The Naked Scientist: Life Under the Microscope – Chris Smith ***
Chris Smith is a hero of British science communication with his excellent The Naked Scientists radio show/podcast (I have to say I hate the name, but you can’t have everything). In this book he collects together a series of really interesting scientific discoveries, which may be quirky or deeply significant.
In theory this is an excellent idea, but there were two reasons the book didn’t work particularly well for me. One was that far too many of the stories were medical/biological. This probably reflects the fact that Smith is a medical doctor, but the radio show doesn’t suffer from this limitation, so it was a bit of a surprise. The book really should be labelled The Naked Biologist.
More signficantly, although the science was interesting, the presentation wasn’t. It was like reading a collection of press releases – after a while the reader loses the will to live, or at least to read on. I think the approach would have been much better if Smith had picked maybe a quarter of the topics and gone into them in more depth.
This isn’t a fatal flaw – it’s fine as a dip-in book (perhaps one to keep in the smallest room), but it is not one that many readers would want to plough through from cover to cover. There are lots of good stories here, but we are getting the synopsis without the storytelling, and that is a shame.