Skip to main content

Anatomies – Hugh Aldersey-Williams ***

Author Hugh Aldersey-Williams had a real success with his chemical elements book Periodic Tales, so was faced with the inevitable challenge of what to do next. He has gone for a medical tour of the body, intending to reach into the bits we don’t normally find out about to uncover the hot research topics.
After a quick canter through the history of the way we view our bodies he breaks it down for a bit-by-bit exploration. If I’m honest, basic biology (especially human biology) is not a topic that thrills me, but there is no doubt that Aldersey-Williams manages to bring out some enjoyable, quirky and interesting subjects. Admittedly some of these are covered better elsewhere – so, for instance, his brief foray into what made Einstein’s brain special can’t match Possessing Genius – but the idea that they were already performing nose jobs over 100 years ago or the weirdness of synaesthesia certainly catch the attention.
I like plenty of historical context – and this book has it in spades – but I also like to see a balance of science content, and there it seems a little weak. It is interesting to contrast the book with our editor’s The Universe Inside You, also based on a tour of your body, but in this case dominated by the science and the sheer amazement of it all. When we take the same journey in Anatomies we certainly get more of the basic biology, medical aspects and cultural context, but we miss out on so much of the meaty science.
By no means a bad book, but not in the same league as Periodic Tales.

Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Jo Reed

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…