Giant Leaps: Mankind’s Greatest Scientific Advances – John Perry & Jack Challoner ****
This is the only popular science book I know of that has been personally endorsed by Tony Blair (but don’t let that put you off it!) who after reading it said: ‘I wish there had been a book like this to awaken my interest in Science.’
This colourful and well-illustrated coffee table book is an unlikely collaboration between The Sun (one of the UK’s infamous tabloid newspapers), and the Science Museum that covers most of the major inventions and discoveries in scientific history, and even speculates on those that might yet be made. Each one is described in a two page spread: one page of which is written by the Science Museum and is purely factual, and the other being a mock up of what the front page of The Sun would have looked like if it had been reporting on the relevant discovery.
The fun here is of course that the tabloid reporting style is spoofed perfectly – leading to such gems as: ‘MONKEY NUTTER! Barmy Boffin Darwin Reckons We’re All Descend From Apes’ and the discovery of penicillin prompts ‘MOULD THE FRONT PAGE’. Whilst the invention of smelting metals gives us ‘ORESOME’.
I’m sure that anyone who reads this book will have his or her own favourite. The one that prompted the most chuckles from me was the invention of nylon and its use in stockings giving rise to the headline: ’THIGH PREDICT A RIOT’. You might think that the conceit would quickly get tiring – but the book is just the right length for it not to outstay its welcome. If anything it could do with covering a bit more ground than it actually does.
The factual pages are nice and clearly written; just don’t expect a tremendous amount of depth, as you might anticipate would be the case in a book of this sort.
Giant Leaps gets the balance just right between the factual and the humorous making it a very accessible read. Recommended to anyone who is interested in science and its popularisation.