Skip to main content

What If Einstein Was Wrong – Ed. Brian Clegg ***

It’s ironic that the editor of this website, Brian Clegg, has occasionally said he can’t see the point of books with a series of short articles on a subject… only to end up editing just such a book here. I usually review children’s books and this format is very familiar to me – the two page spread, with text on one page and a large illustration on the other – but I do accept it’s more uncommon in adult non-fiction.
For me this particular example works well. If I’m honest, though, the cover made me nervous. With a combination of an ungrammatical title and a picture of E=mc2 crossed out (something that never features inside) it seems as if it may be verging on pseudo-science, but actually the topics (written by a collection of highly respectable authors, including Jim Al-Khalili on the foreword) are the bits of physics that were once or are still challenging and that take people by surprise. In other words, the interesting bits.
The book is divided into seven sections – quantum physics, relativity and time travel, particle physics, cosmology, astrophysics, classical physics and technology. (Ok, that last isn’t really physics, but it’s technology that is physics related.) Each section also has a ‘historical’ entry that was once a little risqué but is now fairly straightforward, like Galilean relativity or the (not) flat Earth. It actually all works surprisingly well. There’s enough text to get a meaty little bit of information, plus a couple of bonus factoids, and some of the illustrations are rather fun.
It’s hard to pick out favourites among the 50 or so topics, but they range from the likes of ‘What if Schrödinger lost his cat?’ to ‘What if Maxwell had a demon?’ You get the feel, I think. Overall entertaining bite-sized physics that would make a good present or just something to read here and there.
Hardback:  
Review by Jo Reed
Please note, this title is edited by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

Lost Solace (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ****

There was a time when you would be hard pushed to find a science fiction novel with a female main character. As I noted when re-reading Asimov's Foundation, in 189 pages, women appear on just five pages - and they're very much supporting cast. But the majority of new SF novels I've read this year have had female main characters, including The Real Town Murders, Austral and Andy Weir's upcoming Artemis.

That's certainly the case in Karl Drinkwater's engaging Lost Solace. It's really a two hander between military renegade Opal and her ship's AI, Clarissa. There are a few male characters, but they are either non-speaking troops she battles or a major with whom she has a couple of short video conversations. That summary gives an unfair military flavour to the whole thing - in practice, the majority of the action, which is practically non-stop throughout the book, involves Opal trying to survive as she explores a mysterious, apparently abandoned liner in a de…