I have recently been going through the somewhat unnerving experience of re-reading my own book. There are good reasons for this, to do with writing something that closely relates to work that I completed more years ago than I care to remember. The book came out of my PhD dissertation and it is a sobering experience to see how much research, detail and sheer blooming time I could command back then. The question, naggingly, creeps up on me: will I ever manage to do something like this again?
This is not to say that I think it is a fantastic piece of work – I keep spotting niggly mistakes and am still only too aware of bits that I was unsure of at the time – just that the graduate student years are an unrepeatable experience. Days, weeks, months and years of time are at your disposal to focus on the topic at hand, and to spend, speculatively, in the archive. At present, archival work is a rare treat for me, and I rarely manage more than a day at a time. Of course, the graduate work remains a base that you can build on. Not only is there one area that you really do know about, but there are so many ideas, scraps and topics that couldn’t be squeezed into the thesis, that you have something left over to play with afterwards. It will, though, take a really good grant and nice long sabbaticle to contruct another base like this again.
To lift me from this somewhat melancholic mood, this seems a good idea to take the opportunity to point to the lovely, positive reception I got on joining Whewell’s Ghost and entering the blogosphere. No less that two people read my book! Firstly, my fellow-WGer, Thony Christie, wrote a very generous review over on Renaissance Mathematicus. Secondly, WG commenter Roberto Pimentel introduced the book to his department, creating a Prezi for the occasion. This version he translated for me, which, as with Thony’s review – more, perhaps, than the other journal reviews I received at the time – shows what he got out of the book. It is a fascinating thing for the writer to see, and there is something about the structure of a Prezi (which was new to me) that suggests a coherence that would have been a fine thing for me to have been able to foresee when I was in the middle of 2nd-year PhD blues.
Many belated thanks to Thony and Beto for getting hold of the book, getting through it and letting me know something of their response (they are undoubtedly too nice to have published *all* their thoughts…). As is probably clear from this, my feeling toward it is a mixture of pride, something like embarrasment and even a little fearfulness and sorrow. Something, in fact, akin to the feelings one has about real offspring. In the end, the slowish publication of the book (three years post-PhD) and the rather hasty arrival of my son (nearly two months premature) meant that they were both brought into the world in the very same month.
The last words here, though, will go to Augustus De Morgan, who features in my book. In his Arithmetical Books from the Invention of Printing to the Present Time (1847), he wrote:
The most worthless book of a bygone day is a record worthy of preservation. Like a telescopic star, its obscurity may render it unavailable for most purposes; but it serves, in hands which know how to use it, to determine the places of more important bodies.
 There is one other review that is freely available on the internet, which I greatly appreciated for its detail and a lucidity that much outclassed the book. This is by Adelene Buckland on the British Society for Science and Literature website.