Skip to main content

The Universe Inside You – Brian Clegg *****

If you like QI you will love this book. Like the TV show, it takes a basic theme and then delights in finding all the strange and wonderful reality that can be discovered from that concept. Here the starting point is your body as a vehicle
for exploring science. Some of what you will read is literally about the body, whether it’s the voyage of red blood cells or the paradox of your hair being dead but still part of you. But at other times it will link your body to the bigger world of science – so, for instance, we follow a photon of light from a star in the constellation Orion to your eye, finding out about cosmology and quantum theory along the way.
The main chapter headings start us off from a human hair, a cell of your body, your eyes, your stomach, the dizziness you might feel after going on a theme park ride, sexual attraction and your brain. But each of these sections of the book contains so much more. On the theme park ride, for example, we find out more about the senses, seeing why there are many more than five (how do you know you are upside down if you have your eyes closed? Which of the traditional five detects heat on your skin?) – but also manage to find ourselves in the remarkable world of Einstein’s relativity. Without over-simplifying, this all comes across at a level that would work for secondary school students as well as the general adult reader.
The book will inevitably be compared with Brian Clegg’s very successful Inflight Science – I understand the attraction of that one – it’s wonderful to have with you on a plane journey, or just to explore the science around a flight, not just flying itself. But for me, this one has the edge, because we’ve all got a body that is kind of important to us – and being a bigger book, there is much more room for extending into science and getting better insights. Like Inflight Science there are experiments scattered through the book – I very much liked the linked website which includes a number of experiments you can try online, whether watching a video, trying an optical illusion or interacting with an artificial analyst.
No book is perfect. Although the illustrations are mostly clearer than in Inflight Science one or two still suffer from the murkiness that comes from being reproduced in-page. Although I said Clegg doesn’t over-simplify, at times I really wanted more. There is a good further reading section (enhanced in the website by being able to click through to the books), but on or two of the topics I felt that they had been crammed in because they ought to be there, but that the coverage was more summary than I would have liked. These were relatively few though – mostly they were pitched at the right level.
This is an Alice in Wonderland trip through science. The book starts and ends with looking at yourself in the mirror (typically, Clegg can’t resist exploring why the mirror reverses left and right but not top and bottom). But where Alice encounters absurdity, on our trip through the looking glass, we discover and enjoy the wonders of science. Brilliant stuff.
Updated 14/1/13 – Now in mass market paperback


Paperback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
You can see more about the book at its website: www.universeinsideyou.com
Review by Jo Reed
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Tim Harford - Four Way Interview

Photo by Frank Monks Tim is an economist, journalist and broadcaster. He is author of the million-selling The Undercover Economist. Tim is a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less the iTunes-topping series Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy, and the podcast Cautionary Tales. Tim has spoken at TED, PopTech and the Sydney Opera House. He is an associate member of Nuffield College, Oxford and an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. Tim was made an OBE for services to improving economic understanding in the New Year honours of 2019. His latest book is How to Make the World Add Up . Why statistics? Statistics tend to be viewed as a vector for misinformation - hence the popularity of Darrell Huff's book How To Lie With Statistics (said to be the most popular book about statistics ever written) and numerous modern classics such as Bad Science and Innumeracy. But statistics are also a vital tool for understanding the world

There are Places in the World where Rules are Les Important than Kindness - Carlo Rovelli ****

This is, without doubt, Carlo Rovelli's best book. I have not been impressed by his previous popular science titles - too much purple prose and not enough depth. But in this collection of wide ranging short articles, he has found his metier, able to flit from interest to interest, often captivating with his enthusiasm for everything from Nabokov to Newton’s alchemy. And, unlike its predecessors, this book is a decent length. Rovelli is clearly far more interested in philosophy than many physicists, rightly criticising those who make blanket denials of its value. A good number of the pieces touch on philosophy and its application to science, on subjects from quantum mechanics to consciousness. However, having as he does a scientific viewpoint, those who are put off by philosophy should still find the pieces interesting, if challenging to their prejudices. Some of the articles are solid science - for example a trio of articles on black holes. Others take us into perhaps surprising as

Cosmic Odyssey - Linda Schweizer *****

Based on its generic-sounding title, you might expect this to be a broad-ranging history of astrophysical concepts – and if you buy it on that basis you won’t be disappointed. From stellar evolution and the structure of galaxies to supermassive black holes, quasars and the expansion of the universe, Linda Schweizer shows – in admirably non-technical detail – how our understanding of the fundamental pillars of modern astronomy developed over several decades from a standing start. In spite of that, this isn’t a generic history at all. It has a very specific remit, encapsulated in the subtitle: ‘How Intrepid Astronomers at Palomar Observatory Changed our View of the Universe’. California’s Palomar Observatory is home to the ‘200-inch’ (5.1 metres – the diameter of the main mirror) Hale telescope, which was the premier instrument for optical astronomy from its inauguration in 1949 until the Hubble telescope became fully operational 45 years later. This was perhaps the most eventful and fas