Skip to main content

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.

Paperback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Drive a Nuclear Reactor - Colin Tucker ****

How To Drive A Nuclear Reactor does exactly what it says on the tin. The book is a general overview of nuclear reactors. From the basic principles that make them work through to what buttons to press in what order (and of course how and why they can go wrong).Nuclear power could be a good step on the path to a greener energy future, but there is a lot of understandable fear. This book can give some idea of what an incredible feat of both science and engineering one of these machines is and, hopefully, make anyone reading it feel far more comfortable about them.The book presents information about everything, almost down to the literal nuts and bolts, giving you a near complete understanding of how a nuclear works. From putting in the fuel to getting out the power and down from the control panel to the construction material. Everything you could ever want to know is here. By the end you'll likely feel ready to walk into a control room and get started (do not try doing this, nuclear …

Being Mortal - Atul Gawande ****

I heard recently that the local geriatric ward puts a photograph of the patient in his or her prime by each bed. The aim is to help staff to treat their patients as individuals, but it makes me uneasy. Do these people only matter because of what they were, not what they are? Because once they stood proud and handsome in their uniform, or looked lovely on their wedding day?

Professor Atul Gawande has the problem surgically excised and laid out for inspection in one of his unflinching but compassionate case studies:

‘What bothered Shelley was how little curiosity the staff members seemed to have about what Lou cared about in his life and what he had been forced to forfeit... They might have called the service they provided assisted living, but no-one seemed to think it was their job to actually assist him with living – to figure out how to sustain the connection and joys that most mattered to him.’

Gawande is an eminent surgeon. As a young resident he displayed little overt emotion when hi…

Twenty Worlds - Niall Deacon *****

This is a truly entertaining and informative book, but the reason I’m giving it the full five stars has as much to do with the refreshing novelty of the author’s style as anything else. There’s novelty in the subject-matter too – the wide variety of recently discovered exoplanets orbiting other stars – but even so this is the third book on the topic that I’ve read. The first two were a lot less fun to read, and (without naming and shaming the authors) it’s worth a brief diversion to explain why.The first author was a university professor with a vast knowledge of the subject, who seemed determined to convey the entirety of that knowledge without stopping to think whether it was interesting or necessary for a general audience. The second author – another academic – took a different but equally tedious approach, with a plodding chronological account that focused as much on the dull routine of the scientists involved as on their work.Niall Deacon doesn’t make either of those mistakes. He’…