"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery."

-- E.O. Wilson

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Why Indeed...

"Why Sh*t Happens
" by Peter Bentley (computer scientist and college professor in London)

Interestingly, in Britain Peter Bentley's new book on human foibles is titled "The Undercover Scientist," but in America it takes on the title "Why Sh*t Happens," a title that may have been thought to be avant-garde, but I suspect will put off a certain segment of potential readers, and may even cause some public libraries to avoid it. And that's ashame, because this is a great and fun read (I'd go so far as to call it the most entertaining science book I've encountered this year; a tour de force in mini-science). Interesting, funny, instructive, clever, well-written, thought-provoking, engaging, and hey, scientific... it squeezes in all the components one might want in a popular science volume, while pulling back the curtain, in wizard-like manner, on routine daily occurrences.

Bentley takes everyday mishaps (think 'Murphy's Laws') that most of us can relate to, and delightfully turns them into miniature-science lessons for the reader.
He almost seems to pull the various topics randomly out of a hat, for his 39 chapters, or vignettes. The brief introduction to each chapter does cleverly try to give some linkage and order to the otherwise disparate chapters. Each chapter is interesting and chock-full of informational tidbits ranging from science/technology trivia to practical pieces of knowledge (...even the trivia could prove useful, to impress, at your next cocktail party). His array of mundane topics (turned into science treats) include soap, razors, bird poop, sleep, toasters, sour milk, bees, ink pens, superglue, tires, chewing gum, computer viruses and hard drives, pain, lightning, teeth, glass, and food, to name a sampling ...yes, incredibly, all in one book; topics running the gamut across physics, biology, engineering, chemistry, computer science, physiology....

This was my first introduction to Bentley; now I'm interested in checking out his two other popular science books: "Digital Biology" and "The Book of Numbers."
In short, an "A" book for me. and maybe even a good summer beach read for all you nonfiction lovers. Having said that, I do have a special penchant for the essay form of writing --- those readers who want a book to have a beginning, middle, and an end though, with development and thoroughness and a big helping of cutting-edge science, may find this volume lacking, and more like eating popcorn than the full meal they seek. This isn't Carl Sagan, or Richard Dawkins, or Brian Greene, or any of the other heavy hitters. But then popcorn is actually a fairly nutritious snack and sometimes just hits the spot.

1 comment:

Bart's Bookshelf said...

Hi there. Great review!

Just dropping by as the host of the Aug 2nd edition of the Book Reviews Blog Carnival, to let you know I've added you to the post.

Thanks for submitting your review. :o)