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Review - Scientific Curiosity/A Book of Scientific Curiosities: Everything you want to know about science but never had time to ask - Cyril Aydon

 

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The real puzzle when taking a look at this book is deciding just what it's for. Cyril Aydon has accumulated a packed little book of short items on different aspects of science, it what appears to be no kind of order, though I presume he had some structure in mind. It's a bit like wandering around a very old fashioned museum with a mummies crammed in next an early car, next to a collection of gulls' eggs, all labelled in a quaint and crabby fashion. Yet even that doesn't give the right picture, as those old fashioned museums can be highly entertaining - somehow, Scientific Curiosity doesn't quite achieve that, although there's nothing you can put your finger on that makes this the case.

As the book meanders across science there are certainly items to interest - but mostly in such a summary fashion, and with so little structure that there's an inevitable feeling of "so what". Some areas are covered much more effectively than others. Evolution, for instance, and the people who originated it, have around a dozen pages, while quantum mechanics, one of the most fundamental aspects of physics, doesn't even appear in the index. Relativity only gets a tiny look-in too, Feynman seems not to exist - modern physics seems to be something of a mystery to the author.

To make matters work, the presentation is rather clumsy. The text runs too near the top of the page, giving the book a rather amateurish look, and the layout lacks style. This, of course, isn't the author's fault, but it doesn't help the readability.

Is this an irredeemable loss, then? Not really. It indubitably has holes - apart from modern physics, it gives the unfair impression that absolutely nothing happened in the West between the ancient Greeks and Galileo - and an old-fashioned feel, but that can be quite comforting. It's not at all bad, if only it were possible to be sure what to do with it. Though it's an introduction, it's too dry for the young reader. The way the topics skip around, it's irritating to read end to end. The author suggests in his introduction that one way of approaching it is as a "lucky dip", opening it at random to glean a short piece of information, and perhaps that's the best way to use it, in what I've seen referred to euphemistically as a "bathroom book" - something handy to read for a minute or two when otherwise engaged.

Only in hardback.

Reviewed by Martin O'Brien

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Last update 05 June 2007