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'Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?' is the second edition in a line of books released by New Scientist magazine, to answer those questions you wish you knew the answer to, for no particular reason.
In total the book contains 115 questions, going through various questions from a whole range of topics. I found the questions and answers in this book to be more interesting than the first book in the series 'Does Anything Eat Wasps?', simply because the questions seem to be a little more relevant and less scientific.
The questions in the book are answered by readers of the New Scientist magazine and are then answered by writers for the New Scientist magazine. Each question has a few answers, from different scientists, each having a slightly different way of explaining the answer. The book is laid out in a simple way, making it easy to read.
Overall it is quite an interesting book to read now and again. It's not something you would spend a while reading in one go, because I think you would get bored and stop paying attention to the answers. One or two questions at a time was the way I chose to read it. I have the book in paperback, but I'm sure it is available in hard back as well. I would recommend it to people who like knowing pointless facts and for only a few pounds it is well worth the money.
In case you were wondering, as far as I can remember the answer to the title question, simply put is - penguins can control their body temperature.
'Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze?' is a follow-up to the best-selling New Scientist publication 'Does Anything Eat Wasps?' I have to confess I haven't read the previous publication so can't give any personal feedback on how the two books compare but, from what I understand, both publications follow the same format which is revealing questions about the world around us and answers, both of which can be very bizarre indeed!
All of the content of the book is based on a 'Last Word' column published in New Scientist magazine. I'm not a particularly scientifically- minded person so I'm not familiar with either the magazine or the column. It is perhaps a little strange to find myself drawn to this particular book in WHSmith. It might have been the cute picture of a penguin dressed in a colourful scarf on the front cover or the unusual and intriguing title that caught my eye, I'm not sure. I ended up flicking through the book instore and reading some questions and answers at random and, after becoming totally engrossed, I felt obliged to buy the copy that I'd spent so long reading! (Although I now discover that I could have purchased a cheaper copy from Amazon at £4.79.)
Both the questions and answers have been provided by 'ordinary' members of the public but I'd imagine the readership of New Scientist to be very well-informed, academic and educated based on the contents of this book! In some instances there were alternative, often conflicting, answers given by different people if the topic in question was particularly contentious. (Bizarrely, some of the biggest debate and contention surrounded the question of making conkers stronger!)
Some of the questions themselves are arguably more interesting than the answers that are given. I have to confess that a lot of the more scientific answers went straight over my head and I did skip over large chunks that my simple mind couldn't digest easily. Nonetheless, the book was fascinating reading and I felt really invigorated (yes, really!) reading so much absorbing information in quite a lighthearted way (apart from the scientific and academic gobbledygook that I skimmed over.)
My personal favourites were those questions that were submitted by children or adults who clearly weren't as academic as those troubling themselves to find the answers. One of the classic questions was from a nine year old boy who wanted to know whether it was a coincidence that his finger was just the right size to fit into his nose! (The answer was less amusing though. Apparantly, it is just coincidence and nothing more interesting. I thought that humans might have developed the ability to pick their noses as part of some great evolutionary development but no such joy.)
My other personal favourite just had me totally fascinated. Again, though, the actual answers given were much less interesting. Here, for those of you that are interested is my favourite extract from the book:
Please read this sentence and count the Fs:
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-
IC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.
Okay - so how many did you spot? Most people see only three F's when they are, in fact, six in there. (Really, go back and count them again!) It took my other half three attempts before he managed to spot all six F's! The question in the book was asking why people can usually only see three. The answer was less fascinating than I found the task though - essentially, it is about the way in which the brains processes words, and the fact that we tend to ignore common little words such as 'of' and just skip over them.
I spend a good couple of hours reading through this little collection and I could quite easily come back to it in a few weeks' time and while away more time with interest. Many of the questions and answers went straight into my head and straight out again. (I still have no idea why penguins' feet don't freeze, as featured in the book's title. Probably because that's not a particular issue that I've ever had cause to worry about!) Other answers have made it into my memory. I was surprised to learn that you can't actually see the Great Wall of China from the Moon, apparantly that's just an urban myth which I never realised.
In all, I'd recommend this collection of questions and answers to anybody with an inquiring mind and a few hours spare. You might never remember why penguins' feet don't freeze but I'm sure you'll learn something new.
Why don't penguins feet freeze? And 114 other questions - Mick O'hare
This book was lent to me by my brother in law and when he suggested I read it, I was quite amused by the title so I borrowed it and sat down with a cup of tea to have a flick through.
It is a compendium of random questions published by NewScientist in their "Last Word" column. It has the best, most interesting and the just plain weird from the column since the publication of their first book of "Does Anything Eat Wasps?".
A reader writes in with a question of curiosity and the question was published in the magazine and then someone who knew the answer would write in and the question and answer would be published.
The questions in the book are organised into categories: Our bodies, Feeling ok?, Plants and animals, food and drink, domestic science, our planet, our universe, weird weather, troublesome transport and best of the rest.
Our bodies: this chapter focuses on the question that have been asked that relate to humans in anyway. Some of them are 'sensible' questions like "Why does hair turn grey" (which personally I found very informative!); to the amusing like "Why is it that when I walk home from the pub after a few beers, I always stumble to the left more than the right?". This type of question receives 2 types of response, a sample of which are published in the book. Some are normal sounding things, like muscle strength etc, and some are funny answers that are intended to be laughed at. For example "the human body is never perfectly symmetrical. In this case, the right leg appears to be longer than the left. A beer mat placed in the left shoe underneath the foot should remedy the problem!
Feeling OK: this chapter contains questions about illnesses ranging from catching colds to the effects of placebo's. I liked this chapter because it contained the a question relating to something I've been trying to tell my mum for ages! "Is there any connection between being cold and catching a cold". The answer I just had to show her to prove that the fact I don't dry my hair that often and on weekends will sometimes go out with it wet isn't going to get me a cold!
Plants and animals: self explanatory! The best from this chapter was the one that the book is named after, asking for a more lengthy explanation of why penguins feet don't freeze in all that snow and ice!
Food and drink: also self explanatory. The best from this chapter was something I had never considered, why ice when you make it at home is never completely transparent. I had never thought about this, even though I use an ice maker at work and it always comes out crystal clear!
Domestic science: contains questions about black mould in bathrooms. Nice. This chapter also contains things like "why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the tube".
Our planet, our universe - this was the most interesting chapter, although sometimes hard to read because of the scientific nature of the questions.
Weird weather - more like weird chapter. This chapter wasn't really interesting to me, as it answered questions like "why does lightening fork? And what is the diameter of a bolt of lightening?". Not so interesting. And only 7 pages long!
Troublesome transport: I found this chapter quite interesting! The best, I thought, was an explanation of why ears pop from the pressure in an aeroplane!
Best of the rest: a random collection of everything else!
I was looking for a little light reading recently to help me pass half an hour or so, as I skimmed my bookshelf I passed my usual favourites from the Dragonlance series of fantasy novels, passed all my mythological books and even my trashy romance novels and eventually settled on "Why don't penguins feet freeze" it seemed the perfect book to pass the time, not requiring me to dedicate myself to a whole novel or become too involved in plots or with characters. The book is a collection of questions brought together by the people at The New Scientist, a science based magazine and website, submitted by the general public and answered by a range of different specialists and experts. The question of penguins' feet is just one of 115 different questions which are broken down into 9 "chapters" or subject matters, addressing topics from our bodies to transport, the planet to food and drink.
Each question is headed by a relevant title and then answered underneath by 1 or more experts, the answers may vary and many seem based on opinion of the individuals rather than actual scientific experiment or anything actually proven, I found this a bit disappointing as I had imagined the questions would be answered with definitive knowledge, that some testing or research would have been carried out to be able to prove the theories, instead the varied answers left me feeling like I was reading forum posts on a website or taking part in a Yahoo Answers session and that few of the questions were ever really answered and could be quoted as truth, I could have asked any Dooyoo member, any Facebook member, any person from my family or friends and received similar twists on the theories provided as answers.
I had also imagined a slightly more humorous feel to the book and while some of the questions take a more light hearted almost childish approach to the questioning, for example the subject of why is mucous green, some of them left me feeling a bit over loaded and bored, why someone would ask for an analysis of the chemical elements that make up a human being, and what the same formula would be for aliens, is beyond me and even worse is the fact that the editors actually thought the readers would be interested in the answers or that we may be able to get some use out of this knowledge in our day to day lives, while we all like a little pointless information quoting formulas of atoms and their composition is not something that regularly takes place down the pub. While I did feel like I'd come away from the book with a few strange little facts, such as rats brains being smooth instead of textured like human brains or that the fact of the great wall of China being seen from space actually just being a myth, I didn't feel like the book gripped me enough to want to return to it to finish reading it or to read it for a second time.
Often the questions simply do not need the volume of answers they received, one on the issue of sheep running in front of cars instead of veering off to the side received 4 answers, one of which just seemed to be a joke answer claiming sheep understand human psychology and know that drivers will not deliberately try to run them down, maybe sheep do have psychology PHD's but I doubt it. Another question relating to boiling water once or twice for best results in tea/coffee making received a staggering 9 answers which is totally unnecessary and a select handful of those 9 would have been sufficient, instead of including such a vast amount of answers they could have included a more interesting selection of additional questions. Many of the questions can be more definitely answered by simply looking online and while I know that many people won't have access to the internet there are a whole wealth of encyclopaedias available, there are libraries full of books which could approach the topics in a more interesting and accurate light.
The book is quite easy to read and well laid out, I got about half way through it's 232 pages in about half an hour which goes to show it's not exactly challenging, it served it's purpose of helping me pass the time but was simply not interesting enough to keep me entertained and I came away from it feeling rather disappointed. I wouldn't recommend it, even to those who love their strange facts and pointless information, I've sat happily and read Guinness world record books, Ripleys Believe It Or Not books and a wealth of other similar fact based books and found every one of them far more entertaining and educational then this one. With a RRP of £7.99, being available from major book stores, I would certainly recommend you try and borrow a copy or pick it up cheap online if you absolutely have to read it.
And as for the question of penguins feet not freezing, well you'll have to research that yourself, I couldn't possibly give away the plot!
What time is it at the North Pole? How did Santa manage to deliver all those presents in a single night? Why doesn't superglue stick to the inside of the tube? How can ants survive being nuked in a microwave?!? Do fish fart?
All these and many other essential questions are answered in this superb little book, which has been compiled from the 'Last Word' column in the New Scientist magazine. Following on from the hugely successful best seller from 2005, 'Does anything eat wasps?, the editor at New Scientist have gone on to publish this in order to further enlighten the reading public. And to get rid of those annoying little questions that you ask yourself, or get asked and cannot answer.
You can't put a price on knowledge, especially the trivial and entertaining stuff, but this title can be picked up really cheaply. Only around £4 in the shops new. And at not much over 220 pages, it is a very accessible book, even for the youngest of curious minds. Although perhaps you have a minor drawback right there. As mentioned in another review, it is very short, so if you are very interested in some of the topics contained you would have to look elsewhere to satisfy your hunger for better explanations. Although there is a wide range of subjects covered, so space was always going to have to be shared out reasonably thinly. The human body, illnesses, the natural world and food and drink are all covered, as well as, of course, transport (was bound to be included).
I got this in a stocking from my girlfriend, [admit it, you get a stocking too... :-) ] and had it read cover to cover in about a day. So hard to put down a book that sets out to fill you in on just why exactly things are the way they are.
And this knowledge comes from some surprising sources. As well as the highly in depth, and no doubt very accurate, answers from university professors and the like, there are also responses from people as young as 8 or 9 years old!
The truth, it would appear, really is out there!
And, about some things at least, in here too.
For those of you who just have to know some of the stranger facts about this amazing world we live in, this is a must read. And for those of you who do not.... reading even a few of the Q and As in this may well spark well your curiosity.
Why you would need to know half of this stuff though is obvious. What else are you going to talk about in the pub? Just how did that referee not see a foul like that? Why can John never get a woman? Does my bum really look that good in these jeans?
OK, so maybe there are plenty of more pressing questions that need answered. But there will always be a place for the odd one straight out of left field.
Because sometimes you just need to know why sheep run ahead of your car instead of just stepping off the road.
And seriously, Santa surely must give those poor penguins extra thick socks when no one is looking.