Skip to main content

Everything You Know About Space Is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

What we have here is a feast of assertions some people make about space that are satisfyingly incorrect, with pithy, entertaining explanations of what the true picture is. Matt Brown admits in his introduction that a lot of these incorrect facts are nitpicking - more on that in a moment - but it doesn't stop them being delightful. I particularly enjoyed the ones about animals in space and about the Moon.

Along the way, we take in space exploration, the Earth's place in space, the Moon, the solar system, the universe and a collection of random oddities, such as the fact that Mozart didn't write Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Sometimes the wrongness comes from a frequent misunderstanding. So, for example, Brown corrects the idea that Copernicus was the first to say that the Earth moves around the Sun. Sometimes there's some very careful wording. This is used when Brown challenges the idea that the Russian dog Laika was the first animal in space. What we discover is that, instead, Laika was the first animal in orbit, but plenty of other animals had made brief ventures into space and back beforehand. (Some even survived.)

Just occasionally, the wording goes from ambiguous to downright misleading. So, another 'fact' that's challenged is that light from the Sun takes eight minutes to reach the Earth. There was one potential challenge, in that it's actually a little over eight minutes. But Brown uses the fact that photons can take many thousands of years to get to the surface of the Sun before taking eight minutes (and a bit) to get here. And if the statement had been 'Light takes eight minutes to get from the depths of the Sun to the Earth', he would have a point. But it didn't.

Since nitpicking is the order of the day, I'd also point out that we don't know that the universe is finite, and Baa Baa Black Sheep is a variation on the theme of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, not, as the book says, the same tune, as it has two notes that aren't in the original and several timing differences. But one of the joys of reading a book like this is looking out for things to disagree with. And it certainly is great fun to read - and a fairly quick read too. (A good thing in my book. Far took many popular science books are over-long.) Easily managed on a mid-length train journey.

The content is lightly written and produces fascinating factoids throughout, though, for some reason, the second half of the content wasn't quite as interesting as the first. And, of course, as with Brown's earlier book Everything You Know About Science Is Wrong, I bridle somewhat at the title. I know a reasonable amount about space, and most of it isn't wrong. But I suppose titling a book 'Things That Some People Think About Space (Not All the Same People) That Is Wrong' would be rather clumsy.

Lots of fun for both younger and adult readers with an interest in space or science in general.

Hardback:  

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


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Artificial Intelligence - Melanie Mitchell *****

As Melanie Mitchell makes plain, humans have limitations in their visual abilities, typified by optical illusions, but artificial intelligence (AI) struggles at a much deeper level with recognising what's going on in images. Similarly in some ways, the visual appearance of this book misleads. It's worryingly fat and bears the ascetic light blue cover of the Pelican series, which since my childhood have been markers of books that were worthy but have rarely been readable. This, however, is an excellent book, giving a clear picture of how many AI systems go about their business and the huge problems designers of such systems face.

Not only does Mitchell explain the main approaches clearly, her account is readable and engaging. I read a lot of popular science books, and it's rare that I keep wanting to go back to one when I'm not scheduled to be reading it - this is one of those rare examples.

We discover how AI researchers have achieved the apparently remarkable abiliti…

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

Colin Stuart - Four Way Interview

Colin Stuart is an astronomy journalist, author and science communicator. He has written fourteen science books to date, which have been translated into nineteen languages, including 13 Journeys Through Space and Time: Christmas Lectures From the Royal Institution and The Universe in Bite-sized Chunks both published by Michael O’Mara Books. He also has written for the Guardian, the European Space Agency and New Scientist and has spoken on Sky News, BBC News and Radio 5 Live. He is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and even has an asteroid named after him. His latest title is Rebel Star: our quest to solve the great mysteries of the Sun.

Why science? 

For me the stories that you can tell with modern science rival the most imaginative leaps in fiction. The secret, invisible kingdoms of bacteria and sub-atomic particles. The logic defying realms of black holes and Big Bangs. That excites me more than Hogwarts or Mordor. The universe is an amazing place and we’ve only just scratche…