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Blowfish's Oceanopaedia - Tom Hird ***

There's always the worry with books that could be classified as 'nature' that they don't really contain any science - they end up more like tourist guides of the natural world. This is fine if that's what you're looking for, but not doing the popular science job. Thankfully, Tom Hird's Blowfish's Oceanopedia is significantly more than a 'isn't nature wonderful?' book - though Hird's boundless enthusiasm for his topic does occasionally take us into 'gee whizz, wow' mode.

Unless you are already a marine biologist (which I certainly am not), you will indubitably learn a lot reading through Hird's collection of bite-sized oceanic and fishy facts. We begin with some information on the sea itself, the nature of waves and the like, then move on to the main course of the assorted denizens of the deep. I certainly had plenty of 'Oh, really? I didn't know that,' moments.

Unfortunately, though, there is a big drawback from the format that Hird has chosen. I read the first few pages thinking 'Okay, these are introductory bits - he'll start writing properly soon,' but it never happens. It should have been obvious from that Oceanopedia title - this isn't a continuous book, it's an encyclopaedia, though arranged by topic rather than alphabetically. Apart from a very few articles that lead on one to another, each, roughly page-long piece, is standalone. Now, encyclopaedias are all very well - and some people do claim to enjoy reading them end to end. But for most of us, a collection of short articles with no connection and no flow, makes for limited reading pleasure. (And because it's not alphabetic, you can't even look something up easily.)

As I've mentioned, there's plenty of content, though I did find Hird's regular remarks along the lines of 'this involves maths, which is too boring to talk about' irritating. While we're on the topic of irritation, I do slightly worry about a grown man who calls himself Blowfish - single word pseudonyms are silly in rock stars and downright bizarre in science writers. As far as I can tell, the biology stuff is all spot on. The physics might be a little less sound - Hird tells us that the Sun and the Moon exert a similar control of the tides. If he believes this I'll happily swap him the Sun's pull in pounds sterling for the Moon's pull, as the Moon's effect is about 2.1 times as strong.

So it's an absolutely fine book as a collection of short, fact-based articles - a tasty smörgåsbord if you enjoy that approach. But if you want any kind of narrative flow - something you would expect from Hird's exuberant storytelling in media appearances - you will be a little disappointed.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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