Top positive review
16 people found this helpful
Curious, idiosyncratic and eccentric in the best possible way
on 25 January 2013
"There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't"
I would describe myself as fairly scientifically-illiterate: yes, the joke above made me giggle; yes, I can work out pretty swiftly what dihydrogen monoxide is - but e, laws of thermodynamics, and Einstein?... um, no. And yet I enjoyed this book.
I like that Flynn combines a scientific background with having studied philosophy, and we can sense that intellectual breadth in his approach. Indeed, there's a subtle plea in some of the pieces to precisely heal the cultural divide between `scientists' (a noun only coined, I learned, in 1833 amidst much disgust at the barbaric neologism) and `humanists'.
This isn't simply a collection of scientific `facts', though there are those here too, more a nicely random and eccentric gathering of things that are loosely connected to science in its broadest sense: stories, parodies, poems, mini-biographies and a host of other extracts.
My particular favourite is Babbage's response to Tennyson's lines `Every moment dies a man | Every moment one is born': Babbage, anxious that the maths doesn't work to reflect a constantly growing world population, writes to the poet helpfully suggesting he changes the poem in the next edition to `Every moment dies a man | And one and a sixteenth is born'. He goes on to add with care `the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre'!
I liked the chaotic arbitrariness of this collection and the quirky eccentricity of it. So not a book to necessarily read cover to cover, but an excellent one to dip into.