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An acceptable Ian Stewart book
on 28 April 2013
I like Ian Stewart as a writer; I've read and enjoyed many of his books on maths and science.
This is another workmanlike effort - not his best, but still a good read.
Except... it's supposed to be a book by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. And sadly, their voices were almost completely absent.
The first two Science of Discworld books were elegant blends of fact and fiction - alternating chapters of approximately equal length. In this one, the Discworld chapters are incredibly brief. And even then they read like Ian Stewart fiction (compare with Flatterland) with a few Discworld character names and back stories pasted on. Vetinari bothering to get involved in an inconsequential wrangle between wizards and clerics? Hardly! Ridcully coherently explaining vast tracts of hard science? I don't think so!
If you want to buy this Ian Stewart book on science, go right ahead. But don't buy this Terry Pratchett novel.
Another thing that irritates me in a more controversial sense is that I found the book very preachy about atheism. It's almost as though the authors had an axe to grind this time round, where before they contented themselves with the nobler pursuits of entertainment and education. And their views on agnosticism (a subject dear to my heart) are... eccentric.
Assuming, as I've said, that you're in the market for an Ian Stewart book. Assuming, furthermore, that you can overlook the bouts of didacticism (or at least read some Karen Armstrong for balance) this is still an interesting and up-to-date work, full of discussion of the origins of the universe, the history of science, world religion and more besides. Despite my reservations, I'm glad I bought it.