Newest Popular Science Reviews

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Ad Astra: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet by Dallas Campbell

5star.jpg Popular Science

So… you want to leave the planet? Before you do you'd better study the whole history of human space flight to get up to speed. That could take a while… if only there was a handy guide that could condense it all down for you. Enter Dallas Campbell with this book: An illustrated guide to leaving the planet. Full review...

Sock (Object Lessons) by Kim Adrian

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The subject of this book has been around for several millennia, and yet my partner's daughter has been employed for several years designing it, or them. It's something I use for about 200 days of every year, at a guess (well, I have my self-diagnosed over-active eccrine glands and other people to think about) – which clearly puts me at the opposite end of the scale to well-known mass-murderer of women, Ted Bundy, who was into stealing credit cards to fund his desire of having a fresh pair every single day. On which subject, the amount of them we create every year could stack to the freaking moon and more. Some idiots buy more than six pairs a year, apparently, which is plain stupid. I'm talking, as you can tell, of the humble sock. Full review...

Eye Chart (Object Lessons) by William Germano

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It's happened to me, and like as not it has or will happen to you, too. I mean the receipt of certain little numerical results, with a positive or negative before them to prove the correction needed to my vision to make me see with the intended clarity and normality. I've had that gizmo that photos the back of my eye to check for diabetes and other problems, I've had different tests to check the pressure inside my eye, and I've come away with glasses I don't need to wear all the time, but certainly benefit from on holiday, or when watching TV or a cinema or theatre production. And above and beyond that I've stared at – and got wrong – the simple, seemingly ageless test, of various letters in various configurations that diminish in size, to prove to the relevant scientist at what stage things get blurry for me. Of course it's not ageless, but the scientific progress that led to it, the changes other people made to it, and the cultural impact it's had are all on these eye-opening small pages. Full review...

Wonders Beyond Numbers: A Brief History of All Things Mathematical by Johnny Ball

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Like many people of a certain age, I have fond memories of tuning in to watch Johnny Ball enthusiastically extolling the virtues of maths and science; succeeding where our schoolteachers had failed and actually making these subjects fun. Although decades have passed since those classic TV shows, his latest book proves that he has lost none of his passion and enthusiasm for his subject. Full review...

I Contain Multitudes: the microbes within us and a grander view of life by Ed Yong

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The world you know is a lie. There is no such thing as good or bad microbes. Sickness and health are all far more complex than we thought. Things designed to save us may kill us and things we think would kill us may save us. Welcome to the modern study of Microbes. Full review...

Stupendous Science by Rob Beattie and Sam Peet

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Education should be fun. We learn best when we are engaged with practical, enjoyable tasks. That's the secret behind the experiments in Stupendous Science. They have the fun element, the 'wow factor,' and most importantly, can be easily replicated with items that are readily available in the home. Each experiment teaches an important scientific concept; essentially teaching through play. Full review...

Optical Illusions by Gianni Sarcone and Marie Jo Waeber

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I used to work as a library assistant and I remember arriving to work one morning to find all of my fellow librarians crowded around a book, chattering excitedly and...squinting rather oddly. The book was called Magic Eye and promised a magical 3D viewing experience if you looked at the psychadelic pictures in a certain way. For a brief period in the early 90s, the pictures had a sudden spike in popularity, until everyone presumably got eye strain and went back to their everyday lives. Well good news Magic Eye fans! The pictures are back (albeit only two images), in the engrossing and immersive new book Optical Illusions. Full review...

Blue Planet II by James Honeyborne and Mark Brownlow

4.5star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

You may well remember when the sticking of a number '2' after a film title was suggesting something of prestige - that the first film had been so good it was fully justified to have something more. That has hardly been proven correct, but it has until recently almost been confined to cinema - you barely got a TV series worthy of a numbered sequel, and never in the world of non-fiction. If someone has made a nature series about, say, Alaska (and boy aren't there are a lot of those these days) and wants to make another, why she just makes another - nothing would justify the numeral. But some nature programmes do have the prestige, the energy and the heft to demand follow ups. And after five years in the making, the BBC's Blue Planet series has delivered a second helping. Full review...

Build It! 25 Creative STEM Projects for Budding Engineers by Caroline Alliston

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Build It! 25 Creative STEM Projects for Budding Engineers takes a strictly hands-on approach to science to show how scientific ideas can be applied to real-world situations. The book contains 25 projects with varying degrees of complexity to demonstrate topics such as air travel, programmable machines, light, motion and electricity. The book is designed with the younger scientist in mind, so there is a focus on the fun aspect, with many of the projects involving toys. Full review...

The Science of Food: An exploration of what we eat and how we cook by Marty Jopson

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I've always believed that if you understood why something worked in a particular way it was very easy to remember how it worked and what you needed to do. The food we eat is no exception to this rule and The One Show resident scientist Marty Jopson has undertaken to explain how things work in the kitchen - and he covers everything from the type of knives we use through to the food of the future. Best of all, he does it in language that even a science illiterate like me can understand. Full review...

The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne

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Browne does not mislead with this choice of title; he does without a doubt explore the many faces of coincidence. Full review...

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

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Luke Dittrich seeks to shed light on the man behind the initials, and in doing so, uncovered quite a bit more than he expected. Full review...

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe

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If you are not having a fight with somebody, then you are not sure whether you are alive when you wake up in the morning.

With Tom Wolfe making such bold statements as this even up to the near present (The Guardian in 2004), you can be sure that Wolfe, nearing 87, has lost none of his familiar argumentative style; or that his journalistic days are nearing a close, with his love of melodrama. Full review...

The Smell of Fresh Rain by Barney Shaw

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The Smell of Fresh Rain attempts to open our minds to the power and potential of our sense of smell. Barney Shaw, a man armed with only a powerful curiosity and boundless enthusiasm sets out to understand this ever elusive sense and to explore ways to interpret smells in an accessible and simple way. His journey takes him from boatyards to markets via Harrods and his childhood home to uncover the meaning behind everyday scents and to distil the apparently complex nature of smell into language which is accessible and satisfying. Full review...

Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide by Robert Newman

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In Neuropolis, the book and the Radio 4 series, Newman targets a sub-species of pop-neuroscience that he dubs bro-science – a pessimistic, denigrating take on the brain that is based more on macho posing than on research. He sets out to destroy it using proper science. Full review...

Cool Physics by Sarah Hutton

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If you aren't entirely sure about a phrase such as Christiaan Huygens states his principle of wavefront sources, don't worry – it was only in 1678 that it happened, so you're not too far behind in physics. Brownian motion, and the gravitational constant being measured both date from before the Victorian era, and all of these three things are on the introductory timeline in this book, which I think might well be proof enough that a primer in the world of physics is very much needed. Full review...

Something or Nothing: A Search for My Personal Theory of Everything by Anthony Marson

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Most thinking people have their own theory of the meaning of the universe,and of why they - we - exist within it. It's a natural extension to wonder whether life was created, or, if not created, how was life formed? In Something or Nothing Anthony Marson develops his own theories. The journey began when the author was on a touring holiday in Tasmania, gazed up at a clear night sky and asked himself how and why all the stars came to exist. Although this subject has been explored countless times by scientists, theologians and philosophers, Marson wanted an answer which satisfied him and he begins his search by quite openly admitting that he has only a limited scientific education. It was good to know - for once - that I was on the same footing as the author and we could explore together. Full review...

Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

4.5star.jpg Autobiography

It's more than two years since I read Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery but the memories have stayed with me. I had thought then that a book about brain surgery might sound as though I was taking my pleasures too sadly, but the book was superb - and very easy reading and when I heard about Admissions I decided to treat myself to an audio download, particularly as Henry Marsh was narrating. I knew that my expectations were unreasonably high, but how did the book do? Full review...

First Science Encyclopedia by Dorling Kindersley

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I wasn't introduced to 'science' until I was eleven and went on to senior school: I wasn't alone in this, but it really was too late. Thankfully, times have changed and children at primary school are getting to grips with plants and animals, atoms and molecules and even outer space from a very young age. What's needed is a good, basic reference book which will introduce all the subjects and give a good grounding. It needs to be something which would sit proudly in the classroom library and comfortably on a child's bookshelf. The First Science Encyclopedia would do both well. Full review...

Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

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Most of us have had the experience of watching a game at Wimbledon, or hearing a concert pianist, or reading about a new world record for the youngest chess Grandmaster, and daydreamed about ourselves in that position. Except, we invariably tell ourselves, that isn't possible because we were always beaten in school tennis matches, we didn't start piano lessons until we were twelve, and we were never pushed by our parents to play chess. Peak is a supremely optimistic – which is not to say unscientific – ode to practise, and the idea that with the right amount and right sort of practise, almost anyone can achieve almost anything. Full review...

The Story of Be by David Crystal

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David Crystal is something of a torchbearer when it comes to popularizing linguistics in the UK. He churns out material about language for a general audience at steady pace: he has covered everything from the history of English to how Shakespearean drama was actually pronounced to how language is used in an internet context. Given his previous grand themes, it is perhaps surprising that Crystal has now picked something rather more inconspicuous to present: the verb be. Full review...

The Ascent of Gravity by Marcus Chown

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Evidence for gravitational waves was picked up by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) in 2015, a hundred years after Einstein predicted their existence. As the book says 'a good case can be made that the discovery of gravitational waves is the most important development in astronomy since the invention of the telescope in 1608'. Why? And why does it matter for the understanding of physics and the universe? Well, Marcus Chown's new book will lead you gently through the background to this discovery and with a small amount of effort on your part you should grasp its relevance. Full review...

Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by Cordelia Fine

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I really want to believe that starting Testosterone Rex with an anecdote involving a key-ring made of canine testicles was less of a puerile opening gambit and more of a consciously chosen attempt to make me believe that Cordelia Fine's new book is going to deliver the goods. Full review...

Botanicum Activity Book by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Children and adults who enjoyed Botanicum (Welcome To The Museum) by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis are going to love the Botanicum Activity Book. Don't be misled by the suggestion that the book is aimed at the seven-plus age group: there's plenty in here for anyone who is still capable of holding a pen or pencil. Full review...

Beyond Infinity: An expedition to the outer limits of the mathematical universe by Eugenia Cheng

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I'm right.
I'm more right.
I'm right times infinity!
I'm right two times infinity!
I'm right times infinity squared!

Most people will have heard, or participated in, this type of childhood argument. It doesn't really make much sense, as we know that infinity goes on forever, and therefore two times infinity and infinity squared cannot be any bigger than infinity itself. But what exactly is infinity? This term has puzzled and intrigued people for generations, and Beyond Infinity sees mathematician Eugenia Cheng take on the challenge of defining infinity and helping us unlock its secrets. Full review...

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

It's one thing for a non-fiction book for the young to show them something they themselves can explore – the pattern of the stars, perhaps, or the life in their back yard. But when it gets to things that are equally important to know about but are impossible to see in real life, why, then the game is changed. The artistic imagination has to be key, in portraying the invisible, and presenting what can only come from the pages of a book. And this example does it at its best, as it delves into the layers of the soil below said back yard, down and down, through all the different kinds of rock, until we reach the unattainable centre of the planet. And there's only one way to go from there – back out the other side, with yet more for us to be shown. It's a fantastic journey, then – and a quite fantastic volume. Full review...

Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain by Lucy Jones

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As one of the largest predators left in Britain, the fox is captivating: a comfortably familiar figure in our country landscapes; an intriguing flash of bright-eyed wildness in our towns. Yet no other animal attracts such controversy, has provoked more column inches or been so ambiguously woven into our culture over centuries, perceived variously as a beautiful animal, a cunning rogue, a vicious pest and a worthy foe. As well as being the most ubiquitous of wild animals, it is also the least understood. Here Lucy Jones investigates the truth about foxes – delving into fact, fiction, folklore and her own history with the creatures. Discussing the debate on foxes, Jones asks what our attitudes towards foxes says about us, and our relationship with the natural world. Full review...