Newest Popular Science Reviews

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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

4star.jpg Popular Science

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

4star.jpg Popular Science

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

4.5star.jpg Popular Science

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

4star.jpg Popular Science

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

4star.jpg Popular Science

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

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

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...

At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

4star.jpg Politics and Society

You know that old saying about judging books by their cover? Ignore it! I have found that by judging a book by its cover and getting it completely wrong is a great way to find yourself committed to reading a book that you'd never have picked in a million years and yet, somehow, being amazingly glad you did. Full review...

The British Phonebox by Nigel Linge and Andy Sutton

4.5star.jpg History

The mobile phone must be one of the most used, must-have accessories of the modern age, the one device you cannot escape from in public. Some of us with (relatively) long memories must look back on the age when the bright red phonebox reigned supreme as a long time ago. Full review...

Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins and Stephen Biesty

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I take it as read that you know some of the history of space exploration, even if the young person you buy books for doesn't know it all. So I won't go into the extremes reached by the Voyager space craft, and the processes we needed to be expert in before we could launch anything. You probably have some inkling of how we learnt that we're not the centre of everything – the gradual discovery of how curved the planet was, and how other things orbited other things in turn proving we are not that around which everything revolves. What you might not be so genned up on is the history of books conveying all this to a young audience. When I was a nipper they were stately texts, with a few accurate diagrams – if you were lucky. For a long time now, however, they've been anything but stately, and often aren't worried about accuracy as such in their visual design. They certainly long ago shod the boring, plain white page. Until now… Full review...

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Frau Isa

4star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Some little girls want to be princesses, but the girl who would become Marie Curie wanted to be a scientist. She was from a poor family in Warsaw but she was determined to do well and won a gold medal for her studies. In Poland, in the middle of the nineteenth century, only men were allowed to go to University, so Marie moved to Paris where she had to study in an unfamiliar language, but was soon the best maths and science student. It was here that she met and married Pierre Curie, another scientist and they jointly discovered radium and polonium: they would eventually win the Nobel Prize for Physics for this work. Marie was the first woman to receive the honour. Pierre was killed in a road accident, but Marie went on to win a second Nobel Prize, this time for Chemistry. Her work is still benefiting people today. Full review...

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr Elissa Epel

5star.jpg Popular Science

I have lived my life determined not to age: I see nothing aspirational in the dependence of old age, whether it be on other people, government in all its forms or the NHS. I'm prepared to put effort into this: it's not the cosmetic image of youth I seek, but rather the ability to do as I do now - running a business, regularly walking for miles in our glorious countryside and enjoying life - for as long as possible. So far it's working out, but what else could I do and why does this work for some people and not for others? Full review...

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex and the Mind by Siri Hustvedt

4star.jpg Politics and Society

I must confess that A Woman Looking spoke to me on a profound, intimate level. This is in part due to the apparent similarities between me and Siri Hustvedt - we are both feminists who love art and also love science in a world which emphasises that these two passions are mutually exclusive. What Hustvedt suggests in A Woman Looking is that it is the similarities between these two areas we should emphasise and that a cohesive, inclusive approach towards art and science could help fill the gaps in both disciplines. Full review...

Why Icebergs Float: Exploring Science in Everyday Life by Andrew Morris

4star.jpg Popular Science

This unusual science textbook is based on the meetings of a science discussion group who raise questions from their everyday life. The group's resident science expert, Andrew Morris, does a sterling job in trying to answer some of their most obscure and challenging issues, which range from the physics of light and electricity to brain chemistry and social anthropology. Each chapter is based around a theme which grows from an observation made by a group member, such as what colour is the blood in the body and why is the tide so far out at Blackpool. This tie-in to the reality of our lives, makes the science more interesting and somehow more useful. Full review...

Operation Big: The Race to Stop Hitler's A-Bomb by Colin Brown

3.5star.jpg History

What, do you think, was more feared in 1941 and 1942 than the Nazi Party? Well, a Nazi Party with nuclear arms would be pretty high on the list. It seems the stuff of pure fantasy, but I'm not so sure. A lot of the people to be at the forefront of the nuclear physics of the age were German, and the first nuclear fission was on their soil. Two things seemed to be needed for nuclear arms – uranium, which they procured by capturing Czechoslovakia, the location of one its greatest source mines; and heavy water. That so nearly fell into Nazi hands when they invaded Norway, but what seems to have been the great majority of the world's supply had only just been smuggled out. Some fiction takes great strides to suggest in a fantasy way that if Hitler hadn't concentrated on exterminating Jews, he would have had the energy to win the war – and it must only be a short step to see his imperial expansionism as having an ulterior motive in nuclear materiel. But make no mistake, this is not fiction – these are the pure facts behind the issue. Full review...

Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart

3star.jpg Popular Science

In Calculating the Cosmos Ian Stewart attempts to explain how mathematics, a subject which strikes fear into the hearts of many, can be used to explain the wonders of the universe in a way which is accessible and understandable in a concise 352 pages. According to Stewart, Calculating the Cosmos takes us from the surface of the Earth to the outer reaches of the cosmos and from the beginning of time to the end of the universe. Does he achieve this? As the author himself states, the fun is in finding out so if you have any interest in mathematics, the universe and the complexities of space and time this may just be the book for you. Full review...

The Cell: A Visual Tour of the Building Block of Life by Jack Challoner

4.5star.jpg Popular Science

I've always been mesmerised by micro-worlds and the fact that the tiniest things are made up of even smaller intricate parts. The first time I saw a picture of a human cell, I was fascinated by its complexity. The Cell is a visual marvel, filled with full-colour cell images taken by optical and electron microscopes, using phase contrast, fluorescence and dark-field illumination to colour and differentiate the individual components. The detailed text that accompanies each image explains how cells begin, reproduce, protect themselves and come together in extraordinary ways to create complex life. Full review...

Botanicum (Welcome To The Museum) by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis

3.5star.jpg Popular Science

Welcome to the Museum it says on the front cover and I'll admit that for the moment I was confused as I've never associated museums with living plants, but as soon as I stepped inside the covers, I knew where I was. One of the authors, Professor Kathy Willis is the Director of Science at Kew Gardens: she's undoubtedly based her thoughts on Kew, but for me I was back in the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh - the glorious 'Botanics'. I'm not certain why we're supposed to be in a museum, unless it's that it allows us to refer to author Kathy Willis and illustrator Katie Scott as curators. Still it's a contrivance which doesn't affect the content. Full review...

This is Not a Science Book: A Smart Art Activity Book by Clive Gifford

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

This is Not a Science Book explores the often-overlooked link between science and creativity. This interactive book encourages readers to get cutting, glueing, twisting, colouring and shading in order to create a variety of at-home experiments that are as entertaining as they are educational. The activities are also perfect for a rainy day; making this book a welcome resource during the long (and often wet) school holidays. Full review...

Build Your Own Website: Create with Code by CoderDojo

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The Nanonauts want a website for their band, and who better to build it for them than the CoderDojo network of free computing clubs for young people? In this handbook, created in conjunction with the CoderDojo Foundation, children of seven plus will learn how to build a website using HTML, CSS and Javascript. Don't worry too much if some of those words don't mean anything to you - all will be made clear as you read through the book. There's also information about how to start a CoderDojo Nano club with friends - which has great benefits in terms of harnessing creativity, learning how to code - and the benefits of teamwork. Full review...

Build Your Own Website: Create with Code by CoderDojo

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

The Nanonauts want a website for their band, and who better to build it for them than the CoderDojo network of free computing clubs for young people? In this handbook, created in conjunction with the CoderDojo Foundation, children of seven plus will learn how to build a website using HTML, CSS and Javascript. Don't worry too much if some of those words don't mean anything to you - all will be made clear as you read through the book. There's also information about how to start a CoderDojo Nano club with friends - which has great benefits in terms of harnessing creativity, learning how to code - and the benefits of teamwork. Full review...

Get Coding!: Learn HTML, CSS & JavaScript & build a website, app & game by Young Rewired State

5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

Learning to code, even heading into my seventh decade, changed my life and for today's children it's important because it opens so many doors. It might look complicated, but all it required is concentration and - eventually - imagination. I had a reasonable mastery of the skills of basic HTML in three days with the benefit of a personal tutor, but where to go if you don't have that privilege or if you need some extra support? Get Coding! seems like the perfect answer. Full review...

The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy by Arabella Kurtz and J M Coetzee

5star.jpg Popular Science

We live by stories. Novelists weave tales that may or may not reflect reality, and that we accept as their job: to create fictions with intriguing character plots that draw in, surprise and touch the reader is at the core of their job description. But story telling goes beyond profession: everyone, writer or not, sometimes more consciously, sometimes less, creates their own history, selects memories that they retain, repress others, and constantly weave together a story of who we are, a tale of identity. Full review...

Sea Journal by Lisa Woollett

5star.jpg Popular Science

Over the course of a year Lisa Woollett invites us to go with her on her visits to various beaches in the British Isles, although 'visits' might make what happens sound a little too formal. Woollett knows her local beaches, and some further afield, in much the same way that a gardener knows their own plot. She's aware of minute changes, how the phase of the moon will affect the tide, what she can expect to find in the strandline and where it's come from. She delights in every variation of the weather and she's a mine of wonderful information from ancient myths to up-to-the-minute science. Full review...