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.

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The World According to Physics - Jim Al-Khalili *****

There is a temptation on seeing this book to think it's another one of those physics titles that is thin on content, so they put it in an odd format small hardback and hope to win over those who don't usually buy science books. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In Jim Al-Khalili's The World According to Physics, we've got the best beginners' overview of what physics is all about that I've ever had the pleasure to read.

The language is straightforward and approachable. Rather than take the more common historical approach that builds up physics the way it was discovered, Al-Khalili starts with the 'three pillars' of physics: relativity, quantum theory and thermodynamics. In simple language with never an equation nor even a diagram in sight, the book lays out what physics is all about, what it has achieved and what it still needs to do.

That bit about no diagrams is an important indicator of how approachable the text is. Personally, I'm no…

Jim Al-Khalili - Four Way Interview

Jim Al-Khalili hosts The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4 and has presented numerous BBC television documentaries. He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey, a New York Times bestselling author, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He is the author of numerous books, including Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed; The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance; and Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. The paperback of his novel Sunfall is published in March 2020 by Transworld. His latest book is The World According to Physics.


Why physics?

I fell in love with physics when I was 13 or 14, when I realised not only that I was pretty good at it at school – basically common sense and puzzle solving – but because it was the subject that answered the big questions I had started contemplating, like whether the stars in the night sky went on for ever, what they were ma…

Outbreaks and Epidemics - Meera Senthilingam ****

This book was written before the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, though it has been updated to include it: it's certainly not any kind of attempt to cash in, but rather a sober reflection on how outbreaks and epidemics work, what process the world has in place to deal with them and how a changing, globalised world has magnified risk.

If I'm honest, I'm not a great fan of medical books, but Meera Senthilingam gives an important introduction to disease outbreaks and epidemics, giving enough detail to make sense of them without ever being too technical for the general reader. This is careful journalism, which can sometimes come across as rather dry, but that's not necessarily a bad thing given the topic.

The book starts by plunging us into the beginnings of the 2003 SARS epidemic, then brings in COVID-19 (as of, by the look of it, around the start of March 2020) and measles before plunging back to smallpox and the origins of vaccination. There is a strong section on disea…