Skip to main content

30-Second Brain – Anil Seth (Ed) ****

I have mixed feelings about this kind of book. Personally I don’t get a lot out of reading them – I would rather have a book that reads through with ‘proper’ text – but a lot of people do like this kind of bite-sized format, with two page articles, the left a couple of hundred words of text and the right an image to support the text.
Frankly, some work a lot better than others, and for some reason, 30-Second Brain is one of the better ones in the series. Perhaps because there isn’t a lot of mathematical depth to the subject, the short essays did build up a rather nice picture of our knowledge of the workings of the brain. I was rather unnerved to see the discredited Freud mentioned, but it was only a passing reference, and wasn’t really supporting one of his top-of-the-head (literally) theories.
There are an awful lot of good popular science books out there on the brain, and I would regard this as a smorgasbord taster – an opportunity to sample some of the delights, but being aware that, for instance, if you wanted to know more about the impact of brain training, you should pick up a copy of Smarter.
Overall, a sound and informative addition to the series.

Hardback 

Kindle 

(I’d only go for the Kindle version if you are using a tablet/Kindle Fire – you’d lose a lot in black and white)
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Conjuring the Universe - Peter Atkins *****

It's rare that I'd use the term 'tour de force' when describing a popular science book, but it sprang to mind when I read Conjuring the Universe. It's not that the book's without flaws, but it does something truly original in a delightful way. What's more, the very British Peter Atkins hasn't fallen into the trap that particularly seems to influence US scientists when writing science books for the public of assuming that more is better. Instead of being an unwieldy brick of a book, this is a compact 168 pages that delivers splendidly on the question of where the natural laws came from.

The most obvious comparison is Richard Feynman's (equally compact) The Character of Physical Law - but despite being a great fan of Feynman's, this is the better book. Atkins begins by envisaging a universe emerging from absolutely nothing. While admitting he can't explain how that happened, his newly created universe still bears many resemblances to  nothing a…

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Big Bang (Ladybird Expert) - Marcus Chown ****

As a starting point in assessing this book it's essential to know the cultural background of Ladybird books in the UK. These were a series of cheap, highly illustrated, very thin hardbacks for children, ranging from storybooks to educational non-fiction. They had become very old-fashioned, until new owners Penguin brought back the format with a series of ironic humorous books for adults, inspired by the idea created by the artist Miriam Elia. Now, the 'Ladybird Expert' series are taking on serious non-fiction topics for an adult audience.

Marcus Chown does a remarkable job at packing in information on the big bang, given only around 25 sides of small format paper to work with. He gives us the concepts, plenty about the cosmic microwave background, plus the likes of dark energy, dark matter, inflation and the multiverse. To be honest, the illustrations were largely pointless, apart from maintaining the format, and it might have been better to have had more text - but I felt …