Monday, 4 August 2008

Middle World – Mark Haw ****

This is a classic case of judging a book by its cover. I have been putting off reviewing this book for ages, because, frankly it looks very dull and the title, sounding like a compromise between Tolkein and Middle England, is equally uninspiring. I should have followed the old adage, and not been too influenced by the cover, because it’s an excellent read.
In part it’s the subject. Mark Haw starts with Brownian motion and goes on to explore the nanoscale world of (mostly natural) objects too big to be quantum particles, but too small to be everyday macro world – they tend to be constantly in motion, buffeted around by the atoms that are hitting them, always in a random dance.
The two most interesting parts for me were getting some information about Robert Brown, who I’d come across but hadn’t really absorbed any details about, and the remarkable biological machines on this scale that make muscles work, do jobs in cells and much more. The way these make use of the random walk of the ‘middle world’ rather than fighting it is fascinating.
Mark Haw writes in a very approachable fashion – certainly without any of the problems many scientists writing on their topic have. If this book has any faults it’s that it is too short – very rarely a complaint from me, but it’s true here – and that he can try just a bit too hard to be a bit of lad and in touch, meaning that just occasionally we get the sort of sweeping generalization in a biographical/historical statement that’s typical of a cheap TV documentary – but that apart it’s excellent. It might be too late to recommend, but I hope it’s not – go for it, it’s excellent!
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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