A broad sweep of science
Magic universe: a grand tour of modern science
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press | 2005 | 756pp | £16.99 (SB) |ISBN 0192806696
Reviewed by David Chamberlin
25 big ideas: the science that's changing our world
Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications | 2005 | 186pp | £9.99 | ISBN 1851683917
Reviewed by David Chamberlin
In Magic universe, Calder, who was editor of New Scientist from 1962 to 1966 and BBC presenter for many years, gives what is probably the broadest sweep of current science in one book. Originally published in 2003, this is the first soft-back edition of the book and it should prove a popular Christmas present this year.
Although arranged thematically A-Z, this is not one of those encyclopaedic volumes with about five short definitions of scientific terminology on every page. Rather this book gives about 120 essays of about six pages each on an enormously wide spectrum of scientific topics such as biodiversity, black holes, chaos, prions and superstrings. Each essay is excellently written in a style which is both entertaining and informative.
Chemistry is represented by such topics as alcohol, buckyballs and nanotubes, elements, enzymes, molecular partners, molecules evolving, molecules in space and protein shapes emistry is represented by such topics as alcohol, buckyballs and nanotubes, elements, enzymes, molecular partners, molecules evolving, molecules in space and protein shapes
Drawing on interviews with more than 200 researchers, from graduate students to Nobel prize-winners, Magic Universe takes us on an amazing tour through the length and breadth of science. The reader can open the book anywhere and find some fascinating facts, historical insights or just a good story. Once picked up, this book is difficult to put down, and readers will find themselves returning to it time after time for well-written science at its interdisciplinary best.
25 big ideas is like a cut-down version of Calder's book. It covers, as the title says, 25 of the big subjects in science, such as chaos theory, GM crops, plate tectonics, the big bang, the selfish gene, and cellular automata. Each topic is covered in six pages with an 'in a nutshell' summary, a timeline, a good textual description in layman's language, a jargon-busting glossary, notes and further reading. There is enough information for most general readers, and references to books and websites for those who want to find out more. I particularly liked the section on Bayes' theorem, a subject in statistics which has been receiving a great deal of attention, especially in the light of the high-profile 'expert witness' at recent cot-death trials.
Matthews' book may be less comprehensive than Calder's but at a very reasonable price it gives a very readable account of the major concepts in today's science.