Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/July 1873/Literary Notices


International Scientific Series, No. III. On Foods. By Edward Smith, M. D., F. R. S. D. Appleton & Co.

A good, popular book on foods has long been wanted, and, as the object of the International Scientific Series is to furnish valuable and instructive reading for the general public, this subject was early provided for by securing the best authority in England to treat it. Dr. Smith is well and widely known by his extensive course of physiological experiments on the influence of foods and alcoholic liquors upon the human system, published in the "Philosophical Transactions" in 1859; by his official work as government inspector of practical dietaries for hospitals and almshouses; and by his various publications upon the subject of food and diet. A new work was, however, required, that should give the latest scientific information respecting foods, so clearly and simply written as to be understood by common people, and that should combine fulness of statement with compactness of form and a moderate price. Dr. Smith has realized these difficult conditions in a very remarkable degree in the volume now prepared. Adopting a classification that is recommended by its simplicity, he goes over the whole field and describes the properties, composition, preparations, and adaptations of all the alimentary substances now employed by civilized man. In his preface, the author remarks: "Largely-increased commercial intercourse with distant countries, associated with a marked improvement in the purchasing power of the masses of the people, and the rapid increase of wealth generally, have attracted public attention to the subject of foods and dietaries in an unusual degree, so that not only is there a greater importation of foreign productions than formerly, but new foods, or preparations of foods, are produced almost daily, some of which are specially fitted for certain classes of persons, as children, while others are of general use. Hence our food-supplies, whether natural or prepared, offer increased variety of flavor, if not of nutritive qualities, and foods which were formerly restricted to the few are now commonly found on the tables of the many.

"Scientific research in every civilized nation has also diligently busied itself in the elucidation of the subject, and our knowledge has been increased in reference to the chemical composition, preparation, and physiological effects of food.

"With so many causes of change since the issue of my work on 'Practical Dietary,' it seemed desirable to produce another which should embrace all the generally known and some less known foods, and contain the latest scientific knowledge respecting them, while at the same time the subject should be treated in a popular manner.

"It was originally intended to include both foods and diets in one work, but the subject has now become so large that it was found necessary to limit the present volume to foods alone, and to reserve the subject of diets and dietaries for a future occasion."

The amount of information that Dr. Smith has contrived to compress into this little volume is quite surprising; it seems, indeed, to have the completeness of a regular cyclopædia of the subject. Besides giving the pith of what is known of the whole range of aliments proper, simple and compound, he includes those outlying groups of bodies which, whether or not they be properly foods, are habitually taken into the system, and have great physiological importance. The properties of water, of air, of wines and spirituous liquors, are well summed up in their relations to the living organism. The volume contains many illustrations and valuable tables, with full-page diagrams, representing graphically the effects of various alimentary agents upon the system in different times and circumstances. Dr. Smith's work will be a standard manual upon the important subject of foods.

Theoretical Navigation and Nautical Astronomy. By Lewis Clark, Lieutenant-Commander U. S. N. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1872.

This is a book written, as the introduction informs us, "for use at the United States Naval Academy." It is, then, intended to be used by young pupils as a first book, and must be judged by the rules which apply to the ordinary text-book: that is to say, it must be, before all things, clear, eminently accurate, and it must be calculated to develop in the student a habit of exactness; and, since it is a textbook of so practical a subject as navigation, it must be a book of reference which the graduated midshipman can safely use. These are the tests which any one, who writes a book on navigation and nautical astronomy, must attempt to satisfy, and which, it seems, should be easily satisfied, since the subject is an old one, and since such a writer has many works of able predecessors to consult.

These conditions this volume in no wise fulfils. Indeed, its author tells us, in the early portions of his book, that, in the work of interpolating from the "Nautical Almanac," formulæ have been given to meet each particular case. The author has found that, in general, they are of no practical assistance to the student, and even in some cases [are] confusing."

How an interpolation is to be made unless by the aid of a formula, the author does not tell us, although the mind naturally is anxious upon so important a point.

He goes on to add a practical precept, however, to the effect that he desires to impress upon the student the importance of obtaining the Greenwich time "almost invariably" before consulting the "Almanac." As the "Nautical Almanac" is so constructed that no element can be taken from it without a knowledge of the Greenwich time, it seems almost a work of supererogation to "impress" this fact at the 26th page of a work on navigation.

But, allowing these two practical precepts to stand as examples of the conclusions which the author's experience at sea has led him to, let us briefly notice some of the more important features of the early portions of the treatise, remarking that, to fulfil its purpose as a suitable text-book, these should be exact and clear; and, further, remembering that it is important that the interests of the student should be sedulously guarded, and that his first ideas should be of the most definite nature and strictly correct.

Let us remember, too, that a very poor book, of no peculiar importance in itself, has a claim to notice in an educational point of view. There is hardly a middle ground between goodness and badness in such a one: if it be good, let us have it by all means; if bad, it is a duty to warn others against it.

Perhaps there is nothing more important to the navigator than a clear conception of the astronomical ideas of time, latitude, and longitude. "Longitude," says our author, "is the angular distance between any meridian and a fixed or prime meridian. It may be considered as an angle at the pole," etc.

Longitude of what? Any definition of longitude should begin, "the longitude of a place is," etc. There is no abstract thing called longitude; but there is a certain definite coordinate for every point on the earth's surface, which is the object of the definition. The same objection applies to the definition of latitude.

On page 18 we learn that "time is the hour-angle of some heavenly body, whose apparent diurnal motion is taken as a measure." Now, there is such a thing as time in the abstract, portions of which we measure, or have measured for us, by certain recurring phenomena.

The explanations of apparent time and of the equation of time are equally faulty; but imagine the surprise of the astronomer, who is told that "astronomical time commences at noon, and is measured toward the westward!"

From this, to measuring eternity toward the northeast, is but a step. It is evident that, in the author's mind, the words "time" and "day" were equivalent.

With these fundamental errors in the book, it is scarcely probable that it should not be faulty in other ways. And, indeed, it will be found in many points inaccurate, confused, often unintelligible. Perhaps it is hardly necessary to mention certain other faults of the book, which are still discreditable. Many of its demonstrations are taken directly from other text-books, and in no instance, we believe, is a proper acknowledgment made. Its chapter on the Compass is reprinted, almost verbatim, from a pamphlet published by the Navy Department on the same subject, and, although the author probably meant to do no injustice, no mention is made of this fact in any way.

On the whole, we must set this down as a harmful book, being full of doubtful statements, of confused mathematics and questionable precepts, and one not likely to improve the art of navigation, or the science of nautical astronomy, in any way.

The Coal-Regions of America: their Topography, Geology, and Development. By James Macfarlane, A. M. 8vo, 679 pages. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

Those who understand how closely our coal-resources are linked to the future prosperity of the nation, and how completely, even now, they are involved with the great elements of manufactures, commerce, and locomotion, will appreciate the value of a comprehensive and fully-illustrated work upon the subject, brought up to the present time. The book aims to be a sort of "encyclopedia of all that is known on the subject that is permanently important and valuable." Government has done a good deal to explore this subject in the several States, but the ponderous volumes of reports they have published are expensive, inaccessible, and require to be digested in the cheap and popular form of a convenient hand-book. For the benefit of those who have but little knowledge in geology, some general information is given on the origin of coal-beds, and their place among the rocky strata, which is applicable to all the coal-regions. Besides the special descriptions of the coal-resources of each State, there is a chapter on the iron-ores of the coal-measures, one on the combustion of coal, and one giving the latest statistics of coal-mines in the United States and in foreign countries. There is also a very valuable chapter on the conditions of success in the coal-trade. The volume is enriched by a contribution from Prof. Newberry on the coal-strata of Ohio, and the author acknowledges important assistance from Profs. Cox, Worthen, White, and Foster. Mr. Macfarlane's work is altogether of a very practical character, and will form an instructive contribution to the literature of the subject.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. By James Fitzjames Stephen, Q. C. Holt & Williams.

This is a refreshing book, and is bound to set a good many people thinking. Its contents appeared as a series of anonymous essays in the Pall Mall Gazette, and attracted much attention by the forcible manner in which they were written, and the boldness and ability with which they challenged the "liberal tendencies" of English thought. The author takes Mr. Mill as the representative and authoritative expositor of these tendencies, and subjects several of his works to a merciless dissection. Acknowledging his indebtedness to Mr. Mill as the author of the "Logic" and the "Political Economy," he utterly repudiates the doctrines advocated in the "Liberty" and the "Subjection of Woman." The readers of The Popular Science Monthlyhave had a sample of his method in the article on the "Equality of the Sexes," in the March number, in which he criticised Mr. Mill's main positions upon this subject. In the other essays he takes up the prevailing democratic tendencies as embodied in the phrase "liberty, equality, and fraternity," and deals with them in the same unsparing manner. His book is a plea for social restraints, and a protest against those interpretations of liberty which would make it consist in exemption from restraining agencies. Mr. Stephen exercises the largest liberty of criticism, and writes with the fire of a partisan; but his book abounds with fresh and pregnant suggestions, and its wide circulation will exert a wholesome influence in this country

Caliban: The Missing Link. By Daniel Wilson, LL. D. New York: Macmillan & Co.

This volume is another added to the very considerable list of recent books designed to illustrate the omniscience of Shakespeare. Prof. Wilson thinks that he anticipated the modern doctrine of evolution, and in his character of Caliban has delineated the characteristics of the creature Mr. Darwin is in search of, namely, "the missing link between man and beast." The book abounds in extracts from Shakespeare's works, and ingenious interpretations of them, but is vague in its argument, and any thing but satisfactory in its conclusions.

The American Chemist: A Monthly Journal of Theoretical, Analytical, and Technical Chemistry. Edited by Charles F. Chandler, Ph. D., Professor of Analytical and Applied Chemistry in the School of Mines, Columbia College, New York, and Wm. H. Chandler, F. C. S., Professor of Chemistry in the Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa. Philadelphia: H. C. Lea.

We have before us vols. i. and ii. (new series) of this valuable monthly, and a careful examination of their contents leads us to recommend it very strongly to public attention. It is edited with skill and judgment, contains a large amount of important information nowhere else so accessible, and deserves a liberal and remunerative patronage. The great science of chemistry, we might almost say, is at the bottom of every everything that is going on in this world. It underlies agriculture; it is the basis of manufactures; it is the key to geology; meteorology depends upon it; it explains domestic processes; is the foundation of physiology and biology, and, moreover, astronomy has lately courted its alliance, and arrived at the most splendid results by its aid. Certainly a magazine which chronicles the progress of this most progressive of the sciences should have a vigorous support, while the reputation of its accomplished editors is the best guarantee of its trustworthy character.