Skip to main content

The Met Office Book of the British Weather – John Prior ***

The book trade is a strange one. Many authors have what they think are really good ideas for books that publishers won’t touch. But then you see a book put out by a proper publisher and you can’t help but ask ‘Why?’ This is such a book. I have to ask why they thought anyone would want to buy it?
It’s not that the basic concept is unappealing. If you are British (I can’t see it would go down too well in Australia, say), then you are interested in the British Weather. It’s a given. And so the book may have some success with people buying it for someone else. (The press release helpfully points out that it has ‘attractive gift packaging’.) But if you do, any thank-you you get will be purely for show.
The trouble is, the vast majority of the book is page after page of maps of the UK showing how (for instance) hours of sunshine, rainfall and average temperature vary across the British Isles. It has all the readability of an atlas, and to be honest, to classify it as popular science seems a bit of a cheek. Admittedly there are short, quite interesting introductory passages of a couple of small pages – the we’re back to page after page of maps again. The only part that captured my interest briefly was a little bit at the back where it presents different scenarios for the way temperature and such will vary into the future, given the predictions of climate change. But even these quickly palled.
The press release tells me that the book gives us that the ‘Profile of local weather is relevant to everyone in Britain.’ Well, yes. But only in the way the VAT regulations are relevant to everyone in Britain. They are important – but you aren’t going to sit down and wade through them for entertainment. Or even for education. Relevance is not the same as interest.
Sorry, Met Office people. I really don’t know where you are going with this one. I’ve given it three stars because the book is nicely produced and the maps are pretty… but frankly, as a popular science book it only deserves two.

Paperback 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Superior - Angela Saini *****

It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, this still turns up today.

At the heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label. As Saini points out, there are far larger genetic variations within a so-called race than there are between individuals supposedly of different races. She shows how, pre-genetics, racial prejudice was given a pseudo-scientific veneer by dreaming up fictitious physical differences over and above the tiny distinct…

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …