Skip to main content

The Geek Manifesto – Mark Henderson ****

It’s interesting that the ‘added puff’ fake sticker on the front of this book calls it ‘important’ because that is actually a very informative word about this book. What is packed into ‘important’ is that this is a really essential topic with lots of well argued material… but it’s a bit boring. And that’s kind of how I felt about the book.
In a way it suffers from the target of my agent’s non-fiction mantra: ‘Is this a book or is it an article?’ I felt that this really was more an article taken to book length. But the problem is more than that and it sits at the heart of the issue that Mark Henderson is addressing. Talking about the politics of science can be rather boring. It’s a turn off. It’s quite easy to make science itself interesting if you are good writer, as Henderson indubitably is – but it’s very hard to make politics of science engaging.
I read a lot of science blogs – in fact I’ve met many of the people Henderson quotes  – and much though I love someone like Stephen Curry when he’s talking about science, when he gets on a politics of science rant I lose interest because I’m not professionally involved in science – and that same difficulty of engagement comes across here.
That said, this genuinely is a very important topic, and Henderson covers many aspects of it well. There were times (when he was talking about homeopathy, say, or the lack of science education amongst our politicians) I got highly involved. And even when it was a little more dull, it was indubitably worthy and necessary.
I guess what it comes down to is that this is, yes, an important book and you genuinely ought to read it. Just don’t expect it to be overwhelmingly thrilling along the way.
Incidentally I was slightly miffed he didn’t mention my book Ecologic, which covers many of the underlying issues he mentions on the environment and organic food in a very readable fashion (doubly miffed as we had the same editor) – but that has no influence on my review.
Hardback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Conjuring the Universe - Peter Atkins *****

It's rare that I'd use the term 'tour de force' when describing a popular science book, but it sprang to mind when I read Conjuring the Universe. It's not that the book's without flaws, but it does something truly original in a delightful way. What's more, the very British Peter Atkins hasn't fallen into the trap that particularly seems to influence US scientists when writing science books for the public of assuming that more is better. Instead of being an unwieldy brick of a book, this is a compact 168 pages that delivers splendidly on the question of where the natural laws came from.

The most obvious comparison is Richard Feynman's (equally compact) The Character of Physical Law - but despite being a great fan of Feynman's, this is the better book. Atkins begins by envisaging a universe emerging from absolutely nothing. While admitting he can't explain how that happened, his newly created universe still bears many resemblances to  nothing a…

Big Bang (Ladybird Expert) - Marcus Chown ****

As a starting point in assessing this book it's essential to know the cultural background of Ladybird books in the UK. These were a series of cheap, highly illustrated, very thin hardbacks for children, ranging from storybooks to educational non-fiction. They had become very old-fashioned, until new owners Penguin brought back the format with a series of ironic humorous books for adults, inspired by the idea created by the artist Miriam Elia. Now, the 'Ladybird Expert' series are taking on serious non-fiction topics for an adult audience.

Marcus Chown does a remarkable job at packing in information on the big bang, given only around 25 sides of small format paper to work with. He gives us the concepts, plenty about the cosmic microwave background, plus the likes of dark energy, dark matter, inflation and the multiverse. To be honest, the illustrations were largely pointless, apart from maintaining the format, and it might have been better to have had more text - but I felt …