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Showing posts from January, 2014

How the Ray Gun Got its Zap – Stephen Wilk ****

In Stephen Wilk’s How the Ray Gun got its Zap two key factors for a science book’s effectiveness go into a head-to-head battle and neither entirely wins – yet the outcome is rarely bad and sometimes downright fun. The downside comes from the way the book is put together. It is a set of essays, an after-the-writing compilation, which is an approach that never makes for as effective reading as a book that is actually written as a book. However, some of Wilk’s topics are hugely entertaining or informative, and some even achieve the pop sci nirvana of managing to be both. What we have here are optical physics essays (they are a bit too formal and stiff to call articles) on topics ranging from the earliest attempts to put together a mathematical rule behind refraction to the possible nature of tractor beams. The book is divided into three sections, history, weird science and pop culture, and it is arguable that they become more interesting as you go through them. I love history of science,…

The Universe Inside You – Brian Clegg *****

* UPDATED * To include mass market paperback If you like QI you will love this book. Like the TV show, it takes a basic theme and then delights in finding all the strange and wonderful reality that can be discovered from that concept. Here the starting point is your body as a vehicle for exploring science. Some of what you will read is literally about the body, whether it’s the voyage of red blood cells or the paradox of your hair being dead but still part of you. But at other times it will link your body to the bigger world of science – so, for instance, we follow a photon of light from a star in the constellation Orion to your eye, finding out about cosmology and quantum theory along the way. The main chapter headings start us off from a human hair, a cell of your body, your eyes, your stomach, the dizziness you might feel after going on a theme park ride, sexual attraction and your brain. But each of these sections of the book contains so much more. On the theme park ride, for exam…