Skip to main content

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.
Paperback:  
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Dialogues - Clifford Johnson ***

The authors of science books are always trying to find new ways to get the message across to their audiences. In Dialogues, Clifford Johnson combines a very modern technique - the graphic novel or comic strip - with an approach that goes back to Ancient Greece - using a dialogue to add life to what might seem a dry message.

We have seen the comic strip approach trying to put across quite detailed science before in Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. As with that book, Dialogues manages to cover a fair amount of actual physics, but I still feel that the medium just wastes vast acres of page to say very little at all. This is brought home here because quite a lot of the sections of Dialogues start with several pages with no text on at all, just setting up the scenario.

As for using a discussion between two people to put a message across, Johnson makes the point that, for instance, Galileo's very readable masterpiece Two New Sciences is in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a discu…

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland…

Ten Great Ideas About Chance - Persi Diaconis and Brian Skyrms ***

There are few topics that fascinate me as much as chance and probability. It's partly the wonder that mathematics can be applied to something so intangible and also because so often the outcomes of probability are counter-intuitive and we can enjoy the 'Huh?' impact of something that works yet feels so far from common sense.

I think I ought to start by saying what this is isn't. It's definitely not an introductory book - the authors assume that the reader 'has taken a first undergraduate course in probability or statistics'. And though there's an appendix that claims to be a probability tutorial for those who haven't got this background, it's not particularly reader-friendly - in theory I knew everything in the appendix, but I still found parts of it near-impossible to read.

As for the main text, if you pass that first criterion, my suspicion is that, like me, you will find parts utterly fascinating and other parts pretty much incomprehensible. Th…