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30-Second Theories by Paul Parsons

Take fifty of science's most thought-provoking theories, and try to explain each in thirty seconds or one page. It's all here, from Schrodinger's cat, to cosmic topology, via the Gaia hypothesis and chaos theory.

30-Second Theories by Paul Parsons

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: What should have been a super introduction to science ends up missing the mark. Depending on the audience, it's either pitched too high or too low, without ever really satisfying anyone. A missed opportunity, as its inherent quality is obvious.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 160 Date: May 2010
Publisher: Icon Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848311299

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At face value, 30-Second Theories screams of being a perfect popular science book. The editor, Paul Parsons, has an impressive background in popular science, including editing BBC Focus magazine. The contributors are equally highly thought-of, including Michael Brooks who wrote one of Bookbag's favourite science books. Indeed, it's all written really well, and there's nothing to knock in terms of its inherent quality. However, the inescapable fact is that 30 seconds is not enough to explain most of these theories. A minute, maybe. 30 seconds? No.

I'm not sure who the ideal reader for this book is. If you need global warming or natural selection explained to you in 30 seconds, then quantum mechanics will go over your head. If you have enough scientific knowledge to understand a 30-second explanation of the other theories, then you won't need the book in the first place. It's not detailed enough to be a reference book, nor clear enough to be a refresher, nor inspirational enough to set your thought processes going in any direction that takes your fancy.

It's the sort of book I'd usually love, and I wish I could have raved about it. There's nothing to criticise about it other than it doesn't work, but that's a biggie. I'm sad to say it's a missed opportunity.

My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

If you're looking for a basic grounding in science, get past the stigma and pick up a children's non-fiction book. Glenn Murphy's Science: Sorted! books are particularly good, as is The Comic Strip History of Space by Sally Kindberg and Tracey Turner. For the next step, take a look at how scientific thinking evolved with The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson, which will fill in a few more gaps in your knowledge. After that, dive in to Bad Science by Ben Goldacre and Why Does E Equal mc Squared? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.

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