Skip to main content

Exploring the Universe – Brian Clegg ***

There are few subjects better suited to a picture book than the universe, and the latest title from www.popularscience.co.uk’s prolific editor proves this admirably.
When the title says ‘Exploring the Universe’ it might seem that this is a book about space travel, but Brian Clegg makes the important point that pretty well all of our exploration has been (and will continue to be into the foreseeable future) using light. The sheer scale of the universe means that nothing slower is practical – and only a vehicle that has been in use for billions of years like light will enable us to see far enough.
The pictures are great, and I was unusually comfortable with the format. All too often picture books are so big that they aren’t practical to sit and read, they are only suited to thumbing through on the proverbial coffee table. This one is big enough for the colour pictures to have impact, but compact enough to be readable.
That readability is necessary because unlike many picture books with their short, unconnected mini-articles, this book has a continual flow of text that picks up on Clegg’s experience as a popular science writer. The downside of this is that it’s not so much a dip-in book as a traditional picture book format, but I see that primarily as a good thing – the mini-article approach is much more suited to websites and apps than a good book.
This title isn’t going to tell you all you ever wanted to know about the universe, but it makes a great taster whether you are a younger reader coming to the area for the first time or an adult who wants a more pictorial overview. Compromises rarely deliver as well as they could, but this coalition between picture book and conventional non-fiction popular science title is a pleasant surprise.

Hardback 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Jo Reed
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Science of Being Human - Marty Jopson *****

It might seem at first sight that a book titled 'The Science of Being Human' is about biology (or anthropology) - and certainly there's an element of that in Marty Jopson's entertaining collection of pretty-well freestanding articles on human science - but in reality a better clue comes from the subtitle 'why we behave, think and feel the way we do.'

What Jopson does is to pick out different aspects of the human experience - often quite small and very specific things - and take us through the science behind it. I often found that it was something I really wasn't expecting that really caught my fancy. The test with this kind of book is often what inspires the reader to tell someone else about it - the first thing I found myself telling the world was about why old 3D films used to give you a headache, but modern ones tend not to. (It's about the way that in the real world, your eyes swivel towards each other as things get closer to you.)

It's irresisti…

The Crowd and the Cosmos - Chris Lintott ****

We tend to have a very old fashioned idea of what astronomers do - peering through telescopes on dark nights. In reality, not only do many of them not use optical telescopes, but almost all observations are now performed electronically. Chris Lintott does a great job of bringing alive the realities of modern astronomy, and the way that the flood of data that is produced by all these electronic devices is being in part addressed by 'citizen scientists' - volunteer individuals who check image after image for interesting features.

Inevitably, all this cataloguing and categorising brings to mind Ernest Rutherford's infamous quotation along the lines of 'all science is either physics or stamp collecting.' This occurred to me even before Chris Lintott brought it up. Lintott defends the process against the Rutherford attack by pointing out that it can be a useful starting point for real, new research. To be fair to Rutherford, I think this misses the great man's poin…

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…