Skip to main content

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the book to be a beautiful object in its own right.


Why this book?

I followed science to degree level, but have made several subsequent forays into more artistic territory. Fusing art and science has always intrigued me and remains a lodestar. I’ve enjoyed talking to non-scientists about science and trying to understand, explain and illuminate the wonder and beauty of the natural world and the cosmos and it’s inner workings. I’ve long wanted to create sort-of anti-textbooks.  For some years I amused my friends (I think!) by talking of wanting to create lyrical, poetic, beautiful books about science for non-science readers, without any real idea of how you would do that. I still think that might be impossible!  But it’s worth a detour…


What’s next?

I like the idea of tackling more bite-sized chunks of science.  This book’s conceit of moving from the Big Bang to Now gave me a crash course in finding about where we are.  And while it’s a very satisfying structure, I’d love to dwell in greater, but hopefully still eccentric (!), detail on particular areas of scientific interest as there is just so much there. I’d like to do a series of smaller books like this, perhaps for a slightly younger readership. I’m also planning a graphic book that looks at the key technologies of ancient civilizations and how they link scientific insight with cultural and social flowerings. Oh… and there is the sumptuous book on artichokes that is always there on the back burner… (Don’t ask!)


What’s exciting you at the moment?

Advances in astronomy (now, including gravitational waves), high-energy particle physics and the ability to crunch big-data seems to be taking us to the threshold of another paradigm shift in our view of the Universe … well, at least that’s how it feels to me. The extraordinary fact that 95% of the Universe seems to be missing and that gravity is by most accounts inexplicably weak by many orders of magnitude, is frustrating and scintillating by turns. I’m excited by the idea of the next ‘Einstein’ to turn on the light bulb. Wouldn’t it be absolutely amazing if it happened within our lifetimes? I favour brane cosmologies and multidimensional space as the deeper reality. I mean, otherwise, how on earth could the Universe have emerged from ‘nothing’ – really… c’mon! But, perhaps, like the humble bee, we are irrevocably imprisoned within the limits of our perceptual systems and we will never get to see what ‘lies beyond’.  But it's fun trying!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Conjuring the Universe - Peter Atkins *****

It's rare that I'd use the term 'tour de force' when describing a popular science book, but it sprang to mind when I read Conjuring the Universe. It's not that the book's without flaws, but it does something truly original in a delightful way. What's more, the very British Peter Atkins hasn't fallen into the trap that particularly seems to influence US scientists when writing science books for the public of assuming that more is better. Instead of being an unwieldy brick of a book, this is a compact 168 pages that delivers splendidly on the question of where the natural laws came from.

The most obvious comparison is Richard Feynman's (equally compact) The Character of Physical Law - but despite being a great fan of Feynman's, this is the better book. Atkins begins by envisaging a universe emerging from absolutely nothing. While admitting he can't explain how that happened, his newly created universe still bears many resemblances to  nothing a…

Big Bang (Ladybird Expert) - Marcus Chown ****

As a starting point in assessing this book it's essential to know the cultural background of Ladybird books in the UK. These were a series of cheap, highly illustrated, very thin hardbacks for children, ranging from storybooks to educational non-fiction. They had become very old-fashioned, until new owners Penguin brought back the format with a series of ironic humorous books for adults, inspired by the idea created by the artist Miriam Elia. Now, the 'Ladybird Expert' series are taking on serious non-fiction topics for an adult audience.

Marcus Chown does a remarkable job at packing in information on the big bang, given only around 25 sides of small format paper to work with. He gives us the concepts, plenty about the cosmic microwave background, plus the likes of dark energy, dark matter, inflation and the multiverse. To be honest, the illustrations were largely pointless, apart from maintaining the format, and it might have been better to have had more text - but I felt …