Skip to main content

1001 Inventions that Changed the World – Jack Challoner (Ed.) **

It is hard to envisage how to do better at making a book that has clearly involved a lot of work, and that contains lots of interesting information, yet at the same time is quite so useless.
This book derives from the series that started as things like 1001 Places to Visit before you Die or some such. That kind of application has a clear use – dip in, find somewhere to visit, visit it. But when you start applying it to inventions, it’s a bit different.
It’s all nicely laid out with some interesting illustrations, but if you try to sit down and read through it, you will very soon give up. It’s just so dull. It doesn’t help that the inventions are in date order, so by page 100 you have only reached the pulley (750 BC).
There are lots of wonderful inventions in here, everything from the stone axe to the Large Hadron Collider. And some pretty barmy things too. But why would you possibly want to read it? It’s impossible to read end to end (apart from anything else, it weighs a tonne), dipping in feels rather pointless, and if you want a reference it’s much easier to go online.
In fact that’s the answer really. This is the book equivalent of bringing out Coldplay’s latest track on a 78 rpm record. This is a website on paper, with none of the advantages of the online medium.
It’s frustrating. There really is lots of good material here that people have sweated over producing. But there’s no point to it.

Paperback 

Hardback 
Review by Jo Reed

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Bits to Bitcoin - Mark Stuart Day ***

When I saw the title of this book, I got all excited - at last we were going to get an explanation of bitcoin for the rest of us, who struggle to understand what the heck it really involves. There certainly is an explanation of bitcoin, but it comes in chapter 26 - in practice, the book contains far more. Almost every popular computer science title I've read has effectively been history of computer science - this is one of the first examples I've ever come across that is actually trying to make the 'science' part of computer science accessible to the general reader.

I don't mean by this that it's an equivalent of Programming for Dummies. Instead, Bits to Bitcoin takes the reader through the concepts lying behind programming. If we think of programming as engineering, this is the physics that the engineering depends on. This is a really interesting proposition. Many years ago, I was a professional programmer, but I never studied computer science, so I was only fa…

Through Two Doors at Once - Anil Ananthaswamy *****

It's sometimes hard to imagine that there's anything new to say about the basics of quantum physics, yet Anil Ananthaswamy manages this in a twofold manner (appropriately, given the title). Through Two Doors at Once does so by using the double slit experiment as a constant reference point throughout the book, and by bringing in a number of the more modern variants on the experiment which rarely feature in popular accounts of quantum theory.

Strictly, the book should probably be called 'Through Two Doors at Once and Spooky Action at a Distance plus Things That Have a Similar Effect', as it uses both the double slit experiment and the EPR entanglement thought experiment, plus modern experiments which don't, for example, involve slits but rather beam splitters that are their logical equivalent - but I have to admit, that would be a clumsy title.

Ananthaswamy gives us a good overview of the development of quantum physics - sometimes quite summary - but by making repea…

By the Pricking of Her Thumb (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

Sometimes a sequel betters the original - think Terminator 2 - and Adam Roberts has done this with his follow-up to The Real-Town Murders. (It's sensible to read the first book before this: while it's not essential, there are plenty of references you will miss otherwise.)

Ostensibly this is a murder mystery, or, as Roberts tells us, a combination of a howdunnit and a whodunnit-to, as the central character Alma is called on to work out how someone found with a needle stuck through her thumb was killed and which of a group of four super-rich individuals is dead when all claim to still be alive - though one of the group who hires Alma is convinced that the death has occurred. 

However, this is anything but a conventional murder mystery - far more so than the strange crimes suggest. Alma and her partner Marguerite (the latter still trapped by an engineered polyvalent illness that requires treatment every 4 hours and 4 minutes) don't do a lot of detecting. In fact Marguerite hard…