New Scientist has done very nicely, thank you, selling 2 million copies of its collections of answers to intriguing science questions derived from the back page of the magazine over the years. Those books were starting to feel just a little jaded, but they have been entirely revived in the latest addition to the series by including photographs. So these are photos readers have sent in of strange phenomena that they want explaining. We get the photo (in shiny colour), the reader’s question, other readers’ responses and a few witty comments from the editor. All in all it works very well.
Apart from the title question, there are strange creatures to be identified, unusual clouds and ice formations to investigate, eggs inside eggs, strange frozen crumpets and more. Very entertaining. It’s not a heavy read – I got through the whole thing on a train journey. I do find I tend to see what the answer is but skip through some of the more nerdy aspects of some replies. I would also say that I got a bit bored with cloud formations. But the exotic wildlife and domestic oddities more than made up for it.
One thing that was interesting – I usually take a quick look at the Last Word section in New Scientist where these Q&As feature. I’ve never remembered anything in the previous books like Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze, but I did remember quite a few of these. It just shows the power of images to fix items more firmly in the memory. Great either to fill in a train journey or as a gift book.