Musings: Here are some reasons why it makes no sense that I picked up this book:
1. I know pretty much nothing about the aurora borealis. Pretty lights in the sky, right? And I've never really wondered.
2. I hate physics. I took astronomy in college (lab science requirement), which was a gigantic mistake. I couldn't even find the frickin' moon in my telescope.
3. I know nothing about Norway. It's cold, right? And, uh, they ski? Uh...
Like many authors of popular nonfiction pieces today, Jago delivers The Northern Lights in a narrative style which kept a relatively brisk pace but, for me, lacked intimate details and connections to the people. Jago uses very few direct quotes from primary sources, and because of this, it's difficult to know what in the book is "fact" and what is artistic hypothesis. Obviously she did extensive research, and there's a bibliography at the end, but her general omission of Birkeland's and others' direct voices created some distrust and alienation in me. For this reason, I found her book much less compelling than the last biography I read, David Grann's The Lost City of Z, which succeeded in weaving primary sources and a narrative structure together.
Because I was completely unfamiliar with all of the content of The Northern Lights, I learned quite a bit by reading the book, even though it was not an "enjoyable" read. Considering Birkeland's greatest scientific contributions were on the aurora borealis, it would have been helpful for Jago to include some color photos of the spectacular phenomenon. Nonetheless, I would certainly recommend the book to people interested in science and the scientists who pursue research at all costs.
***This book qualifies for the TwentyTen Reading Challenge ("Up to You!" category).