Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? by Mick O'Hare

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Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? by Mick O'Hare

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The follow-up to 2005's publishing sensation Does Anything Eat Wasps? gives us 115 questions and answers from New Scientist magazine's Last Word column. It would make a splendid Christmas gift - if you can bear to give it away.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1861978766

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It's a good question, isn't it? Penguins waddle about on ice, but their feet don't freeze. The cover of the book suggests that this is because of a pair of stripy socks and some snow boots, but the truth is more prosaic. Penguins are able to control the flow of blood to their feet. In cold weather the flow is reduced and the temperature of the feet is held just a degree or two above freezing to prevent frost bite and reduce heat loss.

If you read New Scientist magazine you'll be aware of the Last Word column. Readers send in their questions and the answers are supplied by other readers. Just occasionally a discussion evolves as readers debate the answer to the question. Some times the answer is very technical and at the other end of the scale, it can be laugh-out-loud funny. Take, for instance the question about bird droppings. A reader wondered why these were white when this didn't seem to reflect the colour of the food the bird ate. The answer is that this is urine rather than faeces, but one reader points out that:

They do it from a great height because from a lower height it's just too easy to hit the target - no challenge at all. The deposit needs to be white so that, from said great height, they can see where it lands and who it hits.

I think quite a few of us will be able to sympathise with the feeling behind that answer!

The publishing sensation of Christmas 2005 was Does Anything Eat Wasps? and publishers Profile Books are hoping to repeat that success with this follow-up volume. Does Anything Eat Wasps wasn't actually the first but the third book in the series and the latest volume includes questions and answers from the first two volumes along with some previously unpublished queries. With a total of 115 questions on a wide variety of subjects there's bound to be something there for everyone, young and old alike. Young readers seemed to have a fascination for all things nasal and their correlation with the size of fingers, whilst older readers might be interested to hear that hair doesn't turn grey but is that colour naturally, with pigment cells producing the colour of the youthful hair. Unfortunately, if you think your hair is getting darker, it could be that you're about to start going grey.

Some things I wish I hadn't known. I won't repeat the chemical formula for a human being, but somehow it seemed to take the romance out of life! It was disappointing too to find that the Great Wall of China isn't visible from space. I suppose it was only to be expected, given that it really isn't that wide and is in terrible disrepair in places, but somehow it made space seem a little smaller and more friendly! I was disconcerted to learn that there's actually a hole in the top of a parachute. It stops the parachute tilting to one side, but it felt like a waste of valuable air which you might be glad of.

I enjoyed this book. It's probably not one to read through from beginning to end but rather to dip into and out of. It's a wonderful book to have in a handbag or a pocket and to pick from when you've a few moments to spare. It's what my husband calls a 'train to work' book. It's science made popular with dashes of humour. It's all there though - you'll be expected to work at understanding some of the answers and there's no dumbing down or patronising, even when it's a child asking the question. Just occasionally the answers were a little too complex for a non-scientist.

Buy this for yourself if you fancy it, but you must have someone on your Christmas present list who would love this. I'm almost sorry that I've read it and can't now put it on my list!

This book was kindly sent to The Bookbag by the publishers, Profile Books Ltd.

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Buy Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? by Mick O'Hare at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? by Mick O'Hare at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

I have been thinking about getting the Wasp one for a while but it always seemed too slight. Now, this sounds very good too. I wish I knew of these when making my last Amazon order which I needed bumping up to £15 to avoid delivery charge!

PS. I knew about the hole in the parachute!

hazzzzel said:

Anyone with children needs books like this - both for answering their questions and appearing knowledgeable and, when they are older, letting them read themselves to fan their interest in the world and science.

The fact that you can dip into it when there are a few spare minutes is a bonus for both parent and child.