RogerBW's Blog

The Science of Everyday Life, Marty Jopson 15 April 2016

2015 non-fiction, popular science; short pieces introduce the scientific explanations for commonplace oddities.

I know Marty mostly as a role-player, since I met him first at the YSDC Games Days, but it turns out he's also a science presenter on The One Show. (This may mean more to people who've seen The One Show.) This book feels like the sort of thing that would fit on a magazine programme; the pieces are mostly about a thousand words long, and each forms a very gentle introduction to a single idea, such as: why wine oxidises and how to delay it, why onions cause tears, why compact fluorescent lights take a while to reach full brightness, or why ice is slippery.

My only real problem with the book is that it does just give a gentle introduction. Nobody with a reasonable level of scientific literacy will find any surprises here, and just as things are starting to get interesting the piece ends. One could go on further by looking things up in Wikipedia, but then one could have started with Wikipedia in the first place.

What it's good for, perhaps, is stirring up scientific curiosity without having to start with things that are remote from everyday experience: I'd give this to a child (perhaps one too young for What If) and be ready for a barrage of questions (though I note that the classic "why is the sky blue" isn't included here). There are plenty of admissions that some fairly simple-seeming things aren't fully understood yet, and Jopson has a pleasant if thoroughly informal writing style, though sometimes the last-sentence jokes feel a little forced.

So this is an odd one to review: I'm not in the target audience, if you're one of my regular readers you probably aren't either, and I find it difficult to say how well it would work. But if you have access to a reasonably smart child or non-scientific adult it could well be worth trying this out.

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See also:
What If?, Randall Munroe

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