Skip to main content

Cosmic Imagery: key images in the history of science – John D. Barrow *****

This lavishly illustrated book is a must-have, not just for the beautiful pictures within it, but for Barrow’s spectacular commentary on the significance of the diagrams, images, and illustrations it contains, and how they have helped to shape science and mathematics over the centuries.
As you may expect there are many pictures in the book from the field of astronomy, which have given us significant insights in to how our Universe works – such as the Hubble Deep Field image of some of the earliest known galaxies. But what is slightly less obvious is the link that Barrow makes between the Earl of Rosse’s famous drawings of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which he made with the famous Leviathan telescope, and the way these drawings probably inspired the swirling night sky in Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. This is where Barrow succeeds in making this an engrossing read in drawing out the boarder significance of the scientific discoveries he looks at.
The book is a mixture of the things you may well expect in a title of this sort; Crick and Watson’s first sketch of the structure of DNA, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of stellar evolution, Hooke’s drawing of a flea as seen under his microscope, etc. and the unexpected – a picture showing quantum entanglement, the first ever graph, the symbol for infinity and its religious connotations.
This is an extremely well written work. Barrow’s writing adds tremendously to the amazing images within the book making it eminently readable for expert and layman alike. I would say it is arguable that this is one of the best popular science books ever written.
Hardback:  
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…