Skip to main content

Sciku: the wonder of science in haiku - Students of Camden School for Girls ****

I was a little uncertain about what this book would be like. Probably the closest thing I'd come across before was Marcus Chown and Govert Schilling's Tweeting the Universe, which came across as one of those projects that works better as an idea than it does in practice. But, in fact, this collection of haiku on science subjects by the students of Camden School for Girls proved surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking.

There were distinct differences between different subjects - and there was a huge range of styles and content. Being low on appreciation of high culture I particularly enjoyed the humorous haiku, but it was interesting that the physics and cosmology topics seemed to work better than the biology. This may be a poetic reflection of Rutherford's old taunt to biologists that 'all science is either physics or stamp collecting' - all too often the biology topics were primarily establishing labels, where in the physics poems the sharp limits of the form seemed to fit well with the stark beauty of the topic. Take this one, for instance, titled Particles:


We huddle in bricks
We dance around in water
We fly in the sky

If I want to be picky, there was a spot of cheating and poems that didn't quite ring true. A good few times the poem consisted of not one but multiple haiku, which strikes me as more like a conventional poem with a set of verses than the true form. And when presented with a line like 'A lump of quarks and protons' I couldn't help think 'but protons are quarks', by which point the magic was lost. (And it's kryptonite that kills Superman, not krypton which was the name of his home planet - to be fair, the editor acknowledges this.)

One problem here is that I am not a great poetry reader - so it may be that my assessment of the quality of the work was a bit like asking someone who eats at a fast food joint every night what they think of a new Michelin starred restaurant. But I thought the quality of the writing, given the age of the contributors, was surprisingly good. You can tell from the desperation of my complaint about krypton that there's not much wrong with this lovely little collection, which would make a great gift or dip in book.


Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon - Brian Clegg ****

‘It’s not uncommon when trying to give Maxwell his rightful place in the pantheon of physics to bracket him with Newton and Einstein’, Brian Clegg says towards the end of this book. In one sense that’s perfectly true. Dip into any physics textbook and you’ll see Maxwell’s name at least as often as the other two. His greatest achievement – Maxwell’s equations – did for electromagnetism what Newton had done for gravity, while laying the essential theoretical groundwork for everything Einstein was to do.

There’s a big difference, though. A few years ago, when I was offered the chance to write short biographies of Newton and Einstein, I jumped at it – because they addressed mysteries of the universe that anyone can relate to, and their lives outside physics were, if anything, even more fascinating. At the risk of sounding downright rude, you can’t say either of those things about James Clerk Maxwell. In spite of that, Brian Clegg has done a wonderful job here of recounting just what Maxwel…