Skip to main content

R & D is War – Clifford L. Spiro ****

Industrial research and development is arguably the cinderella of science and technology, yet without it we wouldn’t have all the remarkable stuff we use  – from high tech gadgets to apparently trivial pieces of technology like a light bulb.
Clifford Spiro (who, if his author photo is anything to go by, is the Bruce Willis of R&D) gives us an engaging insider’s view of the realities of industrial R&D, working on a range of product areas in his career from coal technology through light bulbs to artificial diamonds. It isn’t an easy road – time and again there’s a struggle with a difficult problem, a solution is produced… and then not used. Just occasionally, though it’s a multi-million dollar winner. Spiro gives us real, coal face experience of the power of R&D, the difficulties of getting it right and the practicalities of using the scientific method in the real world, without the academic’s ivory tower protection.
When it works well, this book works really well. It features good story telling – the reader wants to find out what happens next. Spiro has a light, colloquial tone and brings the R&D environment alive. The downside is that he can be a bit summary – there is an element of ‘with a single bound he was free’ from some of the problem solving and I would like to have seen a bit more of the science explained – and I’m not sure there’s a lot of value in his end-of-chapter words of wisdom for doing R&D well. It’s when we’re getting good narrative of the R&D guys versus the challenge of, say, preventing a light bulb exploding that this becomes a great read, not as a business primer.
This is a self-published book, with the usual drawbacks, though it is very classy considering. The cover design is excellent and the text is reasonably edited. Where it is let down a little is in layout – like many self-published books the text itself is too dense, making it heavy on the eye, and for some reason all the m-dashes (a long hyphen used as a sentence break – like this) have no spaces before them, which looks odd. It’s certainly not enough to put me off recommending this book.
Were it not for the topic I would probably only give the book three stars, as it it does need some work on that summary nature – but there is so little written about R&D, and the stories are so interesting when at their best that I have had to give it four.

Paperback 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

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 …