Ann Lewis-Kell reviews stories on crazy creatures, sexy science and cool technology.

Michael Gross
Weinheim: Wiley-VCH 2008 | Pp259 | £18.99 | ISBN 978 3 52 732287 9
Reviewed by Ann Lewis-Kell

Cover of The birds, the bees and the platypuses: crazy, sexy and cool stories from science

This is one of many books out there at the moment which aim to show how science can be cool. The front cover, which features a colourful picture of the animals in the title, is inviting and if I saw it on the shelf I would take a closer look. In the book the author presents his favourite stories from the past 15 years he has spent writing about science. Gross believes that these stories demonstrate that science is a cultural activity equally as rich and rewarding as literature or music.

The stories are collected in three sections, Crazy creaturesSexy science and Cool technology. Many of the stories have previously appeared in Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) publications, such as Chemistry in Britain and Chemistry World, as well as The Guardian and New Scientist

In each section the stories are presented chronologically, which gives a feel of how the science has progressed over the past 15 years. Each story includes an introductory paragraph that explains what makes the story special, suggestions for further reading and, where appropriate, a 'What happened next' section which provides a summary of further developments. Each story offers a satisfying level of detail that explains the science involved. The book is aimed at the reader with a good scientific knowledge base, as evidenced by the many journal references offered as further reading. The text is interspersed with a few black and white diagrams, which unfortunately are not always referred to in the text. 

Although not a book to read from cover to cover in one sitting, this is a rich source of entertainment to the reader who dips in and cherry picks topics from either the contents or the index. Many of the titles entice the reader to want to find out more about the story, eg Better reasons to kiss a frog. I particularly enjoyed So where is most of the universe?The science of the Simpsons and The one atom quantum computer. The opening story to the Crazy creatures section, Squeezy little bears, is about microscopic animals called tardigrades, which can be revived after freezing in liquid helium. Beat that for craziness. 

Priced at £18.99, this book is quite good value for money. It is a shame that there are no stunning colour photographs to illustrate the beauty of much of the science described. For this reason more visual learners would find this book less accessible. Nevertheless, there are many cool science stories here for you to enjoy.