Skip to main content

Science is Beautiful - disease and medicine - Colin Salter ***

How you respond to this book will probably depend a) on how you feel about coffee table books and b) what your response is to those sections in some newspapers (and New Scientist) which are striking photographs with a relatively small amount of text.

What Colin Salter has done here is bring together microphotographs of a large range of bacteria and viruses, along with assorted medicines, the latter particularly in crystal form. The results can be striking, particularly when false colours are used to bring out details, or in the stunning rainbow optical effects when light is passed through some crystals.

I had hoped I would get enough out of the book to enjoy looking through the images in detail, but on the whole, there was a tendency very quickly to start flipping through thinking 'Yes, that's nice,' or 'That's impressive,'... without taking a lot in.

In a way it's more like a trip round an art gallery exhibiting microphotographs than reading a book. And while there certainly is impressive variability in shapes of bacteria and viruses, once you seen a few, it is very much a matter of variations on a theme.

Science is Beautiful would be best employed providing some impressive inspiration for an artist, or to help pass a little time in a doctor's waiting room. (On second thoughts, probably not a doctor's - preferably a rather less medical waiting room.)

Hardback:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…

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…