Skip to main content

David Whitehouse - Four Way Interview

Dr David Whitehouse studied astrophysics at the world-famous Jodrell Bank radio observatory. He is a former BBC Science Correspondent and BBC Science Editor. He is the author of five books including The Sun: a biography and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and has written for many newspapers and magazines including The Times, The Guardian, Focus, New Scientist and the Economist. He regularly appears on TV and radio programmes. Asteroid 4036 Whitehouse is named after him. His latest title is Apollo 11: the inside story.

Why space?

I have been interested in astronomy since I was four years old. I recall the exact time. My mother and I were Christmas shopping in Woolworths on the Soho Road in Handsworth, Birmingham. I pointed to a very big book - an encyclopaedia  - that I wanted, but mum thought I wanted the rather thinner book on astronomy I was leaning on. Needless to say I wasn’t happy on Christmas Day, but a few days later I read it, and was hooked forever. It was the time of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. 

Why this book?
I wanted to find a new way to write a book about Apollo 11 for the 50th anniversary, to produce a narrative that was closer to the story and more intimate with the protagonists. I treated it almost like a screenplay editing what people said to produce pace and tension. I’m glad people think it’s different and like it. What more can a writer ask?

What's next?

My next book is finished but I can’t say what it is but it’s not about space. I’m working on a few more ideas at the moment. I decided that I have done my solar system books (Moon, Sun, Earth books) and I will look farther afield. Once again I am looking for a new approach. 


What is exciting you at the moment?

Bookwise I am thoroughly enjoying “The Map of Knowledge,” by Violet Moller, “The Tangled Tree,” by David Quammen, and “The Making of Poetry,” by Adam Nicholson. I read all the new science books that come out but I can’t honestly say many of them excite me.

Comments

  1. Still writing THE MOST AMAZING books, the last every bit as good as the first, if not better! David Whitehouse is like a fine wine; the older he gets, the better he becomes!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Tim Woollings - Four Way Interview

Tim Woollings is an Associate Professor in Physical Climate Science at the University of Oxford, leading a team of researchers in the Atmospheric Dynamics group. He obtained his PhD in Meteorology in 2005 and since then has worked on a variety of topics spanning weather prediction, atmospheric dynamics and circulation, and the effects of climate change. He has studied how the jet stream varies over weeks, years, and decades, and how we can better predict these changes. He was a contributing author on three chapters of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Tim worked at the University of Reading as a postdoc, research fellow and then lecturer before moving to the University of Oxford in 2013. He is now the Oxford Joint Chair of the Met Office Academic Partnership. His new book is Jet Stream.

Why climate?

It has never been more important to learn about how our climate system works, and how we are affecting it. You certainly get a lot of satisfaction when your work touches on hugely important …

The Apollo Chronicles - Brandon Brown *****

There were two reasons I wasn't expecting much from this book. Firstly, there have been so many titles on the Apollo programme and the space race. And secondly, a book that focusses on the engineering involved would surely be far too much at the nut and bolt level (literally), missing out on the overarching drama that makes the story live. Also there were so many people involved - 400,000 is mentioned - that we couldn't have much human interest because we would be bombarded with lists of names.

Instead, I was charmed by Brandon Brown's account. His father was one of the engineers, but he isn't given undue prominence - Brown picks out a handful of characters and follows them through, bringing in others as necessary, but never overwhelming us with names. And while it's true that there is a lot of nitty gritty engineering detail, it rarely becomes dull. Somehow, Brown pulls off the feat of making the day-to-day, hectic engineering work engaging.

I think in part this …

Saturn – William Sheehan ****

This book marks something of a milestone in my reviewing career: it’s the first time I’ve seen an excerpt from one of my reviews printed on the back cover. It comes from my review of Sheehan’s previous book, on Mercury, which I said ‘easily convinced me the Solar System’s 'least interesting' planet is still a pretty fascinating place.’ That wasn’t an easy task for the author, given Mercury’s unspectacular appearance and reputation – but Saturn is a different matter. With its iconic rings, easily visible through a small telescope, it’s the favourite planet of many amateur astronomers. For space scientists, too, it’s a prime target – given that two of its moons, Titan and Enceladus, look like the kind of places we might find alien life. So Sheehan’s challenge this time wasn’t to find enough material to fill 200 pages, but to distil a potentially huge subject down to that size.

He meets this challenge just as successfully as the previous one – but not quite in the way I was expect…