Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Just Another Day – Adam Hart-Davis ****

A couple of months ago I was writing an article about how to put science across for children, and commented that one of the ways to do so is to relate science to their everyday life. As if by magic, Adam Hart-Davis’s latest book Just Another Day, subtitled “the science and technology of our everyday lives,” does just that.
It’s a great concept. Hart-Davis takes us through his day, or rather an amalgam of all his days, and along the way uses each and every little detail, from his alarm clock and his homemade garden urinal to his bicycle and his interest in photography, to explore the many ways science and technology impacts life. Obviously not everyone has a life like Hart-Davis’s, but there is enough genuine everyday here to make a good impact.
As is often the case with Hart-Davis’s books, it is hard to tell if it is aimed at children or adults – arguably this is because he is appealing to that sense of wonder we all have (though it tends to be more deeply buried in the older reader). The book is largeish format and glossy, loaded with pictures and with text that is acceptable for an adult but won’t over-stretch the reading skills of an 11-year-old. As the only part of the Hart-Davis life that’s missing is what goes on in the bedroom, you might suspect it is for the younger audience. Going on the pricing, though, it is firmly aimed at adults.
The core freedom to jump around as inspiration hits the author is both the book’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It is wonderfully engaging to be able to flit off in half a dozen different directions in a page or two, but then spend several pages on the history and technology of shaving, something few of us have thought about. The word serendipity springs to mind. At its best, the book positively bubbles with ideas and enthusiasm. On the down side, this can sometimes lead to a disjointed text which becomes a list of expanded factoids without much of a thread. It’s interesting that Hart-Davis says he wrote a lot of the book in bits on train. Although he tells us this to demonstrate the wonders of modern portable computing, it also might have influenced that occasional lack of flow.
Because this is very much Hart-Davis’s “just another day”, there is a lot of the man in the book. If you have never come across him, Hart-Davis is a UK TV presenter, specializing in an eccentric exploration of history of technology. Even if you didn’t know him before, you will after reading this book. You will find out how he likes a cup of tea, why his shoes are different colours, what he has for breakfast, how he feels when he gives a presentation and much more. As Hart-Davis fits strongly into the marmite category – you either love him or hate him – this means that the four star recommendation is for Hart-Davis fans. Others might find this man, whose calculated naivety, over the top jollity and unusual clothes sense makes him reminiscent of a geriatric Noddy too irritating to enjoy what is without doubt a clever idea. Only you can tell.
Review by Brian Clegg

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