Skip to main content

Just Another Day – Adam Hart-Davis ****

A couple of months ago I was writing an article about how to put science across for children, and commented that one of the ways to do so is to relate science to their everyday life. As if by magic, Adam Hart-Davis’s latest book Just Another Day, subtitled “the science and technology of our everyday lives,” does just that.
It’s a great concept. Hart-Davis takes us through his day, or rather an amalgam of all his days, and along the way uses each and every little detail, from his alarm clock and his homemade garden urinal to his bicycle and his interest in photography, to explore the many ways science and technology impacts life. Obviously not everyone has a life like Hart-Davis’s, but there is enough genuine everyday here to make a good impact.
As is often the case with Hart-Davis’s books, it is hard to tell if it is aimed at children or adults – arguably this is because he is appealing to that sense of wonder we all have (though it tends to be more deeply buried in the older reader). The book is largeish format and glossy, loaded with pictures and with text that is acceptable for an adult but won’t over-stretch the reading skills of an 11-year-old. As the only part of the Hart-Davis life that’s missing is what goes on in the bedroom, you might suspect it is for the younger audience. Going on the pricing, though, it is firmly aimed at adults.
The core freedom to jump around as inspiration hits the author is both the book’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It is wonderfully engaging to be able to flit off in half a dozen different directions in a page or two, but then spend several pages on the history and technology of shaving, something few of us have thought about. The word serendipity springs to mind. At its best, the book positively bubbles with ideas and enthusiasm. On the down side, this can sometimes lead to a disjointed text which becomes a list of expanded factoids without much of a thread. It’s interesting that Hart-Davis says he wrote a lot of the book in bits on train. Although he tells us this to demonstrate the wonders of modern portable computing, it also might have influenced that occasional lack of flow.
Because this is very much Hart-Davis’s “just another day”, there is a lot of the man in the book. If you have never come across him, Hart-Davis is a UK TV presenter, specializing in an eccentric exploration of history of technology. Even if you didn’t know him before, you will after reading this book. You will find out how he likes a cup of tea, why his shoes are different colours, what he has for breakfast, how he feels when he gives a presentation and much more. As Hart-Davis fits strongly into the marmite category – you either love him or hate him – this means that the four star recommendation is for Hart-Davis fans. Others might find this man, whose calculated naivety, over the top jollity and unusual clothes sense makes him reminiscent of a geriatric Noddy too irritating to enjoy what is without doubt a clever idea. Only you can tell.

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under

Regeneration - Paul Hawken **

This is a really big book. I don't mean big in the sense of important, but physically enormous for what it is - it's roughly the size of a children's annual, though a lot thicker. Interestingly, the format appears to be a Paul Hawken speciality - he did it with his previous title, Drawdown ,  though that was far less glossy. Paul Hawken's aim is to put forward a solution to climate change driven from humans rather than from the science. The tag line on the back of the book reads 'The climate crisis is not at science problem. It is a human problem.' And that itself is a problem. It's not that climate change isn't a human problem, but rather that it's both a human problem and a science problem - requiring human and science-based solutions. But the approach taken in this book is anything but scientific. It's a bit like saying the Covid-19 pandemic is a human problem, not a science problem. The pandemic is indeed a human problem, but if we'd tr