David Read reviews this beautiful text
Piers Bizony (This review is only available online)
Quercus 2010 | Pp208 | £20 | ISBN 978 184 916 485 6
The press release accompanying this book claims that it gives a 'complete overview of all the major branches of science', and its imposing physical size gives some credence to the claim. On opening the book, the reader is immersed in a huge number of beautiful photographs and illustrations that can be found throughout its pages. This makes the book instantly appealing, and the pages are well organised with text and imagery in logical positions thus avoiding any sense of clutter.
On closer inspection, it becomes clear that there is always a compromise to be made between scientific content and accessibility to non-scientists, but generally this book strikes a reasonable balance. There are one or two places where the language gets a little technical for the layperson, but explaining the concept of Schrödinger's Cat in this sort of medium is never going to be straightforward. On the other end of the scale, a reasonable grasp of the basics is necessary to get the most from the book, as it can't be expected to cover the absolute fundamentals of such a wide range of subject matter.
It may appear at first glance that there is very little chemistry content but our subject's position as the central science in an interdisciplinary world is emphasised by the fact that a number of chemistry-related topics are covered elsewhere (e.g. global warming under 'Climate', the carbon cycle under 'Biology' and entropy under 'Physics'). The accessibility of the text makes it very useful for introducing biological ideas such as genetic modification to A-level chemists, or even undergraduates, but it is unlikely to find extensive use in teaching.
The downside of such a large book is that it is quite cumbersome to hold and to read over a long period. It's an excellent 'coffee table' book that one can dip into time and time again, but you're unlikely to want to keep hold of it for too long. It's a book that might catch someone's eye and spark an interest that wasn't there previously, with the vivid imagery providing plenty of inspiration. On reflection, it doesn't quite succeed in presenting the 'complete overview' that it aims to provide, but it does cover a lot of ground and is a thoroughly enjoyable read to boot.