Skip to main content

Science is Beautiful - disease and medicine - Colin Salter ***

How you respond to this book will probably depend a) on how you feel about coffee table books and b) what your response is to those sections in some newspapers (and New Scientist) which are striking photographs with a relatively small amount of text.

What Colin Salter has done here is bring together microphotographs of a large range of bacteria and viruses, along with assorted medicines, the latter particularly in crystal form. The results can be striking, particularly when false colours are used to bring out details, or in the stunning rainbow optical effects when light is passed through some crystals.

I had hoped I would get enough out of the book to enjoy looking through the images in detail, but on the whole, there was a tendency very quickly to start flipping through thinking 'Yes, that's nice,' or 'That's impressive,'... without taking a lot in.

In a way it's more like a trip round an art gallery exhibiting microphotographs than reading a book. And while there certainly is impressive variability in shapes of bacteria and viruses, once you seen a few, it is very much a matter of variations on a theme.

Science is Beautiful would be best employed providing some impressive inspiration for an artist, or to help pass a little time in a doctor's waiting room. (On second thoughts, probably not a doctor's - preferably a rather less medical waiting room.)

Hardback:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ancestral Night (SF) - Elizabeth Bear *****

Only a couple of weeks ago, reviewing a 1960s SF book, I bemoaned the fact that science fiction novels of ideas are less common now. Although it is correctly labelled a space opera, Ancestral Night delivers ideas with aplomb.

Let's deal with the space opera aspect first. Elizabeth Bear provides some excellent adventure scenes in space, and we've the usual mix of huge spaceships and interesting aliens. Main character Haimey Dz is an engineer on a ship that salvages wrecks - but, as we gradually discover - she also has a forgotten past. A major feature of the storyline (one that seems to link to the medieval idea of the lost wisdom of the past) is ancient technology from a long-dead race with capabilities, notably manipulating spacetime mentally (Bear has yet to point out that the travel technologies used here could manipulate time as well as space), which fit well with Arthur C. Clarke's magic definition.

I particularly liked the (surely intentional) nods to the much-misse…

The Creativity Code - Marcus du Sautoy *****

At first glance this might just be another 'What AI is good at and not so good at' title. And in a way, it is. But, wow, what a brilliant book! Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a tour of what artificial intelligence has achieved (and possibly can in the future achieve) in a range of fields from his own of mathematics, through game playing, music, art and more.

After a little discussion of what creativity is, we start off with the now very familiar story of DeepMind's AlphaGo and its astonishing ability to take on the hugely challenging game of Go. Even though I've read about this many times before, du Sautoy, as a Go player and mathematician, gives a real feel for why this was such a triumph - and so shocking. Not surprisingly he is also wonderful on what mathematicians actually do, how computers have helped them to date and how they have the potential to do far more in the future. After all, mathematics is by far the closest science to game playing, as it has strict rule…

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…