Skip to main content

Elephants on Acid – Alex Boese *****

I went about this what was officially the wrong way round, reading the sequel to Elephants on Acid (if you are wondering, Electrified Sheep) first – but for me it worked well because I preferred the original.
Both books have the same basic premise – a collection of tales of the weirdest and most bizarre experiments that real scientists have undertaken – but Elephants has the advantage of both coming first, and hence probably getting the cream of the crop, and also lacks the format issue I had with the sequel, because it doesn’t have the lengthy, slightly irritating dramatised intros to the stories. On the whole the entries are shorter too – this does make the book a little bitty but with this kind of concept it actually works better.
Some of the experiments described are mildly horrifying (if you get upset by vivisection, look away in the section describing a kitten having its head cut off and its spinal cord replaced with a metal amalgam, or attempts to keep two heads alive on the same dog. Others are just bonkers, like the title one involving giving an elephant a huge overdose of LSD (it died). Or most fascinating for me the  psychological ventures including the inevitable Milgram shocking experiment.
You might not gain a lot of valuable science from this book, but I can guarantee you will be thoroughly entertained.
Paperback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

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 …