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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Curious, idiosyncratic and eccentric in the best possible way
"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...
Published 19 months ago by Roman Clodia

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Science Magpie: Simon Flynn - An interesting idea, but doesn't really work for me
Ho-hum, another month, another miscellany filling up the 2 for 3 discount tables at the front of the local Blackstones or Waterwells. This one is based around science, a world with rich pickings of interesting and unusual facts to fill up a miscellany. This one has a bit of a difference, it also includes artistic endeavours, poems jokes etc, that have been inspired by...
Published 21 months ago by Victor


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Curious, idiosyncratic and eccentric in the best possible way, 25 Jan 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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"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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful compendium of interesting oddments, 31 Oct 2012
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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I absolutely loved this book. Miscellanies like this can be very trying if poorly done, with uninspiring or patronising rehashes of familiar stories, a lot of gee-whizzery and jokes that aren't nearly as funny as they think they are. Simon Flynn has avoided all that and produced a delightful pot-pourri of science-related snippets which, for me, gets the tone exactly right. It is enthusiastic and witty without being gushing or flippant and the sheer variety of stuff here is a delight.

Each "article" is brief - the longest are five or six pages, covering things like Galileo's dispute with the Holy See, Darwin's impact or Einstein's ideas about Relativity. If you want a detailed examination of any of these things, this isn't the place to look, but for a really well-written, engaging summary of the important points with the odd interesting aside it's brilliant. For example, Flynn makes sure to mention Milton's visit to Galileo while he was under house arrest as well as giving a excellent summary of Galileo's dispute, complete with a translation of his famous Recantation - and all in four short pages. I have studied all this at university and have actually read quite a lot of Galileo's writing and I still found the section fresh and fascinating. Other bits are so varied it's impossible to give an overall flavour, but they include things like radioactive decay, a spoof of Shelley's Ozymandias, the meaning of the Richter Scale, and so on. There are even some good jokes scattered throughout the book.

Some other reviewers here have criticised the book for having too much literature and not enough hard science, and for jumping from one topic to another in a jumbled way. I think this is the whole point of the book: you never know what is coming next - a spoof analysis of the thermodynamics of Hell, a historical summary, a quirky fact, an explanation of the binary system - and this is a great part of the book's charm for me. The science is always spot on. The explanation of Schrodinger's Cat, for example, which is one of the most misunderstood notions in popular science, is accurate, readable and placed in its proper historical context. The only error I noticed in the whole book was Flynn's assertion that a solar eclipse was important in Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, when, as my adolescent memory reminded me, it is in fact a lunar eclipse. I think I can forgive him this single slip, and the only other fault I can find is that the book cries out for an index which is sadly lacking, if only so you can find that little bit you wanted to look at again.

I recommend this book very warmly - it's a huge pleasure to dip into and, because of it's haphazard structure, has kept me looking at "just one more section" well after I should have gone to sleep. It's neither a reference book nor a serious popular science book. It is a delightful compendium of fairly random bits and pieces by someone with an obvious love of science, and anyone with a curious mind who takes pleasure in scientific oddments as well as important ideas will almost certainly get great pleasure from it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight- fascinating, informative and hard to put down., 13 Feb 2013
By 
A. I. McCulloch "Andrea" (Co Durham) - See all my reviews
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There are many 'fascinating science' books on the market; The Science Magpie has to be one of the best. It's not organised subject by subject or chronologically, but is an enthralling lucky dip of facts.

I liked it for the emphasis on the knowledge that isn't commonly known. I had no idea that Leicester Square was once a hub of scientific knowledge, but here it is, carefully chronicled.

There are bang-up-to-date entries with the lyrics of the 'Hadron Collider Rap' as well as Tom Lehrer's famous song 'The Elements'. Literature on science features quite heavily, with some lovely discoveries such as Siv Cedering's 'A Letter from Caroline Herschel (1750-1848).' As well as an excellent Bibliography, there's an interesting list of the best selling science books.

The blurb on this book tells us that the author, Simon Flynn, is currently training to be a science teacher. What wonderful news. With the enthusiasm for his subject that is demonstrated in this book, there are going to be some very fortunate science students out there in the future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an amazing book. I had just read The Nature Magpie, 8 Aug 2014
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This is an amazing book. I had just read The Nature Magpie, which I found very disappointing - just scratched the surface and the compiler's own obsessions with Otters, "conservation" in particular became rather obvious and boring. This Magpie collection is in a different class altogether. Sufficiently detailed to satisfy but not too heavy to make me give up - even with the mathematical equations, which I have to admit I skip anyway. OK I still don't understand Schroedinger's cat but I thought that I was very nearly there.... or perhaps not. Quantum theory? Piece of cake the way it is explained here, but please don't test me on it! A great eclectic mix of the just plain amusing and, for me at least, serious concepts. Brilliant list of recommended further reading too. I will definitely re-read this but in the hard copy version as the only reservation I have is that the Kindle version is very poor at reproducing the graphics. I still give it 5 stars and I found it so enjoyable. Highly recommended and on my present list for all those people who won't read fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More science than you may care to know..., 15 May 2013
By 
Mark Shackelford "mark shackelford" (Worthing, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book is a bit like Schott's Miscellany, as it brings together a wide range of facts (and some amusing bits!) from science - including physics, chemistry and biology. Loads of things that you think you ought to have known.

A good book for a guest bedroom (if you are posh) or the downstairs loo (if you're not!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wish science had been taught like this when I went to school., 6 April 2014
By 
Kerrypickle "KLE" (South Glos England) - See all my reviews
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Enjoyed the variety of sciences discussed and the idiosyncratic style of the write.
I defy anyone not to hum Modern Major General if they know it, to the chemical table, it works! Great reminder of. stuff we should remember, but usually don't. Along with great anecdotes and information about scientific history and innovation all in all a fun read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating dip-in science book, 10 May 2013
By 
josie82 (Fife, Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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I always enjoy a good 'toilet book'. One that you can have by the loo and dip in and out of as your having a wee rest.

This one is slightly different than the others in that it has science as its main theme. As such, the book contains information, curiosities, stories and facts all about science and the history of it.

Although I have a fascination for science and historical curiosities, I won't say that I'm an expert by any means. Having said that, this book was written in a way to make the subject interesting and understandable without dumbing it down.

Each section/story lasts no more than 2 pages which makes it ideal for dipping in and out of. It is, however, one of those books when you just want to keep reading another story, then another. This is also one of those books that, should anyone be sitting near you as you read, will find themselves regaled with stories and facts that are just too fascinating to keep to yourself.

At times this book is intriguing, at times funny - but is always fascinating. If you have an interest in science, or just like little facts and snippets of knowledge, I would recommend this lovely little book to you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Non-trivial trivia, 22 Jan 2013
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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The Science Magpie is a fascinating collection of stuff which is interesting, stuff which is fascinating, and stuff which is actually useful.

I used to love reading A Random Walk In Science and More Random Walks in Science. The Science Magpie doesn't quite reach their level of gentle humour mixed with scientific education, but it's by far the best book of scientific trivia I've seen for years.

Here are some examples:

Stuff which is interesting: did you know that American engineers tend to be very conservative, whereas mathematicians tend to be politically liberal? The continuum goes: maths, physics, biology, chemistry, geology, medicine, engineering. Try it on someone you know.

Stuff which is fascinating: there are all kinds of charts here, including an alternative periodic table the 'periodic snail', but it's the chart of temperatures in Kelvin from 0 to 6000 which is fascinating to study*. The chart of thicknesses of objects is only slightly less fascinating

Stuff which is actually useful: you can measure the speed of light with a microwave oven, a bar of chocolate, and a ruler. Ok, this is probably only useful in an educational sense, but this has to be one of the very best science experiments you can do at home with a budding physicist.

Then there are the purely comedic, such as the now famous proof that hell is exothermic, and the earlier proof that heaven is actually hotter than hell. Also, if you lost track of it, is the campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide. Interspersed with this are a nice collection of quotations from scientists back as far as the middle ages, and a collection of facts that you knew were true, but couldn't lay your hands on when you needed them.

This is a fun book for a bit of a browse. The only real downside is that the extensive bibliography is not actually linked to the articles, so you may be searching a long time if you decide you need to check the sources for a particular piece of information.

-
* a pity the designer who did the chart didn't clock that it's just Kelvin, not degrees Kelvin.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Typical "Michael Caine" book!, 21 Dec 2012
By 
Mr. N. Morgan "Green Knight" (High Wycombe, UK) - See all my reviews
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...'cos it's full of science facts about which can be said "...not many people know dat!" Which was a catch phrase of Michael Caine's apparently.

But seriously, this is an interesting book which contains a great many science snippets in a condensed form that makes for what I call a typical "dipper" book which you can keep say in the smallest room for when you fancy a quick bit of reading without having to get too engrossed in it. It's small too (approx A5 size and just under an inch thick) which makes it even more suitable for the smallest room.

I do agree up to a point with other reviewers who have said that the information is perhaps not presented in the best way, but that said I did enjoy reading the book and would recommend it as an excellent stocking filler or birthday present for a young boy of say 8-14 who's interested in science. In fact, it's suitable as a present for anyone who's interested in anything science orientated.

There's even reference to Tom Lehrer's famous song on the Periodic Table of elements which was set to a song from Gilbert & Sullivan's opera The Pirates of Penzance! (Don't forget to take notes... there will be a short quiz on it next period!)

In summary: quite a useful and interesting little book - if you take it in the spirit in which it's written i.e. as a lighthearted and concise book of scientific facts. Definitely a book for nerds like me!

Worth the money in my opinion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Science Magpie: Simon Flynn - An interesting idea, but doesn't really work for me, 26 Nov 2012
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
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Ho-hum, another month, another miscellany filling up the 2 for 3 discount tables at the front of the local Blackstones or Waterwells. This one is based around science, a world with rich pickings of interesting and unusual facts to fill up a miscellany. This one has a bit of a difference, it also includes artistic endeavours, poems jokes etc, that have been inspired by science. An interesting idea, but I am afraid it fell flat for me personally.

Having studied science and worked in research for many years, the bits of science information were things that I already know, and I have already heard all the jokes and poems. So for me there was nothing really new or interesting. The writing style didn't really grab me either, not really witty enough or with a structured prose that would have overcome the feeling of having heard it all before.

From me three stars. It's OK for people who have an interest but no real background in science.
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