20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Too superficial, and poorly illustrated.,
This review is from: 30-second Theories: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Theories in Science: The 50 most thought-provoking theories in science, each explained in half a minute (Hardcover)This is a pretty book and a good idea, but it doesn't amount to much. Each theory is presented in around 300 words of text with afterthoughts in sidebars. It seeks to cover physics, cosmology, the Earth, biology, the mind, etc. The text is written by relevant scientists: John Gribbin, Sue Blackmore, Mark Ridley, etc. The content is generally okay, but it can't give more than the most superficial glimpse of what each field is concerned with.
I had quibbles with the text; here's a couple of examples:
* Gribbin, describing panspermia, asserts: "It seems certain that some [prebiotic chemicals]... fell on to the young Earth and kick-started life." Certain? Since when?
* Jim Al-Khalili says that the Uncertainty Principle allows one property (speed or position) to be "measured to infinite accuracy", when in fact the UP imposes a finite limit on the accuracy obtainable.
* We are informed that in the film "A Beautiful Mind" the "mathematical content... was greatly simplified." This is a bit rich in a science book that only dares include one equation in the entire text, and that's E=mc^2!
However, my biggest beef with this book was the illustrations, which occupy the facing page beside each theory. Here was an opportunity to enrich the text with informative diagrams providing clear and practical insight into each subject: perhaps the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, or RNA transcription at work. Instead, each illustration is little more than a decorative collage of clip-art, with inane captions: "if you believe in quantum theory" (as if 'belief' were an appropriate concept in this context). The one accompanying the article on Selfish Genes is incoherent rubbish. Beside Global Warming is not a graph but a travesty of a graph, by an illustrator who has evidently not grasped that the units on a linear axis must be evenly spaced!
Whilst its overviews are broadly okay, there is little to be learnt here if you're moderately familiar with science, and little that will stick in your mind if you aren't. There are other books that seek to provide an overview (Bryson's, for instance), and I should think most would do a better job than this one. It's barely coffee-table science.
Tracked by 1 customer
Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Mar 2011 13:54:09 GMT
Last edited by the author on 25 Mar 2011 14:04:57 GMT
A Reader says:
One of the nicest things about this book is the high quality illustrations. They use artistic license and engage the brain. It is not that the illustrator did or did not grasp that units on a linear axis must be be evenly spaced but that you did not grasp they are artistic illustrations and that with equally spaced rises in greenhouse gases on the Y-axis occurs in currently ever shortening timeframes on the X-axis. In other words the diagram is accurate, if unconventional.
In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2011 22:02:23 GMT
Jason Mills says:
"equally spaced rises in greenhouse gases on the Y-axis occurs in currently ever shortening timeframes on the X-axis" - Putting aside the unhelpfully bad grammar, your claim is simply wrong. The same y-axis interval is used to represent increases of 20, 30, 35, 85, 50 and 50 again: these are not "equally spaced rises in greenhouse gases". Meanwhile, three different x-axis intervals are used to represent identical time periods. Even if this crazy "system" plotted the correct values (and it doesn't), its effect is to produce a grossly misleading straight-line graph, when plainly the pertinent point about greenhouse gas concentrations is that their increase has NOT been linear, but closer to exponential. The "artist" appears to have gone out of his way to obscure the message rather than enhance it, achieving no benefit in the process.
"you did not grasp they are artistic illustrations" - I 'grasped' that they were ill-judged decorations and, as they form half the book, a huge waste of potential. As a moderately well-educated person, I did not find that they 'engaged my brain', but rather that they insulted my intellect. Perhaps educated people are not the target audience.
For anyone reading this far, by the way, the complaint about the Uncertainty Principle in my review was wrong.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Mar 2011 14:03:19 GMT
A Reader says:
I believe putting aside your entire pedantic, pompous reply and unhelpful, inaccurate review is going to be best. That you can not distinguish between someone stating something is certain and someone stating something SEEMS to be certain, which is more tentative, is your first point. Your second, you then go to retract, as also being wrong. Your third moan seems to be that a simplified introductory book must be disqualified from pointing out entire films on a SINGLE subject were grossly simplified, by what faulty reasoning you think that must be, who knows? And, your fourth and biggest beef is with the excellent illustrations which perfectly match an introductory, accessible guide of this kind. You don't find them artistic, you would rather they were diagrams. Some people feel more artistic illustrations, of the kind that fills the pages of this book, New Scientist magazine, Scientific American magazine, etc. help balance the technical nature of science and other complex subjects. They bring the subject to life (for everyone bar you, it would appear) and they can help to reduce the fear factor many have in approaching them. I don't have it to hand, but from memory, that a rising, straight, nr. 45 degree plotted line shown against shortening intervals on the x-axis equals an exponential rise was understood, at least by me, immediately.
Enjoy your low ratings - you may then get the point. The illustrations are one of the highlights of the series, sorry you feel them not artistic enough or not entirely "left-brained" just for you.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Mar 2011 14:44:33 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Mar 2011 14:46:30 GMT
Jason Mills says:
You have a lot to say for someone who is "putting aside" my review.
I concede that I struggle to see much difference between claiming that something is certain and claiming that it "seems certain". But the pertinent point is that Gribbin's claim does not even "seem" certain: it is FAR FROM certain that the prebiotic chemicals that gave rise to life arrived on Earth from space rather than arising in Earth's own chemistry, and Gribbin misstates the degree of agreement in this very speculative field.
I am surprised you need clarification on my (albeit minor) point about "A Beautiful Mind", which is that a book designed to simplify technical matters has no ground to complain that a film simplifies technical matters. (And the "SINGLE subject" of the film was the man, John Nash, not his mathematics.)
An exponential function appears as a straight line when plotted against a logarithmic scale. This may be what you're recalling, but it is unrelated to what the artist has depicted with his randomly spaced axes. And the lay reader, unfamiliar with logarithmic scales, would be far better served by seeing the function plotted on straightforward, readily understandable linear scales, which would show the famous 'hockey stick' shape of greenhouse gas rises that is so prominent in the debate about Global Warming - the alarming ACCELERATING trend that is entirely lost in this illustration. Nothing is gained by this thoughtless depiction.
You call my review "inaccurate", which can hardly apply to my OPINION of the book, and the only factual inaccuracy mentioned is the one I myself corrected. On the other hand, you claimed that the Global Warming graph was "accurate", when in fact, as I have explained and as you can readily discover with two minutes of googling, it is not. (For instance, it shows a level of 320ppm arriving around 1900, when in fact that level was not reached until the 1960s.) I don't feel I am doing potential readers a disservice by pointing this out. Some people (and not only scientists) give a damn. The book is not cheap (at least at RRP), and if half of it is merely decorative, I for one would appreciate knowing that in advance.
In reply to an earlier post on 31 Dec 2012 13:19:31 GMT
I agree. I very much enjoyed the illustrations in the print copies. Maybe we are just so uneducated with our horrible grammar that we simply need to look at the pretty pictures...
‹ Previous 1 Next ›