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Boffinology: The Real Stories Behind Our Greatest Scientific Discoveries [Paperback]

Justin Pollard
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Sep 2010

The history of science is often seen as a story of advancement but nothing could be further from the truth. Science, it is true, has progressed, but rarely in the direction intended and seldom for the reasons given. This has a lot to do with the people responsible.

Meet Thales, credited as 'the father of science', whose only real claim to fame is that he often fell into ditches, discover how Archimedes never said Eureka and hated baths anyway and how the most lucrative ancient Greek invention was not democracy but the slot machine.

Justin Pollard also fills us in on Issac Newton who liked to disguise himself and lurk in London's less salubrious pubs, how eleven people claimed to have invented the steam engine and why the first website was twelve foot across and made of wood.

Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (2 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848542003
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848542006
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 13.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 450,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Justin Pollard was born in Hertfordshire and educated at St. Albans School and Downing College, Cambridge where he was president of the Poohsticks Society.

Since then he has written nine books, a few articles for magazines like History Today, BBC History Magazine, E&T and the Idler and he is one of the writers of the BBC panel show QI.

He also runs a company called Visual Artefact which provides scripting and historical advice for feature films. His credits include Shekhar Kapur's 'Elizabeth', Joe Wright's 'Atonement', Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' and the forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean movie 'On Stranger Tides'.

In television drama he is the historical consultant for the BBC TV/Showtime series 'The Tudors' - which gets him into a lot of trouble with other historians.

He lives in Dorset where he grows vegetables and wonders where all the sheep have gone.

Product Description


'An illuminating read'

(Financial Times)

'This approachable and often funny compendium of tales about scientists and their discoveries is also making an important argument: that science is not the stately, dispassionate progress from evidence to theory that some of its self-appointed defenders think'




About the Author

Justin Pollard read Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge. He is a historical writer and consultant in film and TV. His credits include Elizabeth and Atonement and the BBC TV drama The Tudors, as well as more than twenty-five documentary series such as Channel 4's Time Team. He is a writer and researcher for QI and the author of seven books including The Interesting Bits, Charge! and Secret Britain. 

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secret Britain meets Science 20 Sep 2010
Ever since Justin Pollard mentioned that his newest book was going to be based on science discoveries, I knew it was going to brilliant and I wasn't wrong.

In Pollard-esque style, the book is filled with fascinating tales and stories behind what really happened in the science world and what really happened behind some of our most popular inventions.

Boffinology is filled with hidden gems of factual information that is both interesting and helpful in the understanding of how things work and why we use items the way we do. You do not need to be a fan of science or even care about science to like this book (although if you are, even better!). But if you enjoy trivia or are curious about how modern day items came to be, this is the book for you.

You can read the book front to cover, as I did, or use it as a pick-up-flip-to-a-page and read book. Each page will not disappoint although I guarantee you won't be able to read just one story.

The book is broken into 10 Chapters, each containing 10 Quite Interesting *ahem* stories.

Stop reading this review and click buy. You won't regret it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A multititude of anecdotes 24 Jan 2011
This book follows a very simple format: it just gives a large number of very short anecdotes regarding various aspects of scientific discovery. Most are 1-3 pages long and so are eminently digestible. Structured by a rough theme (which get more tenuous as the book goes on) it makes for quite a good "coffee table" book that be picked up and dipped into at any time. I chose to read it cover to cover, however there is no master narrative that necessitates this approach.

It has to be pointed out that the author is one of the researchers for the tv show, QI, and the style of writing is very much in that vein. In fact, some of the stories in the book I have heard Stephen Fry read almost word-for-word from his crib cards. So if you like QI then this should appeal to you.

As far as science writing goes, it very basic and does not require any expertise in order to be able follow. However, the author has committed one cardinal sin of science writing by not including any references whatsoever. All we have to rely on are his word that he did some unspecified research, but has not named his sources, which does cast a shadow over the reliability of the anecdotes contained therein.

That said, being a scientist myself, some were very familiar to me and almost all that I was familiar with already were accurate. Due to the brevity of the stories, some important details were missed off, and I noticed these particularly in the last section of the book when it came to the stories about Galileo and Mendel, which causes them to be slightly inaccurate.

With that small aside, this was an enjoyable and informative read. You don't have to be into science to enjoy it, and enjoy it you most certainly should.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and educational 18 Aug 2012
15 Sep 2012 By JB
Thoroughly good read, appealing to both adults and teenagers alike.

This well written book comprises short and humorous anecdote-style overviews of famous inventions and discoveries; each described in just the right level of detail. Being a scientist myself, but not a historian, I found a historian's perspective on science particularly helpful.

Secondary schools might consider making this book (possibly with a different title) compulsory reading because, in a light hearted way, it both gives insight into how science actually works - as opposed to how people think it works, and also makes science seem appealing in a way that secondary schools often fail to do.

Intended to be a fun read rather than a serious reference book, this book nevertheless includes inventions and discoveries that are still of relevance today, and has also proved to be a source of entertaining and educational discussions at family mealtimes.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars QI in print 15 Sep 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a fan of the programme QI and all its fascinating facts I hear, but never remember, it's good to have something I can read over and over again until something sinks in!
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Light-Hearted and Most Enjoyable Read 14 Jan 2011
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
This is the third book by this author that I've had the pleasure to read, so far; I have not yet been disappointed. The book contains one hundred little snippets about various events in the world of science that have occurred throughout history. These snippets are, on average, about three pages in length and are divided into ten sections of ten stories each. Each such section has a main theme in which the author focuses on a particular field/topic, e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, inventions, accidents, frauds, etc. The timeline roughly spans the period from Ancient Greek times to the twentieth century. I have noticed that a few of these stories have been recounted in other similar works and so may seem familiar to some readers.

In my opinion, the author's writing style is one of this book's strongest assets. It is witty, often tongue-in-cheek, occasionally quite humorous, always lively and widely accessible; the author's choice of words in certain key instances is absolutely impeccable. This book should appeal to a very wide readership: from science buffs to those simply wanting to enjoy a light-hearted yet educational read. I highly recommend it!
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