June 1, 2011

Book Review: The Path

The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the UniverseThe Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe

by Chet Raymo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe, by Chet Raymo, is one of the most fascinating books you’ll ever read. Chet Raymo is a scientist, a thinker and a consummate inquirer. Everything excites him, draws his attention and I suspect threatens to distract him from his real job as professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College. Every morning, he walks to work along a course that covers approximately one mile. Having the type of mind he has, he can’t help but muse over every building, every smell, each part of his journey. It is in this book that he records his musings. Being a scientist with a passion for history, they are couched in the story of our Universe.He sees not just the upturned rock, but the forces that moved it to its current position and canted it at the odd angle. He sees not the flower by the stream, but its historic pilgrimage from Europe to its current home in New Hampshire.

Here are a few more of his connections:

  • The Queset Brook tells the story of water power and the force of gravity pulling water downstream
  • The evolution of long stems on plants shows the competition in nature for survival of the fittest, competition being a moving force in our world
  • A walk through the woods takes Raymo to a consideration of the Earth’s two million living species–though there have been at least ten times as many that have become extinct
  • Raymo chipped off a piece of a local boulder, followed its history (displayed by matching its scratches) several miles out of his town to a south-facing ledge of bedrock identical to the piece in his hand. Why? Glaciers.
  • His town’s brook leads him to a discussion of the water planet that is Earth and the uses for water, its states in matter and its history
  • A winter skate on a frozen pond leads to a romp through the amazing nature of frozen water
  • A beehive leads Raymo to a story of the eighteenth century Bee Boy, a mentally challenged young man so fascinated by bees that he sought them out, grabbed them with his hands despite the stings, sucked their bodies for the honey.
  • Lying in a field of butterflies becomes a discussion on man’s obsession to wipe out insects (impossible–learning to cohabitate amicably is a better solution) and the failed effort to do just that with DDT
  • Standing in a water meadow, he ponders the molecular machinery and complicated simplicity of DNA that is at the foundation of all life
  • Enjoying the gardens in his hometown leads to a discussion on how man began to farm

After reading this book, I can’t take a nature walk without a similar look at what is around me, though mine is not so informed as Raymo’s. It doesn’t matter, because I enjoy looking at what’s below the surface, its history, even if I make only educated guesses. My only difficulty is following the erratic path of Raymo’s brain as he skitters through connections. In the fullness of the discussion, they become clear, but at the outset, I constantly had to stop and think about where he was going.

If you enjoyed Bill Bryson’s The History of Everything, you’ll love this book.

View all my reviews

Jacqui Mur­ray is the edi­tor of a tech­nol­ogy cur­ricu­lum for K-fifth grade and cre­ator of two tech­nol­ogy train­ing books for mid­dle school. She is the author of Build­ing a Mid­ship­man, the story of her daughter’s jour­ney from high school to United States Naval Acad­emy mid­ship­man. She is web­mas­ter for five blogs, an Ama­zon Vine Voice book reviewer, a colum­nist for Exam​iner​.com, and a weekly con­trib­u­tor to Write Any­thing and Tech­nol­ogy in Edu­ca­tion. Cur­rently, she’s work­ing on a techno-thriller that should be ready this sum­mer. Con­tact Jacqui at her writ­ing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Fol­low me.