Skip to main content

Sciencia – Ed. John Martineau ***

This compact but chunky 400 page book packs in six different titles covering an eclectic if not entirely logical combination of topics (with authors whose names seem almost made up). We have Burkard Polster on mathematical proofs, Matthew Watkins packing in useful mathematical and physical formulae (sounds a laugh a minute), Matt Tweed on both the periodic table and the cosmos, Gerard Cheshire on evolution and Moff Betts on the human body.
Each of the mini-books inside consists of a series of two pages spreads, which given the relatively small size of the book and the fact that the right hand page is all illustration, means that there is relatively little space for text. This is an adult equivalent of the Basher books, but thankfully without the irritating tendency to allow the topics to address the reader in the first person.
I think it is fair to say the approach works better for some topics than others. Of the two maths sections, the first on proofs is a lot more readable than the second on formulae, which ends up classically dry and unapproachable. The highlights for me were Matt Tweed’s two entries, which were both approachable and enjoyable. Of the two, I think because the topic was better suited to the format, my favourite was the periodic table. That leaves the two biology based mini-books, which were fine but a little worthy, particularly the one on evolution.
Overall, then, not a bad little book, but as always with these highly illustrated two-page spread tomes I wonder what it is for. It would be very dull to read through from cover to cover – it has to be for dipping in. As a loo book, perhaps? It would probably be best seen as a gift for someone who has a slight interest in science, but doesn’t know much yet (otherwise the science sections might be a bit simplistic).
The book is nicely made, though the old-fashioned looking illustrations left me cold. I really don’t understand the quotes on the back like ‘Mesmerising’ from the Guardian (unless the original review said ‘The pattern on the cover is mesmerising’). It is a passable book indeed, but any tendency to be put in a trance would come from the repetitive format not the wondrous content.
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, i…

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs - Lisa Randall ****

I did my PhD in galactic dynamics - which is an awkward subject when people want to know what its relevance to the 'real world' is. So I was excited when Clube and Napier's book The Cosmic Serpent came out, around the same time, because it provided me with a ready-made answer. It argued that the comets which occasionally crash into Earth with disastrous results - such as the extinction of the dinosaurs - are perturbed from their normal orbits by interactions with the large-scale structure of the galaxy.

I was reminded of this idea a few years ago when there was a flurry of media interest in Lisa Randall's "dark matter and the dinosaurs" conjecture. I was sufficiently enthusiastic about it to write an article on the subject for Fortean Times - though my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to purchasing her hardback book at the time. However, now that it's out in paperback I've remedied the situation - and I'm glad I did.

Dark matter is believed to exi…