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Between the lines
Dec 1, 2009
A round-up of the best books to put on your Christmas shopping list – or for someone else to buy for you
A few years ago there was a vogue for "worst-case scenario" survival guides, offering advice on how to live through catastrophes like faulty parachutes and bad dates. Reindeer With King Gustaf, in contrast, is a best-case scenario survival guide, with the arresting subtitle What To Expect When Your Spouse Wins the Nobel Prize. Written by Anita Laughlin, whose husband Robert shared the 1998 Nobel Prize for Physics, this slim volume is enormously entertaining despite its obviously limited practical use. Although the book begins with a hagiographic introduction that mainly reminds us why spouses make bad biographers, once the call from Stockholm arrives, Laughlin's story takes off. The immediate aftermath of laureatehood, it transpires, is an exhausting whirlwind of phone calls, photo opportunities, interviews and banquets. Then you fly to Stockholm, where the prize-giving ceremonies are held each December, and things get really hectic. Some of Laughlin's best anecdotes involve clothes; relatively unaccustomed to formal attire, she and her husband suddenly found themselves performing complex manoeuvres like bowing to the Swedish King Gustaf without suffering a "traumatic pant experience" (Robert) or napping without disturbing a hairdo containing 702 hairpins (Anita). Although a few stories carry a whiff of "maybe you had to be there", it would be impossible not to warm to an author who can write sentences like "A thoughtful and informative pantyhose discussion will follow in a subsequent chapter." Is it too much to hope for a companion book by a male physics spouse sometime this century?
2009 Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing £14.75/$24.00 hb 170pp
Copyright Institute of Physics (the “Institute”) and IOP Publishing 2009.
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