Skip to main content

How Many Moons Does the Earth Have - Brian Clegg *****

Science and fun go together like… well, like things that don’t often go together at all.  So it’s no mean feat to find that Brian Clegg has managed to combine the two so skilfully in How Many Moons Does the Earth Have.  
The book is in the format of a pair of pub quizzes, but unless you’re drinking in a pub favoured by geeky academics in either Oxford or Cambridge (I would have just said Oxford, except that Brian went to the other place!) I would say that 99.99% of readers (I can say that confidently as no one can check it) will just read the book through like I did, to entertain and test themselves.   
Each question is cleverly laid out, in that each is posed in the form of a puzzle, problem or brainteaser, augmented with a few related ‘while you wait’ fun facts on a single page; giving the reader the space to test themselves.  Once done, the reader then turns the page to find the answer - complete with a detailed explanation.  This makes each question an interesting standalone read in its own right.  For those who want to go further, each answer also has a ‘read more’ suggestion of a book that expands on the topic.
The biggest problem with this book is being able to put it down, as each item is very short, it’s tempting to go for just one more… and another until you’re half-way through in a single sitting.  
The subjects are widespread, though all encompass science and technology; from the title question of the book (not as straightforward as it seems) to who invented the gramophone (ditto) - there are also some great picture and puzzle sections.  In fact the majority of the questions have a little twist or surprise that mean they continue to delight all the way through, and I must say that I don’t believe that I’ve ever uttered ‘Well I never’ so many times and in such a short space of time before.
If you like QI or the New Scientist books like Why Don’t a Penguin’s Feet Freeze, you’ll just love this one!  It’s a great book for anyone with an interest in science and at a really good price that makes it an excellent stocking filler.  I am certainly going to be buying a whole stack as Christmas presents for my Oxford chums.
Paperback:  
Kindle:  

Review by Pete Morris
Please note, this title is written 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

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

The Laser Inventor - Theodore Maiman ****

While the memoirs of many scientists are probably best kept for family consumption, there are some breakthroughs where the story is sufficiently engaging that it can be fascinating to get an inside view on what really happened. Although Theodore Maiman's autobiographical book is not a slick, journalist-polished account, it is very effective at highlighting two significant narratives - how Maiman was able to construct the first ever laser, despite having far fewer resources than many of his competitors, and how 'establishment' academic physicists, particularly in the US, tried to minimise his achievement.

On the straight autobiographical side, we get some early background and discover how Maiman combined degrees in electrical engineering and physics to have an unusually strong mix of the practical and the theoretical. Rather than go into academia after his doctorate, he went into industry - which seems to have been responsible for the backlash against his invention, which we…