Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
on 21 December 2013
The large number of very high star reviews shows that there are some very good points about the book. I am therefore clearly in a minority of having been badly put off by some weaknesses which some have either overlooked or think trivial.
Just to stress the good points first - the subject is great and many of the pictures are fascinating.
My gripe is the lack of precision and accuracy. Brian Cox makes great play of the superiority of the scientific method in finding truth. To me one of the great virtues of the scientific approach is clear and accurate communication - what I found were diagrams that were misleading and language that was vague and fuzzy. Reading the text seemed more like a teenage novel than a professor attempting to explain the wonders of the solar system.
Some quick examples:
Firstly I do understand how the orbit of the earth and the tilt of the axis result in the seasons. But the diagram in the book shows four positions of the earth relative to the sum - one position implies the sun is above the arctic circle and one that it is above the antarctic circle.
Secondly I was fascinated in the death of the sun. Leaving aside the language referring to nuclear reactions as "burning" I was reading on - because I wanted to understand why the Helium produced from the Hydrogen would not then act as fuel for further reactions (as happens in other stars). Referring to the exhaustion of the supply of hydrogen the text says "it literally runs out of steam".
Come on Brian. If you want to use metaphor in a supposed scientific book that's OK - but "Literally"?? Seeing the word I stopped; do you mean there is water produced? and that now all the gaseous water has been dissipated? At this point my blood boiled (no, not literally!).
Finally some of the diagrams are good - but in many the scales are wrong - and there is no clear note to that effect. I found myself having to spend time studying small print to establish whether the representation in the diagram was genuine or not. I often found that there was no clear explanation and so there was no warning against taking the diagram at face value - when it was an area I was familiar with I found that the diagram was wrong - I therefore lost confidence in those with which I was unfamiliar.
So I finished up frustrated - continuing to read but wondering if what I thought I was learning was accurate or not.
In my view the Wonders of the Solar System deserved better