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 
Review by Brian Clegg

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…

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…

How to Speak Science - Bruce Benamran ***

I can't remember a book where my mental picture of what the star rating would be has varied so much. At first glance, it looked like a solid 4 star title. It looks fun (despite the odd title - it sounds like it's a book on public speaking for geeks) and a flick through showed that it covers a huge amount of science topics, mostly physics - so it was promising as a beginner's overview. There is one small issue to be got out of the way on the coverage side. There's a whole lot of physics, with a gaping hole that is quantum theory. More on that later.

After reading a few pages, I had to downgrade that score to 3 stars because of the writing style. It oozes smugness. All became clear when I read the words 'For those of you who aren't familiar with my YouTube channel.' How to Speak Science reads like a transcript of a YouTube rant. The reason I love reading books and can hardly ever be bothered to watch videos is to get away from this kind of thing. However, I ac…