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Showing posts from December, 2005

Q&A: Cosmic Conundrums and Everyday Mysteries of Science – Robert Matthews *****

This is a little cracker – not what you’d call heavy duty popular science, but a wonderful bit of light reading that throws in some genuinely fascinating facts. This is what you could call Last Word Lite. New Scientist magazine has for a number of years had a Last Word page at the back where individuals write in with questions and readers come up with sensible answers. (Though they’ve always resisted our half-humorous question, if black is defined by a lack of reflection of any colour, what colour is shiny black.) The trouble with Last Word is that the answers tend to be a touch tedious, not generally being written by professional writers, and can be over-technical. Robert Matthews does the same job, but his responses are pithy, light and enjoyable. The book is divided into a number of sections, but to be honest they don’t make much difference. Each is just packed with those sort of questions that we all ask ourselves, but lacking the straightforwardness of children, we don’t actually…

The Little Book of Scientific Principles, Theories & Things – Surendra Verma *****

This is an absolutely delightful little book. (I say “little” largely because that’s what the title says. It’s as wide as any normal paperback, and not overly slim at 222 pages. It’s just a little vertically challenged. The idea is simple, but effective. It contains 175 theories or key principles in science. Each gets one (or occasionally two) pages, stating what it is and giving some background. Put as bluntly as that, it doesn’t sound very exciting – but Surendra Verma makes each little section a vignette that brightly illuminates both the idea itself and the people who were responsible for it. We get little glimpses into people’s lives – it’s an entertaining scientific peepshow that works wonderfully well. At first sight, some of the entries are a bit scary. Unlike Stephen Hawking, Verma takes no notice of the infamous advice that every equation halves the numbers of readers. The introduction to each section, which says what the principle is before going on to put it in context an…