Skip to main content

The Geek Manifesto – Mark Henderson ****

It’s interesting that the ‘added puff’ fake sticker on the front of this book calls it ‘important’ because that is actually a very informative word about this book. What is packed into ‘important’ is that this is a really essential topic with lots of well argued material… but it’s a bit boring. And that’s kind of how I felt about the book.
In a way it suffers from the target of my agent’s non-fiction mantra: ‘Is this a book or is it an article?’ I felt that this really was more an article taken to book length. But the problem is more than that and it sits at the heart of the issue that Mark Henderson is addressing. Talking about the politics of science can be rather boring. It’s a turn off. It’s quite easy to make science itself interesting if you are good writer, as Henderson indubitably is – but it’s very hard to make politics of science engaging.
I read a lot of science blogs – in fact I’ve met many of the people Henderson quotes  – and much though I love someone like Stephen Curry when he’s talking about science, when he gets on a politics of science rant I lose interest because I’m not professionally involved in science – and that same difficulty of engagement comes across here.
That said, this genuinely is a very important topic, and Henderson covers many aspects of it well. There were times (when he was talking about homeopathy, say, or the lack of science education amongst our politicians) I got highly involved. And even when it was a little more dull, it was indubitably worthy and necessary.
I guess what it comes down to is that this is, yes, an important book and you genuinely ought to read it. Just don’t expect it to be overwhelmingly thrilling along the way.
Incidentally I was slightly miffed he didn’t mention my book Ecologic, which covers many of the underlying issues he mentions on the environment and organic food in a very readable fashion (doubly miffed as we had the same editor) – but that has no influence on my review.
Hardback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Logic - Eugenia Cheng ***

This is an important book, though I'm not sure Eugenia Cheng would agree with my logic in saying so. 

Going on the marketing, what we have here is a counter to fake news and dodgy argumentation in the form of mathematical logic. The back cover tells us 'Newspaper headlines and social media use emotions to warp the facts. Politicians and companies master rhetoric to mislead us. What one book could help us make sense of it all?' Admittedly they don't answer their rhetorical question, but I assume the answer is intended to be The Art of Logic. (Did the company behind this book realise it was using rhetoric, though presumably not to mislead us?) 

What we actually have is a combination of a lucid and interesting explanation of the basics of logic with the mathematical equivalent of those books such as Algorithms to Live By that were so popular a couple of years ago. They used the logic of algorithms (differently worded, and, to me, easier to understand), the heart of computer…

Quantum Economics - David Orrell ****

David Orrell's earlier title Economyths is one of my favourite popular science books of all time. Or, perhaps, I should say popular non-science, as Orrell shows just how devastatingly traditional economics uses the tools of science without having a scientific basis. I was, therefore, really looking forward to reading Orrell's new book - until I saw the title. As anyone involved with physics can tell you, there's nothing more irritating than the business of sticking the word 'quantum' onto something to give a pseudo-scientific boost to waffle and woo. Was Orrell doing the same thing? Thankfully, his introduction put my fears aside.

Orrell, a mathematician with a physics background quickly makes it clear that the way he is using quantum theory is not just employing magic words, but involves making use of strong parallels between the nature of quantum objects and concepts like money (more on money in a moment). Yes, this is to some extent a metaphorical use of quantum …

The Ashtray - Errol Morris *****

Wow. When someone suggested I read a book called The Ashtray, written by a documentary film-maker, it didn't strike me that it would be a book that gave deep insights into the history and philosophy of science - while also being a remarkable reading experience. In fact, I almost didn't bother with it, but I'm glad that I did.

The titular ashtray was thrown at the author when he was a grad student - thrown by one of the two best known names in the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn, he of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the concept of paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't like the young Errol Morris daring to challenge his ideas and reacted with what some would regard as a less than philosophical reply by hurling a heavy glass ashtray at him.

Part of the reason that reading The Ashtray is a remarkable experience is because it's a book that feels in some ways like watching a documentary. I have to confess I've never seen any of Morris's work, but he uses vis…