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Why? - Joel Levy

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Author: Joel Levy / Format: Hardback / Date of publication: 11 October 2012 / Genre: Scientific & Technical / Subcategory: Science: Popular Science / Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books Ltd / Title: Why? / ISBN 13: 9781843179511 / ISBN 10: 1843179511

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      09.11.2012 19:43
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      Stuff you should know...but may well not

      Why does the Titanic float but a brick sink? And that water they're sinking or floating in, why is it wet? And what colour is it, 'cos it ain't clear? These questions and many more are answered in this book which may not be a new concept but which is executed extremely well.

      This is science you may, or may not , have learnt at school, and may, or may not, have since forgotten. They are, as the cover tells us, everyday scientific questions but that doesn't mean you'll know the answer, or at least not completely. A quick poll at lunch last week found that most of the room couldn't correctly explain why men go bald, though there were some brilliant (if wildly incorrect) suggestions along the way. Ditto why blood is red (since we work in health, I was trying to help them by picking ones they could/should know). Because the questions in this book are varied, and 'science' here covers everything from evolutionary biology to organic chemistry to astrophysics.

      These are not necessarily answers that will win you pub quizzes, because it's more general knowledge than it is specialist trivia. But it's a cracking read. Most of the questions span 2 or 3 pages and the answers are chatty without a hint of jargon. Plus some of them are brilliantly succinct as in

      Q. Why is there a dark side of the moon?
      A. There isn't.

      There are some random ones in there too, ones you've probably never considered to be scientific conundrums, for example:

      Why do light bulbs light up?

      Why does the wind blow?

      Why are babies and puppies so cute?

      So does the science stand up? As far as I can tell, yep, pretty much. I certainly didn't come across anything I know to be untrue, and experts in any of the fields have niggles it would probably be due to over simplification rather than anything else. The author claims to be a journalist specialising in science rather than a scientist per se, but all this means is that for once a scientific text is wonderfully accessible to the masses. Sometimes there are questions left unanswered at the end of the answer (from the age old Why do men have nipples? we get the standard answer, but this is followed up with the pondering of why we've nonetheless not evolved beyond them yet.

      Some questions you might have no clue about, others you might be confident in (rightly or wrongly) but the buzz from getting one correct never fades. Because although these are 'everyday' questions, most people won't know a good proportion of them, so any that you do automatically means you're a clever clogs. Fact.

      Ultimately, I can't find fault with this one. It's an easy, fun read that's can be dipped into as and when you wish. It's not the first time a book like this has come out, and it won't be the last, but if you don't have one of them on your shelf, or even if you do, you could do a lot worse than add this to the science section of your library or pop it in the Christmas stocking of a less knowledgeable relative you want to give a subtle hint to.

      This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk

      Why? is out now in hardback and on Kindle, but I think personally it lends itself more to a physical book than an electronic one.

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