Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist

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Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Surely popular science publishing's biggest-selling franchise ever returns with another enjoyable success.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: November 2014
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 9781781251645

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For years now the New Scientist magazine has had a column whereby people submit questions they want the answer to, and it's up to correspondents from all walks of life to submit the answer and explain the solution. It's nothing new – the Guardian had it for years, then the Daily Mail probably had Britain's most popular variant, what with it being daily, but none were purely science-based such as that under perusal. It's a simple format for a book – not only does it create a fun kick-back at the close of an at-times hard-going science read, it generates a book full of fun and intriguing Q&As almost every year. Chances are that, by relying on the interests of their audience, the editors have allowed themselves to publish books that will appeal to many people who have never looked at their weekly edition – certainly they have been incredibly popular, and massively boosted the magazine's public recognition. And this volume will not be any different.

It certainly looks different, however. Gone are the cartoonish cover artworks and the gimmicky titles of old, here, to tie in with a recent success regarding writings about galactic, celestial and mathematical nothings, we have a book with a more serious look, title and ethos. Or so is the intent – but it's not long before the informative people answering the queries are debating lunar high-jumpers, spontaneous combustion in haybales and a lot more.

Reading the book is not just a fun look at the trivial side of science, but a look at the people who have commonly written in to the magazine with their feedback on the questions. You soon see the same names recurring – one Scottish school science teacher is very prominent, there's a guest author if you like from South Africa who turns up regularly. There is the occasional time when two regular contributors both answer the same question, but none beats Willenhall Man, who gets to reply to queries regarding freckles, toy car colouring, optical physics, myokymia and earworms. (Worry not, the whole idea of the books – and more often than not of the source journal – is to be as clear as possible about everything, so myokymia – that minute twitch you get in the corners of very tired eyes – is explained perfectly.)

And you also get a look at the sort of person that answers these questions, in a roundabout way. Someone asks why we have two nostrils, and the answer is all about facial and biological symmetry, when clearly the curious is asking (implied or otherwise) why we don't have one big one without a septum in between. The people answering here are definitely clever and widely-informed, but some of them cannot be a tiny bit literal and see where the real interest lies. (And an aside too about how really gimmicky the whole idea is – you have to assume the magazine has to pass all the answers through the eyes of a very erudite sub-editor, and not just rely on the wiki-style popular consensus to get the right information every time – so why doesn't that sub-ed just ping back accurate responses upon receipt of the question?!)

Which brings me back to the real reason these books have been so successful. They all boil down to the real interests of the common or garden man and woman on the street – the educated inquisitor needing the help of someone even more educated. So nobody need fear the adult dress this book wears, it's business as usual, and having covered penguin feet, the social lives of polar bears and so on (and having left someone else to tell the younger audiences why snot is green, of course), we're in the company of yet another huge selling, intelligent gift book. Heck, there's even the recipe for homemade mouthwash, so you could save the cover price the next time you reject Listerine at the chemist's.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

To gather all you might have wanted to learn about quantum astrophysics, but in completely readable words, we recommend The Edge of the Sky by Roberto Trotta as a completely different way of approaching popular science.

Buy Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Question Everything: 132 science questions - and their unexpected answers by New Scientist at Amazon.com.


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