Skip to main content

The Address Book – Tim Radford ***

I have to admit, I opened this book to immediate disappointment. Our editor mentioned he’d got a book for review by Tim Harford, the undercover economist on the excellent More or Less radio programme. Expecting Harford’s light, bright style I ploughed into the dense, wordy first chapter like hitting a brick wall. Why had he changed his style so much? And then I realised the mistake – wrong Tim.
The Address Book has a lovely basis. Like many of us, Tim Radford felt the urge when at school to do one of those unconsciously set theory based addresses, starting with his street address, town, county, country, continent, hemisphere, planet, solar system, galaxy and, you guessed it, the universe. This book parallels his address structure with a chapter on each of these. And each of those chapters makes use of the particular subject to take us an a whole host of delightful side steps and deviations. So far so good.
But then we hit two big problems. One is that I really don’t like the verbose, heavy style he writes in. Some will, I know – it’s a personal thing. But I found the first chapter totally unreadable with its endless personal tales about his house – I’m afraid I don’t care about his house. After that, as the canvas broadened, things got a little easier, though I still found the writing much too flowery, and with a strong tendency to give us list after list. Radford can’t just tell us about an animal in the countryside, he has to list sixteen different examples of the local wildlife, as if all those rolling syllables somehow give the whole thing more gravitas. It’s the sort of approach they used to use in 1950s radio broadcasts – now it seems fusty and old fashioned.
The other problem, from the point of view of this website is that this isn’t really a science book. Radford says as much, commenting in his acknowledgments section ‘This is not intentionally a science book, although it draws on generations of scientific research’. For the first 100 pages or so there is hardly any science apart from a touch of geology. After that there is inevitably more, as the scope takes in the reaches of outer space, but we still get plenty that isn’t. Which makes it a bit of a joke that this book is on the long list for the Royal Society science book prize. It’s not a good fit with this genre.
So I’m afraid this really wasn’t a great experience for me. I do think those who enjoy the likes of a John Betjeman at his most verbose will enjoy the prose style, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me, and it’s much too hard work to dig out what nuggets of science are present.

Paperback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Peter Spitz

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Peter Wothers - Four Way Interview

Dr Peter Wothers is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow and Director of Studies in Chemistry at St Catharine's College. He is heavily involved in promoting chemistry to young students and members of the public, and, in 2010, created the popular Cambridge Chemistry Challenge competition for students in the UK. Peter is known nationally and internationally for his demonstration lectures and presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, titled The Modern Alchemist, in 2012. In 2014, he was awarded an M.B.E. for Services to Chemistry in the Queen's Birthday Honours.. His new book is Antimony, Gold and Jupiter's Wolf.

Why chemistry?

I’ve been pretty much obsessed with chemistry from about the age of 8.  I built up quite a substantial home laboratory with all sorts of things that are (quite rightly) banned now (such as white phosphorus) and also used to go to second-hand bookshops to find chemistry texts.  Eventually I boug…

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 …