this is an easy to read and digest explanation of how we got here and why. Einstien's theorys now make sense, well at least more, now it has been explained. It was an easy read but not at baby level. Well done
This book is one of those books that is difficult to put down. It takes you on a whistle stop tour of life, the universe and everything, but all in a totally accessible way. It is really an introduction to many new ideas in science that many might not have encountered before. I am familiar with much of what is here, but there were still some things I was new to.
So, what does it cover? There are sections on evolution and cell biology; economics, including banks and capital; neuroscience; electricity; computation; geology and global warming; and finally, an introduction to modern physics, including quantum mechanics, relativity, cosmology and black holes. It is worth buying just for the final section, which is about half of the book.
Chown's enthusiasm shines through the pages of this book. Not one section is boring or badly written. If you fancy a gentle romp through the current state of our knowledge of our universe and planet, this is the book for you! Very highly recommended!
(Copy provided via NetGalley for reading on my Kindle.)
Marcus Chown has always been one of my favourite physics-based science writers, and after the rather shaky Tweeting the Universe it is good to see him back on form with What a Wonderful World. However, this isn't just a physics book, it's a brave attempt to take on the whole of science - or rather the bits of science, life and the universe that interest Chown. And on the whole it succeeds wonderfully. I found it was like eating chocolate digestives - when I finished one of the relatively short chapters I just wanted to start another every time.
The organization of these chapters can seem a little random, but along the way they are clumped into sections labelled `How we work', `Putting matter to work', `Earth works', `Deep workings' and `The cosmic connection.' Some of these are obvious, if you accept `deep workings' as primarily being the essentials of physics... except electromagnetism is in the `Putting matter' work section, which is the strangest ragbag of them all, also including civilisation, computers, money and capitalism. (That last chapter is the least satisfactory of the whole book, more about Chown's political leanings than science.)
Of course this approach means there are big gaps in what is covered - it is very much a personal journey for Chown - but it doesn't stop it being a delight to read with many enjoyable little snippets of information and a true sense that we are exploring the underbelly of the workings of the world. I think the best parallel is something like a David Attenborough TV series - Attenborough can't hope to cover all there is to say, for instance, about the oceans in a series, but instead he picks out areas that are particularly interesting or just those with a personal relevance for him, and that is what Chown has done here. On the whole it makes an inspiring read.
I do have to disagree with one sentiment, which reflects, perhaps, the only real consistent flaw in the book. Chown comments `Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise called space "the final frontier". But he was mistaken. It is not space that is the final frontier. It is the human brain: the ultimate piece of "matter with curiosity".' Leaving aside the fact that Kirk is a fictional character and so couldn't be mistaken about the script, what Chown is doing here is confusing metaphor with reality. Space is the final frontier, the final physical location we have to explore and set up home. In the metaphorical sense of `frontiers of science' then, yes, the brain has a lot for us to find out (although in all fairness, an astrophysicist like Chown ought to know we are likely to succeed in understanding that long before we have physically explored all of space) - but it isn't a true frontier.
This might seem a trivial point but it reflects a wider concern with a tendency to gloss over things, to make expansive sweeping comments without really explaining the science. Sometimes this is fine, sometimes it misses the important bits, and occasionally it makes it harder to understand the science beneath the illustrative words. So, for example, in talking about an oxygen atom which has a wave function with two strong peaks 20 metres apart, Chown tells us this corresponds `to an oxygen atom that is simultaneously 10 metres to your left and 10 metres to your right - in other words, in two places at once.' Well, no, it doesn't. It just means there equal quite high probabilities of it being in each location. The wave function is a probability wave and before a measurement is taken the atom isn't anywhere specific - certainly not in two places at once.
However, I think to make this more than a quibble about a book that takes in so much of science is unfair. It would difficult indeed to deal with such a broad canvas without being summary in many places. And without doubt this is one of the best `everything you need to get you interested in science' books I've come across. It may not rival Richard Dawkins' superb explanation of evolution in The Magic of Reality - Chown misses Dawkins' key eye-opening observation that every organism is the same species as its parents - but he knocks Dawkins into a cocked hat on physics and cosmology. It's an ideal first popular science book for an adult, a tempting smorgasbord of all the possibilities reading popular science can offer.
My granddaughter started studying science at university this September and I thought it might be interesting for her looked so good I bought one for myself too. I haven't been able to put it down since it arrived
An extraordinary wide range of subjects including cells, respiration, evolution, sex, the brain, genetic engineering, capitalism, geology, thermodynamics, quantum theory, relativity, time & black holes are covered in this remarkably lucid book which is divided into five parts: 'How We Work'; 'Putting Matter To Work'; 'Earth Works'; Deep Workings' & 'The Cosmic Connection'. 'What A Wonderful World' is an accessible and exhilarating science book which deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in understanding 'life, the universe & everything'.
Marcus Chown is very good at explaining difficult ideas in a way that is accessible to any intelligent non-expert. This book covers a very wide range of topics and Marcus has had to tap the brains of experts in many different disciplines. As a physicist he can speak knowledgeably on those subjects but in other disciplines he has had to rely on current orthodoxies that may soon be overturned. For example he does not cover satisfactorily in my mind the problem of the planet Venus which shows many anomalies in its behaviour - a rotation opposite all the other planets, a surface temperature hot enough to melt led, his statement that the high temperature is the result of greenhouse heating is not convincing, a much younger planet still in the process of radiating inner core heat might prove the real reason, the presence of gases in its atmosphere normally associated with comets rather than planets and a surface entirely different from a planet of its supposed age. My overall judgment is that it a very good summary of present knowledge but lacks a certain amount of forensic investigation of those ideas that seem ripe for more than another look.
The thing about What a Wonderful World is that it is like a fruitcake – very rich, very dense, and full of tasty little nuggets. For instance, did you know that the invention of cookery was a milestone on a par with tool use? It allowed us to broaden our diets in prehistory, and any ecologist will tell you what access to good nutrition will do for any animal. Or that galaxies are organized, and indeed possibly even created, by the giant black holes at their centre?
What a Wonderful World is a digest, if you like, about the construction and function of practically everything – the cells in your body, the Earth itself, international banking, quantum theory, sex, Deep Time – the list goes on. It’s something that you dip into when you’re in the right mood, but when you are it’s consistently interesting and rewarding and represents a considerable body of scholarship and research which has been dissected to the point where you can be gently guided through its more fascinating corners. The image of a “plate graveyard” at the centre of the Earth where tectonic plates drift down to die still lingers in the imagination, and as I am not particularly driven to seek out books on plate tectonics, its something that I might, in the normal course of things, never have learned anything about.
It’s also deeply topical in places (see the section on international banking, for one). There’s a great discussion on the eminently newsworthy topic of inflation in relation to the Big Bang (I only received this book last year, and inflation is described within, quite carefully, as a theory). As a writer interested in the idea of multiverses, there is a fantastic wealth of imaginative detail. Did you know that scientists have worked out how far you need to walk in order to meet your doppelganger in another universe? (Clue, it’s a long, long way, but you will meet them if you keep going.)
Sometimes I was a little lost, but that’s okay, because you feel in safe hands just following on.
I really enjoyed it – in the madness of house, job, and life move and the insane rush of mandatory reading that took up the earlier part of my year, this was a guilty pleasure I could dip into as Fate allowed. Though challenging in places, there is nothing a reasonably literate person couldn’t follow. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the universe than the usual surface tropes.