Review of `I used to know that: General Science- stuff you forgot from school' by Marianne Taylor in 2010 published by Michael O'Mara Books Limited of London.
CITATION: Taylor, M (2010). I used to know that: General Science- stuff you forgot from school. London: Michael O'Mara Books Limited.
Reviewed by Dr W. P. Palmer
The aim of this book is to provide general basis of scientific knowledge that the author considers an ordinary person needs to know in order to be a citizen of the twenty-first century. Her claim is "Science is different, though. Science is everywhere, it muscles in on your day-to-day life, whether you want it to or not". Fundamentally the reviewer accepts the author's premise. The book was evidently derived from a radio program, though this is not apparent on reading it. The title is an enticement for those out of touch with science to see how much science they remember from school. This creates a problem for the author in that readers could have completed school any time between five and fifty years ago, so that some of the material in the book is so recent that older readers will never have met the concepts at school so they can hardly have forgotten them.
Other problems are striking the balance between oversimplification and overly complex concepts. The statement of the obvious on page 123 "When a muscle is contracted, it shortens." shows the problem of simplifying in a way that is really talking down to the reader. On the other hand, the final piece on genetics seems to gallop away at a pace that may well be too fast for the general reader.
Another danger of simplification is that on occasions this can lead to statements that are scientifically incorrect such as that on p.34 where acceleration is stated as having units of metres per second instead of metres per second per second. In the end the book, which has the impossible task of fitting all scientific knowledge into 192 pages, fails to express the importance of experiment in validating facts and theories. The Miller/Urey experiment (p.158) gets a mention, but its theoretical significance may be overstated.
There are sections on physics, chemistry and biology with the physics section being the shortest and least well written. Occasionally the author's sense of humour shines through, giving the hope that the reader will enjoy the learning experience. The reader is led to believe that understanding the material in this book gives them an `O' level understanding of science. This is wishful thinking, but the book does go some way towards helping those who would like to know more science in a comparatively painless way. I commend the author on writing a work that could be useful to some.