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13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time [Paperback]

Michael Brooks
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Feb 2010

Science starts to get interesting when things don't make sense.

Even today there are experimental results that the most brilliant scientists can neither explain nor dismiss. In the past, similar anomalies have revolutionised our world: in the sixteenth century, a set of celestial irregularities led Copernicus to realise that the Earth goes around the sun and not the reverse. In 13 Things That Don't Make Sense Michael Brooks meets thirteen modern-day anomalies that may become tomorrow's breakthroughs.

Is ninety six percent of the universe missing? If no study has ever been able to definitively show that the placebo effect works, why has it become a pillar of medical science? Was the 1977 signal from outer space a transmission from an alien civilization? Spanning fields from chemistry to cosmology, psychology to physics, Michael Brooks thrillingly captures the excitement and controversy of the scientific unknown.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (4 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 186197647X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861976475
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Brooks, who has a PhD in quantum physics, is a consultant for New Scientist. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, Independent, Observer and THES.

Product Description


'Whether we believe we're stardust or nuclear waste, this book keeps us hooked...' --Independent on Sunday

`Outstanding non-fiction reading' --Esquire

`Impressively knowledgeable, articulate' --Independent

`An admirably clear and clever writer'
--Evening Standard

Book Description

'Brooks is an exemplary science writer ... This is the sort of science book one always hopes for. Learned, but easy to read. Packed with detail, but clear. Reading it will make you feel clever' William Leith, Daily Telegraph

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
270 of 293 people found the following review helpful
I thoroughly enjoyed about half of this book. The early chapters on physics & astronomy discuss some difficult concepts in a very approachable way, and the chapters on evolution are also very good. There is some really excellent popular science writing in these pages. Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably in a book of this type, there are a few low points as well...

To be credible as a book about "scientific mysteries", the unifying themes should still have been the need for extraordinary evidence to support extraordinary claims, and the scientific method. This is, after all, a book with the word "scientific" on the cover. The tone of the writing in places is credulous where it should have been questioning.

But the real show stopper for me was the chapter on homeopathy. I strongly suspect that this was deliberately put at the end of the book. I (and many other readers, I suspect) would have stopped reading at that point if it had been any earlier. The last line of the preceding chapter serves as a warning to what follows: an examination of "science's least favorite anomaly". How something for which there is no credible scientific evidence *at all* qualifies as a scientific anomaly is quite beyond me. The studies and "evidence" discussed in this chapter are (without exception) discredited, or flawed, or small, or unrepeated, or statistically inadequate, or all of these. The unquestioning and naive tone of this chapter discredits the entire book, which is a great shame.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but let down by OCR errors 7 Aug 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
An interesting and thought provoking book. Even the chapters on subjects that I had some prior knowledge of contained new perspectives and insights.

Unfortunately, the Kindle edition, at least, is let down by being littered with scanning/OCR errors ranging from spaces and hyphens erroneously appearing in the middle of words, through errors such as "woodness" in place of "goodness", right up to "A gram of carbon, for instance, contains 5 x 1022 atoms" which should, presumably, have been "5 x 10^22 atoms". Several paragraphs required reading through a couple of times to decode the author's actual meaning, which was something of a let down.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
As a science-graduate of 15 years ago, I like popular science books and the history of science. So I was quite looking forward to this read but was surprised at how hard it was to follow, disappointed by his choice of 13 and disliked his writing style:

Generally I get most scientific ideas when explained by good populist science writers. But I just didn't understand whole arguments presented in the book. This is not Michael Brooks fault - he is trying to cover 13 topics for which there are at least 2, and often more, complex explanations (so you have c. 30+ scientific theories to get through in 300 pages). This is a tough ask and I think a fundamental flaw with the idea of the book.

Were they the correct 13?
- Brooks missed out our non-understanding of what makes up a proton (e.g., are there more than 4 dimensions? How can 'particle spin' seem to transmit info faster than speed of light etc?) This seems to me to be as interesting as dark matter / energy and clearly not understood.
- He also decided to hide the origin of life (very interesting topic) under a chapter about what is the definition of life (not interesting). Defining terms isn't a scientific mystery. It can be hard (try defining comedy or art) but it's not as interesting. Or put it another way: I am about 100 times more interested in knowing how life came about than am I knowing how best to define whether something is alive or not.
- Two of the chapters are single anomolies (i.e., happened once and for which there is no other evidence). These are both mysteries, but not on the same level as, say death, it is
- I have not read all the homeopathy chapter yet but am puzzled at it's inclusion.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
By scep
When it comes to popular science writing, homeopathy is a shibboleth. I therefore flicked straight to that chapter and these words jumped out at me:

"...they too had failed to prove homeopathy's inefficacy. Yet again. This all seems implausible. Given more than two centuries, science has failed to show that homeopathy is bunkum." [p194].

You'd think that a "PhD in quantum physics" would at least give one some grasp of the scientific method, including where the burden of proof lies and the 'argument from ignorance' fallacy. This chapter gives no evidence of this (though maybe it's confirmation bias on my part). This is such a fundamental flaw (cognitive or editorial, it matters not) that I have no reason to read the rest of the book or, indeed, any of his other stuff.

N.B. This review would have been longer and more detailed, but at least one an earlier reviewer noted the same thing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Read
Easy reading in some complicated subjects. Could do with an annual update though. Just need a few more words before I can post.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. William J. Giles
5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle!
One of the many books I've downloaded for my kindle, good read and keeping it on there to read again in the future =)
Published 2 months ago by me
5.0 out of 5 stars 13 things made more interesting
Balanced, well written and with lots of human interest. The author is passionate about his subject and this comes through in each chapter. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Peter M Goodlad
5.0 out of 5 stars A confident appraisal of the scientific milleu
The writer is obviously well versed in his subject and has a confident openness in expressing his views that carries one along as one might follow a sure footed guide. Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. S. Burnett
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and intriguing
If you are interested in weird things and conundrums of life this book will please you. The world is not as we imagine.
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars vox pop sci
stimulates the old grey matter,
introduces new science regions to read more about
does this makes sense ?
Then buy it.
Published 4 months ago by Mr. G. Hardy
2.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed much of this, BUT...
What I liked about this book is it's wide-ranging scope, from cosmology to the origins of life to the problem of free will, it had all the makings of a lovely intellectual journey,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jan W. H. Schnupp
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and thought provoking
Well written, compelling reading and thought provoking. Makes you realise what a wonderful and fantastic Universe this is, and how far the human life-form has evolved to question... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Enki
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a very good book indeed.
I found this a gripping analysis of a number of scientific premises which don't add up yet are considered to be generally acceptable. Read more
Published 14 months ago by D. M. Harrington
4.0 out of 5 stars 13 Things that don't make Sense
This book represents an admirable effort to make sense of some things that "don't make sense". Read more
Published 14 months ago by Douglas Wood
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