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Showing posts from November, 2014

Life on the Edge - Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden ****

You might think that this book has received four stars, but if you know anything about quantum theory you will be aware that a quantum object can be in a superposition of states. And this quantum book is in a superposed state of 5 stars for the subject - which is fascinating and important - and 3 stars for the writing - which is disappointingly poor, given Jim Al-Khalili's expertise and experience.

It might seem that the whole concept of 'quantum biology' is a truism that hardly needs exploring. When every chemical reaction or electrical activity in a living organism is based on the interaction of quantum particles, why would there be a need for a separate discipline? But the (still relatively few) workers in the field like quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili and biologist Johnjoe McFadden are looking at special cases. Where quantum effects, like entanglement, have a direct impact on large scale systems. Whether it's the robin's ability to steer using a molecular magne…

Sciku: the wonder of science in haiku - Students of Camden School for Girls ****

I was a little uncertain about what this book would be like. Probably the closest thing I'd come across before was Marcus Chown and Govert Schilling's Tweeting the Universe, which came across as one of those projects that works better as an idea than it does in practice. But, in fact, this collection of haiku on science subjects by the students of Camden School for Girls proved surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking.

There were distinct differences between different subjects - and there was a huge range of styles and content. Being low on appreciation of high culture I particularly enjoyed the humorous haiku, but it was interesting that the physics and cosmology topics seemed to work better than the biology. This may be a poetic reflection of Rutherford's old taunt to biologists that 'all science is either physics or stamp collecting' - all too often the biology topics were primarily establishing labels, where in the physics poems the sharp limits of the form …

About Time - Adam Frank ***

This is a curious book that tries to be great - and it almost succeeds. Adam Frank makes a determined effort to interweave two apparently unconnected strands of science and technology history - the personal appreciation of time in human culture and our cosmology. Along the way he brings in a whole host of little details - whether or not you feel that the main aim of the book is successful, there is plenty to enjoy in here.

To begin with, that blend of two disparate strands works very well. We start with time that is linked to the heavens and so is inevitably tied up with cosmology. Later on we get the monastic measures of time, the first clocks, the spread of mechanical time, electrical synchronisation and the railways, modern time keeping, the Outlook program from Microsoft Office and our modern hyper-connected, always aware world, and alongside it the move from mythical cosmologies through Greek and Copernican versions of the solar system, our expanding view of the universe, various …

Royal Society Winton Prize 2014

The books listed for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize, arguably a summary of the best popular science books published in 2013. Winner
Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark MiodownikThe judges said: “A contemporary, sideways look at everyday stuff. Miodownik writes with a passionate ability to explain each subject. It’s packed full of excellent stories and is the only science book out there where the author gets stabbed on the London Underground!” ShortlistServing the Reich: the struggle for the soul of physics under Hitler by Philip Ball The judges said: “An incredibly interesting look at the politics of science and the decisions all scientists have to make.”


Seven Elements That Have Changed The World: Iron, Carbon, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Titanium, Silicon by John Browne
The judges said: “An inspired look at seven very special elements which are essential to the modern world. It’s a captivating read.”


The Perfect Theory by Ped…