A Bee in a Cathedral: And 99 Other Scientific Analogies (Science Museum) Paperback – 13 Sep 2012
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Serious but engaging look at scientific facts and principles using analogy. Angels and Urchins
About the Author
Joel Levy is a writer and journalist specializing in science and history. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Newton's Notebook, Scientific Feuds: From Galileo to the Human Genome Project, Poison: An Illustrated History, and The Bedside Book of Chemistry. He has also written features and articles for the British press, and has appeared on national television and numerous local and national radio shows. A long-term student of the history of science and medicine, Joel has a BSc in Biological Sciences and an MA in Psychology.
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Early on, though, a few things started to nag. Page 21, for example discusses realtivity. A sidebar mentions the cumulative effects of acceleration at 1g - increasing your speed at that rate, you'd reach the speed of light in just under a year. The thing is, though, you wouldn't. Relativistic effects would kick in long before that, preventing any material body from reaching that speed. Page 43 refers to "1 kilowatt per hour" - a unit of measurement nearly meaningless in that context, since kilowatts already have a "per hour" term silently built in. P.93 asserts that "Even the biggest molecules are microscopic on a human scale." A DNA molecule, although it might have a macroscopic length of several centimeters, remains invisible because of it atomic-scale width. But diamond is covalently bound carbon, so a single diamond crystal of visible size really is one molecule. Likewise, molecules of phenolic plastics (like "bakelite"), which polymerize promiscuously, can grow to visible size. A bakelite dinner plate, for example, might be one huge, branched, winding molecule. P.103 equates temperatures of 113C to 171F and 121C to 186F - obvious bloopers, since 100C (212F) is the boiling point of water.
The list doesn't end there, but I hope you get the idea. A book like this has value only to the extent that it gets the facts straight. This one fails just often enough to leave me uneasy about the rest. If I saw that many outright errors (and lots more points that require careful interpretation), how many did I miss? I really wanted to like this book and did like big parts of it. Now, though, I hesitate to give it to a child who might not be able to read it as critically as it needs to be read.
I loved the billiard table in the dark. It analogizes that if a ball moves in a particular direction, we could figure out that something struck that ball and from what direction it was struck. But the rocket and the elevator is a mess---a subject I well understand yet I could barely make sense of the words.
I was amused for about an hour. Now, it might be picked up up occasionally or a "fun fact". My main criteria for a 5 star book is this: Would I buy a few as gifts? In this case, no.
Look for Physics for Future Presidents. (5 stars!)