Skip to main content

I am a book. I am a Portal to the Universe - Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick ***

Although not providing a direct parallel, there's something reminiscent here of Jan Pienkowski's wonderful adult pop-up books, which used a style that was more familiar in a children's book than something we would expect to find in a title for more mature readers. Similarly, I am a Book looks like a children's book (handling it, it feels strangely like a board book, though it proudly announces on the back that it has 112 pages) and in the mildly outrageous claim to be a 'portal to the universe'.

What we get is a series of very colourful and dramatically, if sometimes minimalistically, illustrated pages with small amounts of text, making observations about everything from biology to cosmology.

Sometimes the approach can be very effective. So we have a whole page dedicated to the words 'Touch this dot' alongside… a dot. But the facing page tells us 'You just left behind 100,000 bacteria,' which is neat. There are quite a few pages dedicated to demonstrating the size of various things using different graphic approaches. This may be more in Rutherford's stamp collecting approach to science than anything particularly deep, but it's fun, engaging and quick to absorb.

I am not convinced, however, that this approach gives us too much of an insight into what science is about. Apart from anything else, the very knowing, first person approach used, as if the book is talking to the reader, is both irritating and hugely wasteful of space. We get, for example, a whole page dedicated to saying 'With my four inks I can unleash an avalanche of colour'. So? Do I really need a book to tell me that colour printed books can show colour?

Sometimes the content is, frankly, uninspiring. At one point we get a whole two-page spread to tell us 'Everything is changing - sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Things are beginning and ending, all the time.' No, really? I'm amazed. (Sarcasm.)

I so wanted this book to be brilliant and challenging and different. It is different, and sometimes inspiring, but I think it could have gone much further and contained a lot more. (There is a short explanatory section at the back for each of the points made, but this kind of appendix rarely gets read.) Without doubt, it is absolutely great that the authors have tried something different. But I am not sure that I am a Book achieves what it sets out to do.

Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

Nicholas Mee - Four Way Interview

Nicholas Meestudied theoretical physics and mathematics at the University of Cambridge.  He is Director of software company Virtual Image and the author of over 50 multimedia titles including The Code Book on CD-ROM with Simon Singh and Connections in Space with John Barrow, Martin Kemp and Richard Bright. He has played key roles in numerous science and art projects including the Symbolic Sculpture project with John Robinson, the European SCIENAR project, and the 2012 Henry Moore and Stringed Surfaces exhibition at the Royal Society. He is author of the award-winning popular science book Higgs Force: Cosmic Symmetry Shattered. His latest title is Celestial Tapestry.Why mathematics?Mathematics has its own inner beauty. But it also represents far and away the most powerful set of intellectual tools that we have and it contributes enormously to our understanding of how the universe works and our place within it. Furthermore, it enables us to control and manipulate the world with great pr…

Mars - Stephen James O’Meara ****

This is the latest in the excellent ‘Kosmos’ series from Reaktion Books (who clearly have a thing about the letter k). They’re beautifully packaged, with glossy paper and hundreds of colourful images, but the text is so substantial and insightful they can’t simply be dismissed as ‘coffee-table books’. My earlier reviews of the Mercury and Saturn titles, written by William Sheehan, gave both books 4 stars. This new one by Stephen James O’Meara is up to the same standard.As with the previous books, this one goes into more detail than you might expect on the ‘prehistory’ of the subject, prior to the advent of space travel. The first three chapters – about a quarter of the book – deal in turn with mythological narratives, ground-based telescopic discoveries and romantic speculations about the Red Planet. Some of this is familiar stuff, but there are some obscure gems too. The Victorian astronomer Richard Proctor, for example, decided to name dozens of newly observed features on Mars after…

Celestial Tapestry - Nicholas Mee ****

There was an old tradition amongst the landed gentry of collecting a 'cabinet of curiosities' - an unstructured collection of interesting stuff they had picked up on their travels. In many ways, Celestial Tapestry feels like a cabinet of curiosities of the mind, with interesting things linking maths and the the world, particularly the arts, that Nicholas Mee has picked up.It is delightful being able to be transported by Mee on a number of distinctly varied trains of thought and diversions, all with shiny, full colour illustrations. (If I have one complaint about the pictures, it would have been better if this had been a coffee table sized book, so the beautiful images could have been bigger.)The book is structured into six sections: the fabric of space, time and matter; weaving numbers and patterns; drawing out the golden threads; higher space and a deeper reality; wandering round the knot garden; and casting the celestial net. However, these heading don't really give a fe…