Skip to main content

The Cambridge Phenomenon - Global Impact - Kate Kirk and Charles Cotton ***

Like its predecessor, The Cambridge Phenomenon, this is a very special kind of book. It’s a sort of cross between a personal photo album and a corporate history. Large companies rather like to produce them to highlight their achievements. In a sense this is such a book, but like its predecessor, it is more interesting than most.

It starts with introductions by Lord Sainsbury and Martin Rees, emphasising the significance of the way that Cambridge has changed to become the UK's equivalent of Silcon Valley, directly connected to the one of the world's top ten universities.

The book then goes on to take us through all the 'hidden impacts' of the work at Cambridge we don't necessarily think of, from specialist printing to the chips that are used in almost all smartphones. Sections cover life sciences and healthcare, computing, telecoms, tech consultancies, inkjet printing, research institutes, various other smaller sectors and a look to the future. It may be a bit like an incredibly glossy brochure for all the companies based on the Cambridge Science Park, but it manages to stay reasonably interesting despite this.

Although (like its predecessor) it is, without doubt, a superb example of its kind, it still isn’t a book that most of us will probably want to sit down and read through. There are just too many company names and people we’ve never heard of and just the mundanity of business. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t read it from cover to cover. But I did genuinely enjoy flicking through it, picking up on the interesting illustrations, dipping in when there were bits that appealed to me. While I couldn’t see myself rushing out and stumping up £50 for a copy (or about half that at online discounts), it is a book I would contemplate taking out of the library for a leisurely riffle - and with that pricing, I suspect libraries and the companies represented form the main target audience.



Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

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…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…