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13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time Paperback – 5 Feb 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (5 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861978170
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861978172
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 390,042 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


This entertaining and often provocative book examines such mysteries as dark matter and dark energy, the prospect of life on Mars, sex and death, free will and the placebo effect, among other head-scratchers...The book is at its best when Brooks throws himself into the action. He undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to test the assumption that he has free will, and subjects himself to electric shocks for a placebo-response test...This elegantly written, meticulously researched and thought-provoking book provides a window into how science actually works, and is sure to spur intense debate. (New Scientist 2008-10-22)

Entertaining... engagingly written... a worthwhile read for budding explorers of new worlds (Jon Turney Independent 2009-02-11)

Odd data clusters are crime scenes, over which Brooks combs with the reassuring casualness of an expert... to provide riveting cliffhangers of scientific detection... admirable (Steven Poole Guardian 2009-02-14)

Fascinating, bang-up-to-date... Like all the best science popularisers, Brooks reawakens us to the astonishing fact of our mere existence, the strangeness of the world around us, and the astonishing amount that science has yet to discover (Christopher Hart Sunday Times 2009-02-15)

Buy yourself a copy, and prepare yourself to be entertained and challenged in equal measure (Robert Matthews BBC Focus 2009-02-02)

Brooks expertly works his way through... hotly debated quandaries in a smooth, engaging writing style reminiscent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould. At times, as I was deeply engrossed in parts of this book, I found myself as captivated and wide-eyed as I was decades ago when I picked up my first science books and found my calling. Mr Brooks has the ability to make his readers forget their surroundings - in my case a hectic newsroom - and train their minds' eyes on images as foreign as a vast Martian landscape or as distant as a roiling, infant universe. Every mystery is brought to life in vivid detail, and wit and humor are sprinkled throughout (Anahad O'Connor, author of NEVER SHOWER IN A THUNDERSTORM New York Times Science Times)

WOW! is one of the things that Michael Brooks includes here - it is the signal from space that may have come from an alien civilization - but it's also the way I feel about this book's magical mystery tour. You will be amazed and astonished you when you learn that science has been unable to come up with a working definition of life, why death should happen at all, why sex is necessary, or whether cold fusion is a hoax or one of the greatest breakthroughs of all time. Strap yourself in and prepare for a WOW! of an experience (Richard Ellis, author of THE EMPTY OCEAN and TUNA: A Love Story Story)

Excellent... Brooks is breezy and fun - always readable and never dull... each chapter is a little vessel of delights... Deserves to be up there as one of the best popular science books of 2008/9. Recommended (popularscience.co.uk 2009-02-18)

Sensational... pitch-perfect... The ideas in his book are dizzying (Simon Ings Sunday Telegraph 2009-02-22)

Brooks is an exemplary science writer. His explanations have the sort of clarity you often yearn for when you about science, but rarely find. I'm relatively ignorant when it comes to science. But now I feel I can discuss complex things... 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 2009-03-28)

Like Indiana Jones in a lab coat, Brooks throws himself energetically into the search and comes back with first-hand news from the wild frontiers of weird science (Iain Finlayson Saga 2009-03-01)

Sparklingly written... Brooks' enthusiasm is infectious (Times Higher Education)

A fascinating read... This clear-eyed book is a refreshing insight (Big Issue)

Whether we believe we're stardust or nuclear waste, this book keeps us hooked... Brooks grapples with no less than what he perceives as the most intriguing scientific mysteries of our times (Anita Sethi Independent on Sunday 2009-12-13)

Book Description

Will we ever find the ninety-six percent of the universe that is missing? Will tomorrow bring an answer to the scientific mysteries of today? While taking readers on an entertaining tour d'horizon of today's strangest scientific findings, Michael Brooks argues that the things we don't understand are the key to what we are about to discover.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 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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278 of 303 people found the following review helpful By Dr D Fairley on 3 July 2010
Format: Paperback
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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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful By bryantookey on 11 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jan W. H. Schnupp on 28 Oct. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
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, but in a few places the author commits some serious mistakes of reasoning. The chapter on sexual reproduction has a few of those, but the worst offending bits, already remarked on by other reviewers, are in the last chapter - on homeopathy - where Michael Brooks really looses the plot. In his defense of homeopathy he writes, for example, that there are 1000s of homeopathic recipes, and if only scientists went to the trouble of testing each and every one of them, surely they might find at least one or two that produce a statistically significant effect. Now, if a school kid thinks that this is a good argument in defense of homeopathy then they might be forgiven, but someone with a science PhD really should know better! If you have to do 1000s of tests and hope that one or two may come out as a (false?) positive then your theory is as good as dead before you even start. Much of the argument against homeopathy stems from the simple fact that, unlike aspirin or the polio vaccine, it has failed to produce robust, reproducible results in the majority of cases. And the whole scientific edifice rests on the fact that the burden of providing ample and convincing proof is on the proponents of a theory, not on the skeptics. I may want to believe in fairies, but the fact that you cannot conclusively disprove the existence of fairies does not turn fairy-ology into a scientific theory worthy of consideration.

Dear Michael, I would have liked to be able to recommend your book, 90% of it are interesting and enjoyable, but the remaining 10% are terrible. Consider asking the publisher whether you can write a second edition (and get someone to proof it who understands medical statistics as you clearly have a blind spot there).
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