Skip to main content

Hubble: Window on the Universe – Giles Sparrow ****

The Hubble space telescope has provided a massive step forward in producing images of everything from planets to distant galaxies – and this is a massive picture book, detailing Hubble’s achievements and rather a lot more. We’re talking genuinely massive here: at 37cm x 30, this isn’t so much a coffee table book as a book you could make a coffee table out of.
In a way, the title of the book is too confining for what’s actually in it. A lot of the content is from or about the Hubble telescope, but there are also images from a range of other telescopes and probes. We begin with a brief introduction to the telescope itself, then set out on a voyage across the solar system (this is where we particularly get images from other probes, such as the Mars landers). This continues to expand, taking in stars, the stunning photographs of nebulae and galaxies we have come to associate with Hubble, and finally the universe as a whole. Along the way we see how the different missions to maintain the telescope have changed things, including the first big fix to the misshaped mirror that turned images from fuzzy to crystal clear.
It’s hard to fault the photos – they are superb, and of course having that much page space means some can be presented in a truly grand fashion. The double page spread of the Crab Nebula, for example, is stunning. The text is fine, if a little summary sometimes. However, given its size and weight, I don’t think many people could be bothered to try to read this book from cover to cover. It genuinely is a popular science coffee table book, to flick through and pause in wonder at a randomly selected page – but none the worse for that.
We have a lot of books come through the office – most of them don’t stay too long, but I’ve a feeling this is one we won’t be saying goodbye to. It’s going to stay.
(Note cover has been redesigned since the one shown)
Hardback:  
Review by Jo Reed

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…

Bodyology - Mosaic Science ****

It's a good sign when you pick up a book intending to read one chapter and end up reading three. It's very moreish. This is because it's made up of short, self-contained articles, originally published on a website. Often an edited collection of articles by different authors suggests a boring read, but here the articles are good pieces of journalism with plenty to interest the reader.

The topics are all vaguely human body related, but thankfully not all medical (not my favourite subject) - so, for example, as well as stories of a person cured of Lyme disease by bee stings or a piece on miscarriages we get topics like the effects on the body of being struck by lightning or falling from a high place. Even some more explicitly health-related matters, such as the impact of losing your sense of smell, were engaging enough to get me past my medical squeamishness.

The only reason I can't give the collection five stars is because of one aspect of the writing style that runs throu…