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Reading between the lines

  • from Shaastra :: vol 01 issue 03 :: May - Jun 2022
The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts By Silvia Ferrara Translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz; Published by Picador; 292 pages; ₹1,975

An introduction to how writing systems are born, spread, go into disuse, and are deciphered.

In recent decades, general science non-fiction in India and abroad has seen many exemplary titles. For the most part, these achieve clarity and comprehensiveness by adopting an interdisciplinary view. They tap into, for instance, research in genetics to tell us how a journey through ages and geographies wrought present-day Indians (Early Indians by Tony Joseph); they deploy references from works of imaginative writing, public health research and ground reportage to map out the state of tuberculosis and its effect on society (Phantom Plague by Vidya Krishnan, see review on Death in the air); and they harvest research on economics, public policy and writing on current affairs to map the effects of and suggest solutions for a situation "worse than what was faced during the Second World War" (Indian Economy's Greatest Crisis: Impact of Coronavirus and the Road Ahead by Arun Kumar).

These are just three recent examples. The brevity of this list belabours the larger point that any list of generalist science writing could be indicative, given that such books are now plenty, and many are good. They square up to a challenge for the science communicator: making the abstruse accessible while retaining fact and nuance. It's a challenge writers are cracking, and with flair.

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