Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Air: the excellent canopy – Frank Fahy ***

Considering how important it is to us, air has had relatively little coverage in popular science. Frank Fahy’s slim book aims to set that right, exploring every aspect of this essential medium.
We begin with the nature and basic physical properties of air, going on to look at how it supports life. From there we come onto a meaty section on aerodynamics and flight, providing the most comprehensive description of all the components that go into making flight possible I’ve ever seen in a book for the general reader. We also discover a lot about sound and about meteorology, where air and its flows are responsible for vast swathes of the weather phenomena we experience. There’s even room to look at some air-based technology, notably wind instruments and pneumatics.
Along the way there are a lot of useful diagrams and photographs. These are not always particularly well reproduced – often a problem with inline printing of photographs – and I believe that an attempt is being made to improve them. Even as they are, they contribute hugely to the understanding of the information that is being put across.
There’s certainly plenty covered, despite the book’s thinness. In part this is because the text is crammed in – there’s very little white space, making it a little difficult to read. Unfortunately there are quite a few typos as well – for example the section on why the sky is blue refers to the particles of light more than once as ‘protons’. The author clearly knows better, but this kind of error can leave the reader a little confused.
The book also doesn’t quite come across as being for the general reader. In part this is pricing – £20 for a slim paperback is not mass market – and in part the way the book is written. It is in numbered sections, more reminiscent of a textbook than a popular science title, and concentrates on putting across fact, which is fine, but lacks a certain storytelling flair. This is an interesting book, with a lot crammed into it, but it is unlikely to escape from a specialist niche.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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