James Dewar, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, and the quest for liquified hydrogen and helium. Come for the superfluidity, stay for the Supreme Court of the Netherlands decisions and multiple lab assistants losing eyes in explosions.
"During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Dr. Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five-foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. Publisher P. F. Collier and Son loved the idea and asked Eliot to compile and edit the right collection of works. The result: a 51-volume series of classic works from world literature published in 1909 called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, which would later be called The Harvard Classics." (Via) [more inside]
Edison's Conquest of Mars! Garrett P. Serviss' unofficial, 1898 sequel to War of the Worlds, featuring Thomas Edison and Lord Kelvin as the heroes. It seems this book originated the space battle and the ray-gun, not to mention the aliens-built-the-pyramids plot. Sounds like a blast.