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Children's Books - age range 9 to 14*
Review - The Gobsmacking Galaxy - Kjartan Poskitt
The delightfully named Mr Poskitt has written some excellent maths books for Scholastic, but his Gobsmacking Galaxy ("gobsmacking" is roughly "amazing" if it's not in your vocabulary) is, sadly, fairly ordinary. Unusually, Scholastic has two books on pretty well the same subject (the other being Nick Arnold's Space, Stars and Slimy Aliens) and neither of them is brilliant.
Part of the problem is that both books feel the need to go on a tour of the solar system, and by the time you've reached the third gas giant they've become a bit samey. It inevitably results in a big chunk of the book that is a tedious collection of facts. Where are all the good popular science people details? As soon as we're dealing with space they seem to go out of the window, to the detriment of the readability.
There are also big gaps in there. Some dark gaps, for example. There's nothing about dark matter - and though the book promises it'll tell you "what the dark area in between [the stars]" is, in fact it never answers that basic but fascinating question, once you realise how many stars there are out there - why is it black in between the stars?
Like Arnold's book, this one also perpetuates the myth that the asteroid belt is crammed with floating rocks, and you have to be very lucky to get through it - as opposed to the vast expanse of space with the odd object the typical neighbourhood is like in the belt.
Worst of all, though is one mind-boggling statement. Poskitt tells us that the Earth orbits the Sun in a big circle. Later on he says "most of the planets go around the Sun in a circle, but Mercury actually goes around in an ellipse shape". Kepler would be turning in his grave. Now admittedly some of the orbits are sufficiently low in eccentricity that they look almost circular - but circular they aint.
Despite this howler (come back epicycles, all is forgiven), on the whole this is a more readable book than Arnold's and is marginally the better of the two.
Only in paperback
Reviewed by Jo Reed
* Our age range recommendation is an estimated guide, but individual readers outside the range could still enjoy the book!
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Last update 05 June 2007