There was an old shelf and a stout table placed out in the third floor corridor of my department last Tuesday. They carried, in various stages of disarray, about a hundred books, most of them user-manuals for outdated software packages and programming languages. As messy as our labs are on the inside, the corridors and public areas are almost surgically clean, so I felt a moment’s irritation at the grads who had hauled out their old stuff. On the shelf was a note “Free”. And then “The shelf too. Take it!”. As is probably well known, all graduate students have one thing in common. They invariably gravitate towards free stuff – and so I looked. That was how I found two very faded blue hard bound books: Isaac Asimov’s The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science. Vol.1: The Physical Sciences, and Vol. 2: The Biological Sciences. I had never heard of the books before (Obvious conclusion – I am not an intelligent man :-)) , but given Asimov’s popularity, my guess is that many people might have read them in their high-school days.
I do not think I will read the work in its entirety – at any rate, not at one stretch – but will probably return often to consume isolated chapters in an arbitrary way. Two nights ago, before reading two lines of the introduction by George Beadle, I succumbed to a bout of sneezing. It didn’t look very dusty and I am usually immune to dust allergies, but that was the end of that. Last night, the experiment was found to be repeatable, i.e., more sneezing ;). This means that, before I can begin to read the volumes, I will have to thoroughly rid them of all the invisible dust they have accumulated over goodness knows how many years. Vigorously shaking and patting them for a few minutes does not do the trick.