What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown

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What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown

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Buy What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A whirlwind tour of bodies and beings, this is a 'science explained' book that is very entertaining and full of insights. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Faber & Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0571278398

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Long-listed for 2014 Royal Society Book Prize

We all wonder about the Big Stuff at one time or another. How does the brain work? How does electricity actually get into our homes and power stuff? Who thought it was sensible to have a soft cheese, a Ferengi and an elementary particle all share the same name? Because that’s not at all confusing. Rather than just think about these things, Marcus Chown has decided to examine and explore them, and share his research. Or, as the subtitle puts it, this is One man’s attempt to explain the big stuff.

I often find that science books miss the mark, either being too cerebral for the average reader, or else too watered down for anyone who did science past Year 8. This book is brilliant because it’s so well pitched, in that it’s easy to read (so as not to put off the audience) and full of educational facts you don’t feel a dummy for not knowing (so as not to put off the audience) without being things you’ll have heard before (so as not to put off the audience). I learned a great deal from this book, on a dazzling array of topics, from DNA (the link to mushrooms explains why I’ve always been such a fun guy, boom) to string theory (that thing they’re always harping on about on The Big Bang Theory). This is in no way an academic text book, but it taught me a lot more than the dry things that got me through GCSEs did. It’s an entertaining book that relates scientific concepts to everyday life, so you can put things in perspective.

There’s far more to be said than could fit in one book, or even a series of volumes, and I think the author did an excellent job of picking, if not the most important bits, then definitely some of the more interesting ones, even if they jump around a bit with each new chapter, from evolution to banking to geology. His passion for the subject shines through – you can imagine him being the kind of guy who gets giddy when he discovers something previously unknown, and who immediately wants to share his discovery with everyone he knows.

This is not a small book, even if it does only scratch the surface of the Big Stuff of the title. I enjoyed reading it but needed time to digest each chapter, putting it down for a while in between each one. I think this was aided by the somewhat higgledy piggeldy order of the topics, because the flow wasn’t so smooth I felt the next few pages would bring more clarity to a topic – I learned quite early on that we’d be talking about something entirely different, so now would be a good place to stop.

This wasn’t the first ‘science explained’ book I’ve read, and it won’t be the last, but it will be one I recommend, because it genuinely gave me fun, dinner party facts I didn’t know before. Like, humans had needles. Neanderthals apparently did not. Needles means sewing. Sewing could mean making clothes or coverings for fragile members of the group. Babies who don’t freeze to death grow up to expand the race, etc etc. Thus, perhaps, the reason or part of the reason humans prospered over Neanderthal. It’s that sort of example, with a fact extrapolated into a possible explanation for why something is or was, that really makes this book.

I’d like to thank the publishers for supplying this book...and for keeping that song firmly in my head for the last fortnight.

Amateur science boffins will also like Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space by Mary Roach I'm sure.

Buy What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown at Amazon.co.uk


Buy What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What a Wonderful World by Marcus Chown at Amazon.com.

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