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Showing posts from June, 2018

The Prize (SF) - Geoffrey Cooper ****

Some would prefer to label The Prize as lab lit rather than science fiction, as there is nothing in the science, apart from a non-existent drug, that isn't perfectly feasible, but I find the distinction artificial. What Geoffrey Cooper, a former professor and cancer researcher, has produced here is an engaging and page-turning thriller with a scientific context.

I was a little doubtful when I read the opening - the wording seemed a little too Dan Brown for my liking - but by the time I was into the second of the very short chapters (the whole book is quite short) I was hooked. The actual medical research part - about a drug that can reverse early onset of Alzheimers - is secondary to the fascinating insights Cooper brings to the machinations of a fictional science community. We tend to think of scientists as being noble and above suspicion, but here we get as much self-promotion, sexual predatory nature and administrative incompetence as you'd have expected from an episode of D…

Peter Cook - Four Way Interview

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering Business and Organisation Development. He also delivers keynotes around the world that blend business intelligence with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock. Author of and contributor to eleven books on business leadership, his three passions are science, business and music, having led innovation teams for 18 years to develop life-saving drugs  including the first treatments for AIDS, Herpes and the development of Human Insulin. All his life since the age of four playing music. His latest book is Brain Based Enterprises.

Why science, creativity and business?

Having wanted to be a scientist or a musician at the age of five I eventually achieved both, making my early career through the scale up of pharmaceuticals such as the first HIV / AIDS treatment and human Insulin whilst keeping music as a hobby. I believe that my passion for asking questions comes from science. It is a habit that has served me well and also got me into a bit o…

Schrödinger's Cat and 49 other experiments - Adam Hart-Davis ***

Dealing with a massive subject like physics as a ‘straight’ end to end book and making it approachable is quite a challenge. Publishers often look for some kind of hook to do this - and combined with the popularity (I can only assume primarily as gift books) of graphically interesting books with 50 or so bite-sized articles, we get to the idea of telling the story of physics through 50 experiments - and that's what turns up in Adam Hart-Davis's new title Schrödinger's Cat and 49 Other Experiments that Revolutionised Physics.

The problem is, of course, that while experiments are important, so is theory. Which gives us a problem. Do you represent Maxwell’s remarkable theoretical work on electromagnetism using Hertz’s comparatively trivial experiments? What about Einstein’s work or that of the quantum theory gang? Even the title 'experiment' of the book is a thought experiment.

The answer here is to cheat - but strangely only sometimes. Within the book, Hart-Davis refer…

Land of the Headless (SF) - Adam Roberts ****

It's important that I explain why I've given this book four stars, despite the fact that I didn't enjoy reading it. I've rated it highly because it's a brilliant exercise in a certain kind of writing. Like Gulliver's Travels, for example, the idea is not to make a great story where the reader can really engage with the main character - the narrator here, Jon, is a strangely formal, wordy individual who is difficult to like. Instead, what Adam Roberts has done so impressively here is both come up with a concept that is so horrible it burns itself into your memory and also to use that concept, and the society that brought it into existence, as a vehicle for examining our own beliefs and attitudes. Just as the weird experiences of Gulliver were not intended to be a fun fantasy (forget the film versions) but a reflection of the unpleasant extremes of society, so Jon's experiences are a mirror to the nastier aspects of religion and modern social attitudes.

The ma…

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…

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…

Copycats and Contrarians - Michelle Baddeley **

I think what Michelle Baddeley is trying to do with this book (or more likely the publisher with its positioning) is to recreate the success of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, and it may have been possible with this topic - but this is certainly not the book to do it. Various recommendations describe this as a 'tremendous read' and tell us that Baddeley has 'terrific writing skills' - but I have to be a contrarian: I found Copycats and Contrarians almost unreadable.

The concept is simple - that there are two significant behaviours: going along with the herd and standing out and being different. Each has advantages in different circumstances, though it can be difficult to know if following the herd, for example, is a good or bad thing in a particular circumstance. And, Baddeley suggests (contrary to David Sumpter in Outnumbered), our social media bubbles turn us too much to herd behaviour and keep out the contrarians who could change things for the better.

A…

From Distant Stars (SF) - Sam Peters ****

What we have here is a satisfying detective thriller with lashings of juicy conspiracy theory, all set in a future colony where a selection of humans had been dumped many decades before by mysterious alien invaders. Although it is a sequel to Sam Peters' From Darkest Skies, there was no problem coming to From Distant Stars as I did without having read the previous title - in fact there's enough back story here that it might seem overdone if you come to this second.

The great thing about this book is that there are big underlying themes and the reader is presented with a real mystery about what is going on, as to begin with problems and onslaughts pile into the team of detectives. The hospital became a regular location, given the pounding some characters take. Peters makes good use of the tech, which via a built-in 'servant' provides a kind of super Siri service that feeds information to lenses in the eyes, so quite often a character can be talking to someone and simulta…

Kepler and the Universe - David Love ****

I got my remaindered copy of this book from one of those quirky shops in Glastonbury that specialises in all things mystical. Don’t let that put you off, though – there’s actually a lot more science than mysticism in it. On top of that, it’s the best biography I’ve read for a long time – well-researched and insightful, but fast-moving and highly readable at the same time.

The world Kepler lived in was very different from ours (his dates were 1571 – 1630). In those days, it wasn’t a case of scientific rationalism on one side versus religion and woolly-minded mysticism on the other. Science barely entered the picture – it hadn’t even crystallised into its modern form yet. Europe was torn apart by arguments, not between religion and science, but between different flavours of religion. A bafflingly incomprehensible struggle between Lutherans and Calvinists sizzles away in the background throughout the book.

There were mystics in those days, too. We’re told, for example, that Kepler’s patron…