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Showing posts from August, 2013

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…

A Piece of the Sun – Daniel Clery ****

I was a little worried early on in A Piece of the Sun as, frankly the science is borderline feeble. I was quite shocked that in describing the fusion reaction in the sun, the author was very hand waving about quantum theory, not even mentioning quantum tunnelling in his explanation. Luckily, though, this isn’t a book about science, so much as about how science and technology is undertaken, and that it mostly does very well. Nuclear fusion with its simple fuel and low level waste has always seemed such a natural energy solution I have never understood why we have been so slow at developing it – now I do. Daniel Clery beautifully describes the development of the technology and the parallel understanding of plasmas and fusion in the UK, US and Russia (for some reason, less so in the other big fusion player, Japan). By reading this you get a real feel for the difficulties and in some cases the dramatic stories of the developments and political infighting along the way. The book also expl…

30-Second Elements – Ed. Eric Scerri ****

Remarkably soon after reviewing Eric Scerri’s A Tale of Seven Elements he’s back with 30-Second Elements. I need to admit up front that I have made a small contribution to thisbook – but it’s no more than 10% and only in writing a few of the articles, nothing to do with the overall volume. The way the book works is as a series of 50 articles, each on an element and each a two-page spread, with pithy text on the left and an illustration on the right. It is given a bit more weight with a longer introduction and a profile of a key figure in each of seven main sections. If I am honest, I have been scathing about these ’30-Second’ books in the past, because I have found it hard to understand why anyone would buy one. They generally aren’t readable through like a real book, but aren’t detailed enough to be a reference. However, they have sold plenty of copies, and this particular one is something of an exception to my uncertainty because the subject of the elements lends itself to this ‘bi…