Skip to main content

Air – William Bryant Logan ***

This is a rather poetic book, something of a rarity in popular science and not necessarily one that fits well with the genre. The author, who has a botanical background, tries to give the reader a portrait of the air as it influences mostly living things on the planet.
I’m afraid that for me it just didn’t work. I found the attempt to be arty in descriptions simply plodding and hard work. I just wasn’t getting anywhere quickly enough: I found myself making excuses for why I wasn’t coming back to the book every time I put it down. I can see it will work for some people, but it didn’t for me.
Apart from anything else, the title is a bit misleading. The book is called ‘AIR – the restless shaper of the world’ – but very little of it is actually about the air, it’s much more about how living things on the Earth make use of the air. Even when you get a section labelled ‘Shining’ with chapters like ‘Why the daytime sky is light’ (which spends most of its time explaining why it’s not about why the sky is blue), there is very little content about the air and soon William Bryant Logan is off on one of his pet topics again.
I haven’t read the author’s previous books Dirt and Oak, but by the sound of them they are much more the kind of thing he ought to be writing. Air is not his kind of thing.

Hardback 

Kindle 
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heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label.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…

Artificial Intelligence - Yorick Wilks ****

Artificial intelligence is one of those topics where it's very easy to spin off into speculation, whether it's about machine conciousness or AI taking over the world (and don't get me onto the relatively rare connection to robots - cover designer please note). All the experience of AI to date has been that it has been made feasible far slower than originally predicted, and that it faces dramatic limitations. So, for example, self-driving cars may be okay in limited circumstances, but are nowhere near ready for the commute home. Similarly, despite all the moves forward in AI technology, computers are so-so at recognising objects after learning from thousands of examples - sometimes fooled by apparently trivial surface patterning - where humans can recognise items from a handful of examples.

Even so, we can't deny that AI is having an influence on our lives and Yorick Wilks, emeritus professor of AI at the University of Sheffield, is ideally placed to give us a picture …

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 …