"By far the best book about Einstein that I have ever come across" (Patrick Moore, Fellow of the Royal Society, BBC Sky at Night magazine)
--"Of all the books about Einstein that have passed through the Physics World office during the last twelve months, Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity is by far and away the most appealing. The book contains material on all aspects of Einstein's scientific work and private life, including eleven highly readable essays. It is filled with a myriad of familiar and not-so-familiar images." (Physics World) 

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, The Anonymous Polymath Who Proved Newton Wrong, Explained How We See, Cured the Sick, and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Among Other Feats of Genius
(Pi Press/Oneworld, 2006; pbk edn Plume/Oneworld, 2007)
--"Thomas Young... is a neglected English intellectual hero... whose life and work is properly celebrated in this fine book." (Ian Finlayson, The Times)
--"The occasional diagram is almost superfluous, because Robinson's writing is so lucid. In fact the style of the entire book is a wonder. With no flourishes, no time wasting. Robinson calmly deciphers the man and his numerous fields of enquiry. Clearly, Robinson has some polymathic tendencies." (Michael Sims, The Los Angeles Times)
--"It is wonderful to have such an elegant biography of this remarkable man." (Philip W. Anderson, Nobel laureate in physics)
--"I must confess thatto my shameI was unaware of the career of Thomas Young. Clearly he was an extraordinary man. (If I may paraphrase myself: When Thomas Young was my age, he had been dead for 22 years.) And [this] is clearly an extraordinary book." (Tom Lehrer, mathematician and legendary songwriter)

The Story of Measurement
(Thames & Hudson, 2007) 
which has been translated into nine European languages and was Book of the Month in Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society
--"Andrew Robinson's The Story of Measurement is a fine introduction to the topic. Robinson aims to cover just about everything that is measurable in nature and in man." (Eileen Magnello, The Times Literary Supplement)
--"This is a sumptuous book, a sensual pleasure to look at ... crammed ... with beguiling images of anything to do with measurement—from abacuses to zeptograms ... It is, however, intelligently written and always rewarding to dip into." (Andro Linklater, Geomatics World)
Read a related feature ("How do we know the length of one metre?") in (BBC) Focus, August 2014.

Sudden Genius?: The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs 
(Oxford University Press, 2010)
--"Robinson's book ranges widely and well, and he proves himself adept at explaining complex concepts in areas as diverse as physics and Egyptian hieroglyphics. ... through its excellent synthesis of biography, history and theory, Sudden Genius? brings us closer to an understanding of what makes the great artists and scientists tick." (Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times)
--"Robinson's ten subjects display his impressive intellectual range. He is equally at home with scientists and artists and, besides the obvious Einstein, Leonardo, Darwin, Mozart and Wren, includes Satyajit Ray, Cartier-Bresson and Champollion, the decipherer of the Rosetta Stone." (Peter Forbes, The Independent)
--"Scientists, like artists, are creative; but a science of creativity sounds another matter. Andrew Robinson's beautifully written book reviews what we knowand more crucially don't knowabout creativity, scientifically speaking. No easy explanation of creative genius is possible, as Robinson shows with his carefully chosen case histories of five artists and five scientists." (Chris McManus, University College London, author of Right Hand, Left Hand)

Genius: A Very Short Introduction
(Oxford University Press, 2011)
--"impressively wide-ranging, with illuminating discussions of whether there is a personality conducive to genius, intelligence tests, eureka experiences, and theory that (to quote Edison) 'genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration'." (P. D. Smith, The Guardian)

The Scientists: An Epic of Discovery
(Thames & Hudson, 2012)
a highly illustrated collection of biographical essays on some forty scientists by established scientists, historians and science writers, such as Frank Close, Martin Rudwick and Virginia Morell, edited by AR

Read a review in Nature, 13 September 2012.
See a slideshow, "7 Epic Moments in Science History", Huffington Post, 2 October 2012.
Read a review in The Lancet, 12 January 2013.


Earthquake: Nature and Culture
(Reaktion Books, 2012)
an illustrated history of earthquakes forming part of a new series,
Earth, on the culture and science of great natural phenomena, which has been selected for the Scientific American Book Club.
--"Studying earthquakes is somewhat like the apocryphal medical school dean who tells students: “'Half of what we will teach you in the next four years is wrong. The problem is that we don’'t know which half.' Robinson conveys this spirit in a lively and well-written introduction to earthquakes and how people discovered, struggle to understand, and try to figure out how to deal with this dramatic, destructive, and still poorly understood phenomenon." (Seismologist Seth Stein, author of Disaster Deferred: How New Science Is Changing Our View of Earthquake Hazards in the Midwest)
Read a related review ("Shaking the foundations of archaeology") in Nature, 10 April 2008.
Read a review in The Independent, 22 December 2012.
Read a review in Current World Archaeology, February/March 2013.
Read a related feature ("Shake, rattle and roll") in Minerva, March/April 2013.
Read a related feature ("How do we know what causes earthquakes?") in (BBC) Focus, October 2013.
Read a related review on Japanese earthquakes in E&T (Engineering & Technology), June 2014
.
Read a related review on an Indian earthquake in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 2014.

Exceptional Creativity in Science and Technology
(Templeton Press, 2013)
a collection of essays based on a conference at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, edited by AR
--"Following a series of outstanding books on various aspects of the history of science, Andrew Robinson has now edited a fascinating work which explores the origins of the greatest scientific institutions in the world and their innovations which have changed our lives." (Sir David Weatherall, FRS, Regius Professor of Medicine Emeritus, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford)
Read a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, 30 December 2013.

 
ARCHAEOLOGY AND SCRIPTS 

The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms
 (Thames & Hudson, 1995, pbk edn 2000, 2nd edn 2007) 
which has been translated into nine languages and is a bestseller
--"The most accessible and informative book available on the major writing systems of the world" (History Today)
--"Rich in images ... well-informed and assured" (Philip Morrison, Scientific American)
--"A fascinating book" (Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts
(McGraw-Hill, 2002; rev. edn, Thames & Hudson, 2009)
which was selected by the Softback Preview as Book of the Month
--"An accessible primer...a potent mix of academic esoterica, code-cracking and controversythe same giddy cocktail that made The Da Vinci Code such a success, but with much greater scholarship" (James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
--"Robinson's enthusiasm for the subject is so infectious that you might find yourself trying to crack Etruscan in your spare time." (Archaeology)
--"Andrew Robinson has now followed up his beautifully illustrated The Story of Writing with a highly appropriate sequel: Lost Languages, on undeciphered scripts. Many, it seems likely, will never be decipheredwhich raises an interesting question. If we cannot always understand messages from our fellow humanshow successful will we be when we receive the first communication from Outer Space?" (Arthur C. Clarke)

The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris
(Thames & Hudson, 2002, pbk edn 2012
which was made into a BBC television programme, A Very English Genius
--"A wonderfully swift and clear biography" (The Economist)
--"Excellent: well researched and clearly presented ... compelling reading" (Torsten Meissner, The Times Literary Supplement) 
--"A superb biography of Michael Ventris, combining a warm account of his life with just enough detail to satisfy those who have knowledge of linguistics or indeed of the classics." (Current World Archaeology)

Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction
(Oxford University Press, 2009)
--“Accessible and succinct, … [it] is, indeed, a short but excellent introduction to the written forms of communication.” (British Museum Magazine)

Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion
(Thames & Hudson, 2012; Oxford University Press USA, 2012)
the first biography in English of the man who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs 
--"An entertaining, highly readable and authoritative biography of the greatest decipherer of all time" (Michael D. Coe, author of Breaking the Maya Code)
--"Andrew Robinson's Champollion is a brash genius, with the power to make loyal friends but also bitter enemies ... This is a spirited account of a fascinating subject: the birth of Egyptology." (John Ray, professor of Egyptology, University of Cambridge)
Read a related feature ("A class of symbols") and listen to a podcast interview in Nature, 1 March 2012.
Read a review in the Financial Times, 21 April 2012.
Read a related feature ("Jean-Francois Champollion and ancient Egyptian embalming") in The Lancet, 12 May 2012.
Read a review in The Independent 12 May 2012.
Read a review in Nature, 17 May 2012.
Read a review in Current World Archaeology, June/July 2012.
Read a review in The Wall Street Journal, 16 June 2012.
Listen to an interview on the Biography Podcast, June 2012.
Read a review in The Washington Post, 22 August 2012.
Read a review in Antiquity, September 2012.
Read a related feature ("The code breakers") in Minerva, September/October 2012.
Read a review
 in Egyptian Archaeology, Autumn 2012.
Read a review in History Today, November 2012.


As contributor:

i. The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World
edited by Brian M. Fagan
(Thames & Hudson, 2001)
--the section, “Ancient and Undeciphered Scripts”

ii. The Oxford Companion to the Book
edited by Michael Suarez and Henry Woudhuysen
(Oxford University Press, 2010)
--the first section, “Writing Systems”

 
INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE

1. Books on SATYAJIT RAY

Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye
(Andre Deutsch/University of California Press, 1989/90; 2nd edn, I.B. Tauris/Oxford University Press (India), 2004)
--"A glorious book, a feast of research and insight." (Films and Filming)
--"Mr Robinson's close analysis of the warp and woof of Mr Ray's work makes an almost unanswerable case for the defence." (The Economist)
--"A signal salute to integrity" (Lindsay AndersonThe Spectator)
--"Extremely thorough, often perceptive and at times highly entertaining" (Salman Rushdie, London Review of Books)
--"An extraordinarily good, detailed and selfless book" (V. S. Naipaul, Nobel laureate in literature)
--"I have read this book with profound admiration for its research and the manner in which it has integrated the details. It is an important document as well as a literary contribution." (R. K. Narayan)

Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema 
(I.B. Tauris, 2005, with photographs by Nemai Ghosh)
--"This book makes the ideal supplement to Robinson's Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, generally rated the definitive English-language biography." (Philip Kemp, Sight and Sound)
--"an elegant photo-biography of this immensely powerful director, ... packed with drawings and stills from his 30-plus films. Glancing through it makes one wonder whether it would matter if Hollywood ceased to exist. The problem with Ray is that no single frame can capture the haunting heart of his cinema, but this volume is the closest we may get." (Christopher Fowler, The Independent on Sunday)
--"a great book" (Marc Riboud)
--"Quite magical" (Richard Attenborough)

The Apu Trilogy: Satyajit Ray and the Making of an Epic
(I.B. Tauris, 2011)
--"In this study, Ray's biographer draws on a deep immersion in the master's works. He explains not only the genesis of the trilogy on film, and Ray's battles to give his vision form, but its roots in Indian culture. Robinson keeps faith with Ray's own polymathic talents to show how history, art, literature and music all dance behind the haunting shadows on screen." (Boyd Tonkin, The Independent)

The Chess Players and Other Screenplays 
(Faber and Faber, 1989, with a preface by Satyajit Ray)editor
which contains the screenplays of Satyajit Ray's films The Chess Players and Deliverance, and the screenplay of his unmade science-fiction film The Alien
Read a related feature ("Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players") in History Today, July 2007.

As contributor: 

i. full-page entry on Satyajit Ray to the current Encyclopaedia Britannica

ii. filmed interview about Satyajit Ray's film 
The Music Room contributed as an extra on the DVD release of the film in the Criterion Collection (2011), and a printed interview with Ray contributed to the booklet accompanying the Criterion DVD release

iii. programme notes for Satyajit Ray film retrospective at BFI Southbank in London, August-October 2013,
Part 1
Part 2
Read a review of the retrospective in The Lancet31 August 2013. 

iv. interview with Ray and article on Ray as an illustrator
in Sight and Sound, September 2013and longer version of interview

v. interview
broadcast on BBC Radio 4, The Film Programme, 8 August 2013

vi. selected portraits of Ray by Nemai Ghosh
with a note by AR, 2013

2. Books on RABINDRANATH TAGORE
 

The Art of Rabindranath Tagore
(Andre Deutsch, 1989, with a foreword by Satyajit Ray)
which was the first book to carry accurate reproductions of Tagore's paintingsbased on an exhibition of his paintings and drawings at the Barbican Centre, London and the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, organised by AR in 1986
Read a related review on Tagore's art in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2012.

Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man
(Bloomsbury/St Martin’s Press, 1995, pb edn 1997; new pb edn I.B. Tauris, 2009, with a foreword by Anita Desai)—with Krishna Dutta
--"Excellent ... admirably straightforward, readable, lively, informative" (J. D. F. Jones, The Financial Times)
--"It has been a pleasure to read a well-written, well-researched and well-documented biography" (Kathleen Raine, The Tablet)

--"The entire book was a revelation to me." (Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel laureate in physics)
--"One has waited a very long time for a biography of Tagore that did justice to a far more complex and curious mind and life than simply respectful and circumspect accounts allowed. Here it is: thorough, balanced, intelligent, and addressing every aspect of a truly astonishing artist, his life and times." (Anita Desai)
--"a superb biography" (Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, in 2011, the 150th anniversary of Tagore's birth)

Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology
(Picador/St Martin's Press, 1997; pbk edn Picador India, 1999)—editor and translator with Krishna Dutta
--"This new anthology, edited by Tagore's biographers, is an authoritative introduction to his work." (Robert Nye, Literary Review)
--"This well-selected anthology brings together a vivid range of [Tagore's] work: memoirs, short stories, extracts from a novel, a play, and two extraordinary conversations with Einstein. Numerous well-produced photographs add to the atmosphere. The editors provide excellent introductions to each section, a glossary and helpful notes ... A sumptuous book to celebrate Tagore's life." (Jeremy Worman, Time Out)

The Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore
(St Martin's Press, 1996, with illustrations by Michael McCurdy, and a preface by Anita Desai)—translator with Krishna Dutta 

Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore
(Cambridge University Press, 1997; pbk edn Foundation Books, India, 2005, 
with a foreword by Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in economics)editor and translator with Krishna Dutta 
--"An indispensable trove for anyone interested in modern India's intellectual and cultural history, beautifully produced and packed with helpful editorial matter." (Sunil Khilnani, The Independent on Sunday)
--"a triumphant work of scholarship, expertly annotated and beautifully designed." (Patrick French, The Daily Telegraph)
--"Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson have established themselves as the pre-eminent Tagore scholars." (K. Natwar Singh, Asian Age)
--"No future editor will be able to ignore the high editorial standard Dutta and Robinson have set in this book." (Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, Visva-Bharati Quarterly)

Read "The mathematician and the mystic", Resurgence, May/June 2011 (feature on the conversations about reality between Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore, based on a journal article, "Einstein and Tagore", Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1995)

3. Other Indian Books

The Coasts of India by Ashwin Mehta
(Thames & Hudson, 1987, photographs by Ashwin Mehta, with an introductory essay by AR)

Maharaja: The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India
(Thames & Hudson, 1988, pb edn 2009, with photographs by Sumio Uchiyama, and text by AR)
--"first published in 1988, ... the [paperback edition] remains a stunning depiction of a world of wealth, spectacle and excess" (Juliet Gardiner, History Today)


Noon in Calcutta: Short Stories from Bengal
(Bloomsbury/Viking India, 1992, with a preface by Anita Desai; pbk edn Penguin India, 1993)editor and translator with Krishna Dutta
--"Noon in Calcutta is a boldly diverse selection of Bengali short fiction, ranging from fantasy to satire to hard-edged realism. Its editors acknowledge ... Rabindranath Tagore ... as the father of the genre by putting him at both ends of this fascinating and readable collection." (Tania Glyde, The Times)

India: A Short History
(Thames & Hudson, March 2014)
Read a review in The Times Literary Supplement, 4 April 2014.
Listen to an interview broadcast on Newstalk (Dublin), Talking History, 11 May 2014.
Read a related feature ("The Indus script") in Current World Archaeology, 64, 2014.
Read a related feature ("Free Indian science") in Nature, 3 April 2014.
Listen to an interview broadcast on BBC World Service, Science in Action, 22 May 2014.
Read a review in Virtuoso Life, August 2014.

 


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