Skip to main content

Exploring the Universe – Brian Clegg ***

There are few subjects better suited to a picture book than the universe, and the latest title from www.popularscience.co.uk’s prolific editor proves this admirably.
When the title says ‘Exploring the Universe’ it might seem that this is a book about space travel, but Brian Clegg makes the important point that pretty well all of our exploration has been (and will continue to be into the foreseeable future) using light. The sheer scale of the universe means that nothing slower is practical – and only a vehicle that has been in use for billions of years like light will enable us to see far enough.
The pictures are great, and I was unusually comfortable with the format. All too often picture books are so big that they aren’t practical to sit and read, they are only suited to thumbing through on the proverbial coffee table. This one is big enough for the colour pictures to have impact, but compact enough to be readable.
That readability is necessary because unlike many picture books with their short, unconnected mini-articles, this book has a continual flow of text that picks up on Clegg’s experience as a popular science writer. The downside of this is that it’s not so much a dip-in book as a traditional picture book format, but I see that primarily as a good thing – the mini-article approach is much more suited to websites and apps than a good book.
This title isn’t going to tell you all you ever wanted to know about the universe, but it makes a great taster whether you are a younger reader coming to the area for the first time or an adult who wants a more pictorial overview. Compromises rarely deliver as well as they could, but this coalition between picture book and conventional non-fiction popular science title is a pleasant surprise.

Hardback 
Review by Jo Reed
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…