Skip to main content

Armageddon Science – Brian Clegg ***

Initially, I thought that this book might be a lot like one I read a long time ago: Isaac Asimov’s Choice of Catastrophes. However, although Asimov and Clegg overlap very slightly – for example, when Asimov looks at infectious diseases and atomic bombs – Clegg’s whole focus is on how man could bring about the destruction of himself, rather than on how the Earth itself could meet its end. For example, one of Clegg’s most compelling and worrying chapters focuses on how we’re all doing our part to bring about climate change (the term Global Warming was first coined half a dozen years after Asmiov’s book appeared); whilst another looks at information meltdown (Asimov died a year or so before the Internet and the World Wide Web started in any real sense).
There’s another link to Asimov though: A good writer must also be a good investigator – and Clegg is a very good writer – and that’s what is so persuasive about this book: it’s meticulously researched, requiring painstaking inquiry, analysis and detective work, and it’s in Clegg’s metadata, asides, interpositions, excursions – call them what you will – where he adds so much more (and with apparent ease). For example, do you know why the Japanese threw porcelain pots out of their aircraft, or why anti-atoms won’t stay put?
Despite its rather depressing subject matter, I loved this book; and I’m sure you will too.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Review by Peet Morris
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ancestral Night (SF) - Elizabeth Bear *****

Only a couple of weeks ago, reviewing a 1960s SF book, I bemoaned the fact that science fiction novels of ideas are less common now. Although it is correctly labelled a space opera, Ancestral Night delivers ideas with aplomb.

Let's deal with the space opera aspect first. Elizabeth Bear provides some excellent adventure scenes in space, and we've the usual mix of huge spaceships and interesting aliens. Main character Haimey Dz is an engineer on a ship that salvages wrecks - but, as we gradually discover - she also has a forgotten past. A major feature of the storyline (one that seems to link to the medieval idea of the lost wisdom of the past) is ancient technology from a long-dead race with capabilities, notably manipulating spacetime mentally (Bear has yet to point out that the travel technologies used here could manipulate time as well as space), which fit well with Arthur C. Clarke's magic definition.

I particularly liked the (surely intentional) nods to the much-misse…

The Creativity Code - Marcus du Sautoy *****

At first glance this might just be another 'What AI is good at and not so good at' title. And in a way, it is. But, wow, what a brilliant book! Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a tour of what artificial intelligence has achieved (and possibly can in the future achieve) in a range of fields from his own of mathematics, through game playing, music, art and more.

After a little discussion of what creativity is, we start off with the now very familiar story of DeepMind's AlphaGo and its astonishing ability to take on the hugely challenging game of Go. Even though I've read about this many times before, du Sautoy, as a Go player and mathematician, gives a real feel for why this was such a triumph - and so shocking. Not surprisingly he is also wonderful on what mathematicians actually do, how computers have helped them to date and how they have the potential to do far more in the future. After all, mathematics is by far the closest science to game playing, as it has strict rule…

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…