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Showing posts from August, 2005

Why Does a Ball Bounce – Adam Hart-Davis ****

… and 100 other questions from the world of science the title continues, in case balls and their bouncing aren’t your favourite topic (oddly the cover images and the Amazon.com text only allow us 99 other questions, but the real book in front of me proudly insists on 100). The book consists of 101 pairs of pages – one with text, the other with a striking colour photograph taken by author. It’s beautifully produced, and that’s part of its attraction. The text is simple, entertaining and eyecatching. Adam Hart-Davis is a popular TV presenter in the UK, specializing in history of technology, and he has this sort of thing off to a fine art. At their best, the entries are concise and fun. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of space for text, so some of the entries are so condensed that they miss out some of the best bits. For example, a piece on the age of the earth gives over nearly half the text to Archbishop Usher’s delightful attempt at calculating the age from the bible, dating it back t…

The Talking Ape – Robbins Burling ****

Language – surely one of the key factors to making us human – and Robbins Burling does a superb job of explaining just what language is and how it might have originated. This one of those popular science books that just reads itself – although Burling does use a little jargon, he employs it sparingly, and with careful explanation. The text along the way is easy to follow and the arguments are absolutely fascinating. Though Burling has clear ideas of just how language developed (including the remarkable thought that it may have originated as a form of proto-music), he is careful to put across the opposing views that crop up throughout the field. This is a book that can be read easily by anyone with an interest, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of oversimplifying. Equally fascinating for the non-linguist is discovering some of the complexities of our communications channels – how, for example, gestures form part of our language, or how the genetically programmed “calls” like laughter a…