Skip to main content

Science is Beautiful - disease and medicine - Colin Salter ***

How you respond to this book will probably depend a) on how you feel about coffee table books and b) what your response is to those sections in some newspapers (and New Scientist) which are striking photographs with a relatively small amount of text.

What Colin Salter has done here is bring together microphotographs of a large range of bacteria and viruses, along with assorted medicines, the latter particularly in crystal form. The results can be striking, particularly when false colours are used to bring out details, or in the stunning rainbow optical effects when light is passed through some crystals.

I had hoped I would get enough out of the book to enjoy looking through the images in detail, but on the whole, there was a tendency very quickly to start flipping through thinking 'Yes, that's nice,' or 'That's impressive,'... without taking a lot in.

In a way it's more like a trip round an art gallery exhibiting microphotographs than reading a book. And while there certainly is impressive variability in shapes of bacteria and viruses, once you seen a few, it is very much a matter of variations on a theme.

Science is Beautiful would be best employed providing some impressive inspiration for an artist, or to help pass a little time in a doctor's waiting room. (On second thoughts, probably not a doctor's - preferably a rather less medical waiting room.)

Hardback:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Rockets and Rayguns - Andrew May ****

The Cold War period saw dramatic developments in science and technology, coinciding with the flourishing of the science fiction genre. In Rockets and Rayguns, Andrew May draws on the parallels between reality and fiction, each influencing the other.

Inevitably a major Cold War theme was the threat of nuclear war, and May opens with the bomb. It's fascinating that fiction got there first - nuclear weapons were featured in science fiction when many physicists were still doubting the practicality of using nuclear energy. Of course, it's a lot easier to simply take a concept and dream up a weapon than it is to make it for real - for example, H. G. Wells' prophetic nuclear bombs from his 1914 The World Set Free were nothing like the real thing. And some science fiction devices concepts - notably ray guns and force fields - came to very little in reality. However this doesn't prevent the parallels being of interest.

May gives us a mix of the science - describing how nuclear we…

Galileo Galilei, the Tuscan Artist – Pietro Greco ****

Near the beginning of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he refers to a ‘Tuscan artist’ viewing the Moon through an optic glass. He’s talking about Galileo – one of history’s greatest scientists, but not the most obvious person to slap an ‘artist’ label on. Yet Galileo lived at a time – the Renaissance – when it was fashionable to dabble impartially in both the arts and sciences. Look up ‘Renaissance man’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see Galileo’s picture right there underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s a less well-known side to his life, but it crops up again and again – interspersed among his many scientific achievements – in this excellent new biography by Pietro Greco.

If you’re looking for interesting trivia, you’ll find plenty in this book. Galileo’s father was a musician with scientific leanings, who carried out some of the first experiments on musical acoustics – which Galileo may have assisted with. As a young professor of mathematics, Galileo delivered a couple of lectures on …

The Ultimate Interplanetary Travel Guide - Jim Bell **

Not too long ago, NASA brought out a series of spoof ‘space tourism’ posters for various destinations in the Solar System. For people like me, who have watched NASA depressingly fail to send humans to the other planets for decade after decade, it was just another painful twist of the knife. On the other hand, the posters probably have more appeal for younger and less cynical minds, by presenting familiar astronomical objects in a new and engaging way. There may even be scope for a whole book along these lines – and that’s what Jim Bell has attempted here.

The main thing I learned from it is that my brain is programmed to read either fiction or non-fiction, and can’t handle a 50:50 mix of the two – which is what this book is. It drove me mad –  not least because I could see that the same material, presented as straight non-fiction, could have made a really excellent book. Using the NASA posters as a starting point, he could have enumerated the potential ‘tourist sights’ at each location…