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Children's Books - age range 10 to 100*
Review - The Cause of Mosquitoes' Sorrow - Surendra Verma
This is a book that has without doubt one of the best titles of any popular science book we've reviewed. There something wonderfully wistful and mysterious about the title, which certainly doesn't give many clues away about what the book actually is - it's a chronological wander through scientific breakthroughs, beginnings and blunders, giving a page per discovery, and bringing in both the obscure and the obvious.
It is one of those books that could equally well go in our children's or adults' section. It isn't explicitly a children's book, but the approach taken is often quite simplistic - the main Archimedes entry, for example (there is another on levers) gives us the apocryphal bath story and the account of his death, both worthy of a Horrid Science book (and both considered highly unlikely by historians of science). Another example is the first line of the page on Bell and the telephone. "Did you know the first words spoken on the telephone?" it asks. This sort of wording feels most comfortable in a children's book.
Younger readers will appreciate the basics, while adult readers will probably get more out of some of the more obscure discoveries and blunders including Chladni's 1794 theory that meteorites dropped out of the sky and Blondlot's 'discovery' of the totally imaginary N-rays. No phlogiston, strangely, though.
There's the occasional small accuracy hiccup - Einstein is misquoted on the subject of quantum mechanics and dice, and buckminsterfullerine is called buckminsterfullerness, but mostly it's good stuff.
What would have made this a solidly 5 star book is if each page had a couple of other books as recommended further reading on the topic. This only seemed to happen once with a reference to Verma's own Why Aren't They Here - but as each of the pages in this book really acts as a taster for a particular bit of science, it would have been absolutely wonderful if each page then gave the reader a chance to dig deeper and really explore a topic that intrigued.
Reviewed by Brian Clegg
* 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