Skip to main content

Science in Seconds – Hazel Muir ***

I don’t know why it is, but publishers seem to love books that give you a whole host of bite-sized information on a subject. I can’t help but feel it’s a bit of a dinosaur as far as book styles go, because this is the kind of thing that the internet does so well. Books are better for narrative flow – no one wants to read 80,000 words from a web page – but if you just want a bite-sized intro to a subject, then the web is your oyster.
With that in mind, I really have nothing against Hazel Muir’s Science in Seconds. It is a well written collection of very short articles on all sorts of aspects of science. They are so short they tend to be more statement of facts than interesting stories, but they do the job well enough, with passable illustrations in a strange almost square pocket-sized shape. But I am stretched to see the point of it.
There are a couple of small moans. Inevitably when trying to cover all of science, some good bits will be missed out and others questioned – it’s the case with any ‘best of’ list. Interesting though hard drives, flash memory and optical storage are, I really don’t think they qualify to rank alongside the big bang, quantum theory and evolution. And if I’m going to be picky, there were a couple of small errors. The explanation of a how a plane’s wing generates lift is wrong in ascribing it primarily to the Bernoulli effect, and a piece on the planets tell us there are 8 in the text, but show 9 in the diagram – but mostly the content is absolutely fine, concise and factful. It’s just I keep coming back to ‘What’s the point’?
The press release tells us it is a ‘compact and portable format – a handy reference, ideal for students’. But would a student really buy this as a reference? It has far too little detail to help with a science course. And anyone with a smartphone can access much more detailed references at the touch of a button in an even better ‘compact and portable’ format. I feel like a real grouch here. Just call me Oscar. I genuinely think that Muir has done an excellent job. But to what end?
For those who like a bit of publishing speculation, it’s interesting that when I searched for the book on Amazon, this book came up – what appears to be exactly the same book, but written by a different author. What happened there, then?

Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…