Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/April 1896/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


We often see allusions to the triumphs of the inventor, and descriptions of single achievements are constantly being presented by the periodical press, but it is a long time since a goodly number of them have been brought together systematically as in the volume now before us.[1] The author has undertaken to present in popular language the chief results obtained within recent years by the arts of engineering and mechanics, together with suggestions as to what the future may bring forth, these suggestions being based upon the lines of research on which great minds are known to be pushing forward. When one stops to enumerate the notable inventions which the average city dweller makes use of in his daily life, a feeling of wonder at their array can not be repressed. On his breakfast table is sugar which has been extracted and purified by machinery; if it is warm weather, perhaps some of his food has been kept overnight by machine-made ice; either during or after the meal he reads a newspaper that may have been put in type and was certainly stereotyped and printed by machinery; he sees by a watch whose parts have been turned but by delicate machines that it is time to take a car propelled by a machine in a power house several miles away or by a storage battery and ride to the towering steel structure in which his office is. If he is a suburban dweller, he may cross a bridge of imposing span, and wish for the time when flying machines are practicable enough to shorten his journey. He ascends by an electric elevator to the tenth or twentieth story of the office building, which is perhaps partly lighted through glass containing wire netting. His business involves the sending and receiving of many telegrams which are printed by the receiving instruments. He goes home in the afternoon early enough to take a spin on his stanch nineteen-pound bicycle, or a trial ride with the agent of a motor carriage, or a sail in his electric launch; for a submarine boat he does not yearn. In the evening he reads his magazine, illustrated with photo-engravings, by light from electricity, or from enriched coal gas in an improved burner, or possibly from the product of the oil well. Other inventions, with which he does not come into immediate contact, prepare articles for his use or aid in transporting them to him. Among these may be mentioned mining, ore-concentrating, and coal-handling machinery, the steel converter, the spectroscope, the testing machine, various machine tools, compressed-air mechanisms, the plant utilizing power from Niagara, tunnels, canals, and the ocean steamer. All these and more are described in Mr. Cochrane's book, and the author is quite resigned to the idea of a reader of some future generation smiling at the smallness of the achievements which, he is ahle to chronicle at the end of the nineteenth century. The volume is well illustrated and printed, but lacks an index.

As "down East" recedes before him who journeys toward the rising, so does "out West" elude him who follows the setting-sun. The district long-known as the West is east of the present geographical center of the United States, and the name must now be applied to a region far beyond. In order to preserve a knowledge of the real West a series of books under the general title of The Story of the West has been planned by Mr. Ripley Hitchcock, which will present the typical characters who made the life of this wonderful region what it was. It is fairly safe now to locate the West, for the Pacific Ocean forms a barrier which it can not pass. Eastward Mr. Hitchcock places its limit at the Missouri River. The first book of the series is devoted to the aboriginal inhabitant.[2] Its prime object is to show to the reader the Indian's daily life. As the editor of the series truly says: "Mr. Grinnell takes us directly to the camp fire and the council. He shows the Indian as a man subject to like passions and infirmities with ourselves. He shows us how the Indian wooed and fought, how he hunted and prayed, how he ate and slept in short, we are admitted to the real life of the red man, and as we learn to know him we discard two familiar images: the red man of the would-be philanthropic sentimentalist, and the raw-head-and-bloody -bones figure that has whooped through so many pages of fiction." Mr. Grinnell's style is far removed from that of the dry-as-dust piler-up of facts. For vividness and movement his book is well termed a "story," but it gives a much more realizing sense of the Indian's ways than half a dozen tales of Indian adventure of equal length. Thus, in telling about the Indian 's recreations, it describes the scene in and about a camp on a day when no serious work is in hand, giving the amusements of the men, the women, the boys, and the younger children, even down to the mischief of whacking the sleeping dogs. In telling of his war customs. Left Hand or Four Bears is followed upon the trail, and tales of battle told to the author by Indians are freely used. The same method is followed in describing the red man's home life, modes of subsistence, marriage customs, hunting, religion, etc. There is also an interesting chapter showing how the Indians were impressed by the coming of the white man, and in an appendix the distribution of the Indian tribes of North America is set forth. It will thus be seen that the book has no small anthropological value. The volume is fully illustrated and is attractively printed and bound. Future volumes in the same series may be expected to depict the life of the explorer, the soldier, the miner, the trapper, the cowboy, and perhaps other characteristic western types.

Mr. Percival Lowell, who once told us about An Unexplored Corner of Japan, now has something to tell about a still less explored region. He has been making a polar expedition and other explorations on Mars,[3] not quite at the usual long range, for his observations were made during ten months of 1894 and 1895, which included the time of the latest opposition of the planet. These observations were made from the Lowell Observatory, which was established at Flagstaff, Ariz., and Prof. W. H. Pickering and Mr. A. E. Douglass were associated with Mr. Lowell in making them. In this book Mr. Lowell gives first the general appearance of Mars, its size, orbit, etc. From measurements made at Flagstaff, the diameter of the planet was determined as 4,215 miles, and its polar flattening as 1/190 of its equatorial diameter. The presence of an atmosphere is well established, and good fortune enabled measurements of it to be obtained. It appears that the atmosphere is thinner by half than the air upon the summit of the Himalayas, and in constitution does not differ greatly from our own. The ice cap about the south pole gradually dwindled away as the Martian summer advanced, and finally disappeared altogether. This was the occurrence—the first on record—which enabled the planet's atmosphere to be measured, and which gave additional information as to the presence and distribution of water upon its surface. Mr. Lowell gives us a notably full exposition of areography, or the geography of Mars, based upon a series of twelve views made by him, and reproduced in the book, which together represent the whole surface of the planet visible on the first of August. He describes its continents and peninsulas, its seas and gulfs, and especially its famous canals, which make Mars a very Holland of planets. These straight or evenly curved lines he deems it very probable are irrigating ditches, made to control the water from the annual melting of the polar ice caps, for there seems to be no other way of distributing the planet's scanty supply of moisture. Various other features of the present and probable future condition of Mars are set forth in this attractive volume. At the end we have a map of its whole surface on the Mercator projection, followed by a list of areographic names and a general index.

The second volume of Messrs. Groves and Thorp's Chemical Technology[4] consists of chapters by various authors on the fats and oils used for illuminating, and on the lamps in which these substances are burned. The first section, in which the animal and vegetable illuminating substances are described, and the modes of testing them are given, is by William Y. Dent. The attitude of the uncultivated Britisher toward the United States is unpleasantly evident in several of this writer's remarks about American products. The methods and apparatus employed in the extraction of stearin from various fats, and for distilling and pressing it, are described by John McArthur. His text is accompanied with figures of the autoclaves of de Milly, Morane, and Droux, the apparatus of Tilghman, Hugues, and Michel for the decomposition of fats by water, two forms for the distillation of fatty acids, a hydraulic press for cold pressing, and one for hot pressing. L. Field and F. A. Field describe the making of candles from the material thus prepared, giving many illustrations of the machines employed in the industry. The largest contribution to the volume is made by Boverton Redwood, who furnishes the sections on petroleum and lamps, and, in conjunction with D. A. Louis, that on miners' safety lamps. Mr. Redwood gives brief accounts of the rise of the petroleum industry in the United States, Russia, and other countries, and describes at some length the methods of drilling and operating wells in the United States, with notes on the practice followed elsewhere. The American and the Russian methods of refining petroleum, the distilling of shale oil, which is an important industry in Scotland, and the manufacture of paraffin, are then described. All these accounts are fully illustrated by figures of apparatus, and many tables of production, analyses, etc., are given. In this section there is an interesting sketch of ozokerite mining in Galicia. Mr. Redwood's chapters on lamps are of much popular as well as technical interest. His treatment is largely historical, a few lamps of the ancients being included, and the dates and numbers of the patents issued for the modern forms being given. Sponge lamps, blast lamps, and lamps for railroad cars and ships are described, as well as the more familiar forms. In this section something about the making of oil gas and air gas is also told. The subject of miners' safety lamps is treated in much the same way. These two sections contain over two hundred of the three hundred and fifty-eight figures in the volume. Gas and electric lighting are left for the next volume of the series.

  1. The Wonders of Modern Mechanism. By Charles Henry Cochrane. Pp. 402, 8vo. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company. Price, $2.
  2. The Story of the Indian. By George Bird Grinnell. Pp. 270, 8vo. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Price, $1.50.
  3. Mars. By Percival Lowell. Pp. 228, 8vo. Boston: Houghton, Mifllin & Co. Price, $2.50.
  4. Chemical Technology. Edited by Charles Edward Groves and William Thorp. Volume II, Lighting. Pp. 398, large 8vo. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston, Son & Co. Price, $4.