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.


Hardback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Patricia Fara - Four Way Interview

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. She was the President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18) and her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (OUP, 2009), has been translated into nine languages. An experienced public lecturer, Patricia Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programmes. She also contributes articles and reviews to many popular magazines and journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature and the Times Literary SupplementHer new book is Erasmus Darwin.

Why history of science?
I read physics at university, but half-way through the course I realised that had been a big mistake. Although I relished the intellectual challenge, I was bored by the long hours spent lining up recalcitrant instruments in dusty laboratories. Why was nobody encouraging us to think about the big questions – What is gravity? Does quantum mechani…

The Idea of the Brain: Matthew Cobb *****

Matthew Cobb is one of those people that you can’t help but admire but also secretly hate just a little bit for being so awesome. He is professor for zoology at the University of Manchester with a sizable teaching load that he apparently masters with consummate skill. He’s a scientific researcher, who researches the sense of smell of fruit fly maggots; I kid you not!  He’s also an attentive and loving family father but he still finds time and energy to write brilliant history of science books, three to date. His first, The Egg and Sperm Race, describes the search for the secret of human reproduction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is one of my favourite history of science books, on the period. His second, Life’s Greatest Secret is a monster, both in scope and detail, description of the hunt to decipher the structure and function of DNA that along the way demolishes a whole boatload of modern history of science myths. The most recent, and the subject of this review, is

The Search for Life on Mars - Elizabeth Howell and Nicholas Booth ***

From the book’s enticing subtitle, ‘The Greatest Scientific Detective Story of All Time’, I was expecting something rather different. I thought the authors would kick off by introducing the suspects (the various forms life might take on Mars, either now or in the past) and the kind of telltale traces they might leave, followed by a chronological account of the detectives (i.e. scientists) searching for those traces, ruling out certain suspects and focusing on others, turning up unexpected new clues, and so on. But the book is nothing like that. Continuing with the fiction analogy, this isn’t a novel so much as a collection of short stories – eleven self-contained chapters, each with its own set of protagonists, suspects and clues.

Some of the chapters work better than others. I found the first three – which despite their early placement cover NASA’s most recent Mars missions – the most irritating. For one thing, they unfold in a way that’s at odds with the cerebral ‘detective story’ na…