The Grand Contraption: The World as Myth, Number, and Chance - David Allen Park
David Park, in my opinion, does quite a good job of elucidating the thinking behind pre-modern ideas of the nature and purpose of the world. His several-times-reiterated point that myths were stories, and that smart people didn't think they literally described what the world was made of, is a good one -- most brief accounts of myth don't bother to get deep into metaphorical thinking. He also thinks that it is still possible for smart people to hold mythical and factual ideas of the cosmos simultaneously; it is literalists who are guilty of a confusion of categories. I would agree, except that few people are determined to examine the assumptions behind their own myths.

"In the days of Plato and the ages before him, it was proper to explain the universe with myths like Love and Hate, which were supposed to contain truth even if they did not represent an actual state of affairs. A generation later Aristotle and his students, digging after facts, stored myth on the shelf labeled Uplifting Literary Entertainment and looked for explanations connecting what is seen and verifiable with fundamental principles of nature."

It is unfortunate that Park's account of the history of life on Earth is not very good -- it is apparent that he has not spent much time listening carefully to biologists, and doesn't think it very important to do so. But I don't blame him too much -- there are certainly physicists who do much worse than he did.

All in all, a memorable book.