From Materials to Life

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Technically, the full title of this book is “20th Century Science History Conversion and Japan: From “Materials” to “Life'”. But, that’s a bit long. According to the Otono no Kagaku magazine page, this is a collection of the science history articles that had originally appeared in the previous kit mooks. The collection was published on Nov. 5, 2009, 208 pages, with a 1,890 yen ($23 USD) cover price. It’s still in print, but I’m not sure for how much longer.

After I wrote up the What’s Still in Stock entry, I decided to go back to the kits list and add every single product that I could find links for on the Otona no Kagaku site. When I got to the Materials to Life book, I started thinking that maybe the local bookstores might have this one in a separate location from the kits. So I went back to Kinokuniya and tried using their online look-up terminal. Typing in “Gakken” in English brought up 300 hits and a demand to restrict the search more. I tried “Otona no Kagaku” in Japanese, but within the 80 hits, there was no mention of this book. After messing around with the terminal a little more and physically sorting through the science shelves, I went to Junku. There, the terminal was harder to figure out (confusing menus), but the “Gakken” search did include Materials to Life in the 300 hits, as well as the Korg DS and Rocket and Space Exploration mooks. Better yet, I was able to print out a map showing the rough location of each book in the store. However, I couldn’t find Materials to Life on the General Science shelves myself and I needed a clerk to help me. A few minutes later, I was walking out the store with it under my arm (the book, not the clerk). The point being that there are certain older products that are just the mook, without the kit, and if they’re still in stock, they’ve been included in with the general science books, making them harder to find.

(Sample page including text. Terahiko Terada second from left.)

Materials to Science, as mentioned above, is a collection of western science history articles and how they related to Japan in the first half of the 1900’s. It’s largely a mix of old photos, and Japanese text talking about science during certain time frames. As a way to help describe the settings of the time, there are also lots of movie posters in each section (Bridge Over the River Kwai, Godzilla, The Third Man, etc.) If you can’t read Japanese, you can get most of this information off of wikipedia. But, the photos are golden, and well worth the price of the book. There’s no manga this time, and no suggestions for things to build. In a way, it’s kind of a balance, in that the more recent numbered mook kits (like the Denshi Blocks, or the Ornithopter) haven’t had the random modern science articles that used to appear in the older mooks, but all of those previous mook kits are now out of print. So, if you’re buying the newer kits now, you can still get the Materials to Life book and read the stories whenever you feel like it.

The section titles are:
1922: Japan and Europe at a Distance from Each Other
1937: Yoshio Nishina and Neils Bohr
1941: The Legend of Steel
1942-1943: Life Debate in Wartime
1945: The Last Secret Weapon
Dawn Over the Pacific Ocean: End of the War in Tokyo, Sydney and California
Tokyo in Ruins: Descartes’s Dialog
1951: Naples’ Thread of Life
1953: The Double Helix Descends on the Golden Gate Bridge
Life Computer Information Science and 21st Century Japan

The photos include Einstein, Watson and Crick, Neils Bohr, Schrodinger, Oppenheimer, Alan Turning, Max Plank and many, many others others (plus our own Terahiko Terada). Quite a few of these people visited Japan, which is where the bulk of the photos were taken.

(Lots of pictures from WW II. Here we have a museum example of Purple, the code name for the encryption machine the Japanese used during the war. It’s based on the German Enigma, but used fewer encoders and therefore was easier to break. The British targeted cracking Enigma, while the U.S. went after Purple (and were responsible for the choice of names for the machine).)

Materials to Life is highly recommended.

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