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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.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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