Skip to main content

How Population Change Will Transform our World - Sarah Harper ***

This is a book for people who like their numbers. Wow, there are a lot of numbers. And charts. Lots and lots of charts. I do like numbers myself, but by about 1/4 of the way through I had become totally chart blind - I couldn't take in any more data. And yet, strangely, despite its incredibly rich data content, I'd also say that primarily this is a book that fails the 'is it really a book' test - there may be lots of data here, but not enough information. In terms of narrative, interpretation and answers to 'So what?' questions, it really is more of a magazine article.

We learn that there are three types of country - ones where we're over the hump and strongly headed for a shrinking, top-heavy, ageing population, ones that are in transition, and ones that at the moment are still in the 'natural' condition of 'have lots of children to survive' leading to population growth as health care gets better and very bottom heavy age distributions.

Throughout, I struggled to understand where Sarah Harper was going with this. When talking about the advanced economies there was clearly a problem of having enough young workers to support the ageing population. But equally, there seemed to be emphasis on moving away from the more traditional population distributions because these had lower average ages and less social benefits - there was no real feel for what the ideal is in population terms, or how to achieve it.

There were also some strange gaps. In talking about how a population got into its current state, there was very little mention of cultural/religious influence on, say, contraception or women's education. This was despite the impact of women's education on birth control getting a large mention - but we get little feel for what restricts this. And the reader is presented with a lot of correlation as if this were clearly causality, but with very little mention of how the causal links are being established.

The book gets most interesting, I think, towards the end, where the contributions of climate change and migration were discussed. But I still got the feel for having vast quantities of data thrown at me with very little attempt to answer the crucial 'And so?' questions. We got a good feel for how population age distributions are likely to change with time (although there is a big dose of uncertainty rather quietly thrown in part way through, without really dealing with it), but no real idea of what the implications are. I can see this book working for students to use as a source from which to write essays - but not as a vehicle for to inform the public on the implications for all of us of the way that the world population is changing.


Hardback:  

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Bits to Bitcoin - Mark Stuart Day ***

When I saw the title of this book, I got all excited - at last we were going to get an explanation of bitcoin for the rest of us, who struggle to understand what the heck it really involves. There certainly is an explanation of bitcoin, but it comes in chapter 26 - in practice, the book contains far more. Almost every popular computer science title I've read has effectively been history of computer science - this is one of the first examples I've ever come across that is actually trying to make the 'science' part of computer science accessible to the general reader.

I don't mean by this that it's an equivalent of Programming for Dummies. Instead, Bits to Bitcoin takes the reader through the concepts lying behind programming. If we think of programming as engineering, this is the physics that the engineering depends on. This is a really interesting proposition. Many years ago, I was a professional programmer, but I never studied computer science, so I was only fa…

How to Speak Science - Bruce Benamran ***

I can't remember a book where my mental picture of what the star rating would be has varied so much. At first glance, it looked like a solid 4 star title. It looks fun (despite the odd title - it sounds like it's a book on public speaking for geeks) and a flick through showed that it covers a huge amount of science topics, mostly physics - so it was promising as a beginner's overview. There is one small issue to be got out of the way on the coverage side. There's a whole lot of physics, with a gaping hole that is quantum theory. More on that later.

After reading a few pages, I had to downgrade that score to 3 stars because of the writing style. It oozes smugness. All became clear when I read the words 'For those of you who aren't familiar with my YouTube channel.' How to Speak Science reads like a transcript of a YouTube rant. The reason I love reading books and can hardly ever be bothered to watch videos is to get away from this kind of thing. However, I ac…

By the Pricking of Her Thumb (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

Sometimes a sequel betters the original - think Terminator 2 - and Adam Roberts has done this with his follow-up to The Real-Town Murders. (It's sensible to read the first book before this: while it's not essential, there are plenty of references you will miss otherwise.)

Ostensibly this is a murder mystery, or, as Roberts tells us, a combination of a howdunnit and a whodunnit-to, as the central character Alma is called on to work out how someone found with a needle stuck through her thumb was killed and which of a group of four super-rich individuals is dead when all claim to still be alive - though one of the group who hires Alma is convinced that the death has occurred. 

However, this is anything but a conventional murder mystery - far more so than the strange crimes suggest. Alma and her partner Marguerite (the latter still trapped by an engineered polyvalent illness that requires treatment every 4 hours and 4 minutes) don't do a lot of detecting. In fact Marguerite hard…