Skip to main content

Why Can’t Elephants Jump? – Mick O’ Hare (Ed.) ***

Here we go again with another collection of 114 questions (there’s a title to the next book: Why 114 Questions in these Books?) that first appeared in the ‘Last Word’ section of New Scientist magazine. The format is simple – readers write in with questions, other readers provide answers, the best of which are published. The books contain the question, selected good answers and sometimes editorial comment.
I loved the earlier Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?, and still got a lot out of the experiment-oriented How to Fossilize your Hamster. But I did comment in the Hamster review: ‘These books have been great but they aren’t really decent popular science books as they don’t have any narrative flow. The approach has been milked to death now – let’s see something different.’ I unfortunately did get a sense of diminishing returns this time around. Enough, already.
I’m not saying that some of the questions and answers weren’t good. I quite enjoyed, for instance, the title question, which was actually significantly better than the title of the book as ‘Is it true that elephants are the only quadrupeds that cannot jump’. I liked the attempt to work out how long it would take the Earth to freeze if the Sun went out, ‘Is it possible to be too cold to light a fire?’ and ‘Do mosquitoes get malaria?’ But I still had a slight feeling that the barrel was being scraped with many of the items, and increasingly found the replies irritating in their know-it-all way.
Don’t get me wrong, this remains an excellent present for those difficult-to-buy-for people (not for me, thanks, I’ve already got one. And it’s definitely interesting if you haven’t got the previous books (though if you haven’t, I’d go for Penguins’ Feet), but I couldn’t get as excited about this title as the earlier entries in the series.
Paperback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…

The Science of Food - Marty Jopson ****

This is a tasty little volume, packed with kitchen-based science. I must admit, when I saw that the author was the One Show's science expert and Marty Jopson's author photo has that 'Hey, I'm a mad scientist, kids!' look, my heart fell - I was sure the book would be the written equivalent of a 'Wow, look, aren't I clever, I can make this go bang!' science show - but, in fact, it's packed full of (appropriately) meaty scientific content.

I was really pleased that Jopson didn't stick purely to the chemistry of cooking, but launched with the working of some familiar kitchen gadgets - there was genuinely fascinating reading to be had about apparently humdrum equipment in the form of the physics and materials science of a knife and chopping board. And Jopson took us into industrial kitchens too, to reveal, for example, the remarkable process required to make puffed wheat.

Inevitably, the chemistry of cooking - how, for example, proteins denature and em…