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How to Save the World with Salad Dressing – Thomas Byrne & Tom Cassidy ***

I first read this book as a manuscript to provide a puff for the cover. As my comment says ‘Brilliant! I couldn’t stop reading,’ it might seem hard to reconcile with three stars. In a sense both are true.
The book uses a frankly lame storyline to link a series of science-based problems where you have the opportunity to think through a problem (supposedly faced by the hero in the storyline) and then check with the answer, learning some science painlessly along the way. It starts with a brief science guide (well, mechanics really), then plunges you into the problems, where you take on Erik van Basten ‘the world’s foremost evil genius’ and ‘creator of the world’s most powerful criminal empire.’ Ho hum. The trouble with this kind of fictional approach is it’s fairly cheesy for children – if the book’s for adults, which I think it is, then it doesn’t work for me.
What is good, though, is the series of problems. These were the reason ‘I couldn’t stop reading’ – it’s very tempting, having worked through one, to go onto the next and the next. To give an example of the sort of problem (and the ‘humour’), at one point our hero is standing on a set of very sensitive scales and expels a ‘methane fart’ – we are asked to work out what happens to Ethan’s mass, his weight and the scale reading.
We then have to flip to the back to read the answer. I found this highly tedious with a total of 26 problems to deal with. Given you have to read the answer before moving on, it would have been so much easier if each answer followed the appropriate problem. Generally speaking the science is pretty good. The specific problem I mention they get wrong, but I pointed this out before publication and they have put in an explanatory note, though sadly the explanation doesn’t actually fix the error – but all the rest is fine.
There still might seem to be a bit of a variance between that ‘Brilliant!’ and my assessment. That is because what I actually said was Building a book around ingenious science challenges for the reader to solve is brilliant. I couldn’t stop reading – after each problem I had to move onto the next. Best of all it made me really think about basic physical principles, but never felt like a dull science lecture. All of which I still hold to be true. But sadly, the way the book delivers an excellent concept could be done better.
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Review by Brian Clegg

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