Skip to main content

Dragonflies - Pieter van Dokkum ***

I am immediately a touch suspicious of any book in a landscape format - it says 'I'm not really to be read, just to be flicked through' - it's a coffee table format at best. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by the content, where far more is delivered that the format suggests - but here, I'm afraid the result is pretty, but only scratches the surface of what really should be inside.

Dragonflies are fascinating creatures and what Pieter van Dokkum - rather oddly an astronomy professor - does well is to capture their nymphs and mature forms in close up in every possible activity from metamorphosis to catching prey. However it's hard to escape that this is essentially a picture book without even the kind of text support you might get in something like a Dorling Kindersley book. 

In the past I've been pleasantly surprised by what I thought was going to be little more than a set of good illustrations with a book like The Buzz about Bees, because that contained lots of fascinating material about bees and their lives, and the nature of super organisms. Yes, I enjoyed the closeup pictures - but I learned a huge amount too. From the small amount I do know about dragonflies, they too are a topic that should have been rich in fascinating factoids and engrossing stories. But sadly Dragonflies does not deliver in this way.

Unless you are a dragonfly groupie, I think this is the kind of book you might want to borrow from a library and flick through, but not to buy to read from end to end. Perhaps it would even work as a loo book. But it could have been so much more.



Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…

The Science of Food - Marty Jopson ****

This is a tasty little volume, packed with kitchen-based science. I must admit, when I saw that the author was the One Show's science expert and Marty Jopson's author photo has that 'Hey, I'm a mad scientist, kids!' look, my heart fell - I was sure the book would be the written equivalent of a 'Wow, look, aren't I clever, I can make this go bang!' science show - but, in fact, it's packed full of (appropriately) meaty scientific content.

I was really pleased that Jopson didn't stick purely to the chemistry of cooking, but launched with the working of some familiar kitchen gadgets - there was genuinely fascinating reading to be had about apparently humdrum equipment in the form of the physics and materials science of a knife and chopping board. And Jopson took us into industrial kitchens too, to reveal, for example, the remarkable process required to make puffed wheat.

Inevitably, the chemistry of cooking - how, for example, proteins denature and em…