Skip to main content

Andrew May - Four Way Interview

Andrew May obtained his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Manchester in 1982. After a 30-year career spanning academia, the civil service and private industry he now works as a freelance writer and science consultant. He has written on subjects as diverse as the physical sciences, military technology, British history and the paranormal. His recent books include pocket-sized biographies of Newton and Einstein and an eye-opening study of the relationship between pseudoscience and science fiction. He lives in Somerset and his latest title is Destination Mars.

Why science?

I hate getting into arguments. If you write about art or literature or history or politics, then it's all a matter of opinion and some people are going to disagree strongly with anything you say. You're never going to see eye to eye with them, so you wind up in endless, fruitless arguments. Of course you can have disagreements about science, too - you can make mistakes, or readers might get the wrong end of the stick. But ultimately there's a real, objective truth underlying most science topics - it's not just personal opinion - and that's the great attraction for me.

Why this book?

The focus of this new series from Icon Books, Hot Science, is on 'trending' science topics - things that everyone's heard about from the news headlines, but perhaps don't understand in any depth because it's not the sort of science that's taught in school. That whole concept appeals to me - and my particular contribution, Destination Mars, happens to be one specific area that I'm reasonably well qualified to write about.

What's next?

After Mars - the Moon! That may sound like a backward step, but for anyone who's invested in a small telescope, Mars will have been a terrible disappointment. You can't have much fun looking at a tiny, featureless orange dot. The Moon is completely different - you can spend hours exploring the seas and craters and mountains, seeing where various manned and unmanned spacecraft landed, where classic science fiction novels were set, and where astronomers in the past thought they spotted evidence of life and other anomalies. That's the idea behind my next book - The Telescopic Tourist's Guide to the Moon, to be published by Springer later this year.

What's exciting you at the moment?

As far as human spaceflight is concerned, I'm much more excited by the things private companies - SpaceX in particular - are getting up to than anything NASA is planning these days. Unlike many people, though, I find unmanned space exploration exciting too - and that's where NASA comes into its own. Not just Mars, but the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well. Places like Europa and Titan are as exciting as science gets - I wouldn't put money on life NOT being found there in the not-too-distant future!


Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…