Skip to main content

Why do Men have Nipples? – Mark Leyner & Billy Goldberg ****

Mystifyingly, the publisher has classified what is actually a totally brilliant popular science book (with just one proviso) as humour. The premise is simple, and summed up by the subtitle: “hundreds of questions you’d only ask your doctor after your third martini.” Those questions that get pressed on medical people after a few drinks at a party, of which the book’s title is just one example. These questions and answers are superb, and we’ll see a little more about them in a moment. But first let’s get that proviso out of the way.
The one thing that really lets this book down, is why it doesn’t have 5 stars, and is why the humour classification is so mystifying, is the authors’ vain attempts to be funny in between the answers to the questions. These come in two forms. A fictional party scenario, at which the various types of question might arise, and a series of exchanges between the authors using instant messaging, which are just as inane and boring as anyone else’s ramblings on instant messaging. Funny they certainly are not. Pathetic and juvenile they sadly are. After a few attempts to read them I just skipped those bits.
Luckily, what comes in between is well worth skipping the interludes for. The Leyner/Goldberg duo explore all those questions (a few more examples: “can you lose a contact lens inside your head for ever?” “Why do some people have an ‘outie’ belly button, and some an ‘innie’?”) with honesty, warmth and a lot of uncovering wrongly held beliefs. This particularly happens in a section called Old Wives Tales, which looks at all those irritating little saying people have the habit of saying wisely like “wait half an hour after eating before swimming”, or “did you know, someone once died after eating pop rocks with Coke?” Other sections to delight cover food, body oddities, alcohol, the bathroom, the movies and more. Very entertaining, and informative as well.
One warning – some parts of the content are unsuitable for younger readers, particularly the instant messaging. Overall, then, a great idea, with enjoyable but informative answers to the questions, let down a little by the juvenile, self-indulgent rubbish in between – but you can miss that out, and it’s worth it for the rest.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…