Tag Archive | Pop science

Schrodinger’s Kittens

I read Schrödinger’s Cat by John Gribbins quite a long time ago now and enjoyed it so much I immediately bought the sequel, Schrödinger’s Kittens. It has spent much of the intervening time sitting on my bookshelf looking tricky.

Schrödinger’s Kittens brings the progress of quantum physics up to the mid-nineties. I was very conscious while reading it that it was twenty years old and the field has moved on considerably since it was written. Recommendations for recent books on the subject would be most welcome – preferably written for someone who barely passed GCSE physics.

The book takes the cat in a box thought experiment and pursues its implications through logical extension. It discusses what that means for what we know about our world. Which is basically not nearly as much as we’d like to think. I found that Schrödinger’s Kittens was not quite as accessible or engaging as Schrödinger’s Cat. It may be worth a read, depending on just how thorough your reading in the subject is, but there are probably more up-to-date books out there.

Periodic Tales

Take the periodic table and make a book full of interesting facts and factoids about each of the elements. What a brilliant idea. How could that not be a great idea? I was so full of hope about Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersley-Williams. The concept seemed to be all things I love; random useless nuggets of information, vaguely science-y but mostly history and culture, and a general attitude of ‘stuff is brilliant‘. I so wanted to like this book.

I didn’t even get past the first chapter. It is dull and leaden. At the point where I realised I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I was far enough past the introductory parts that I should be, I started trying to work out whether I was bored by what I was being told or by the way in which it was conveyed. The passage I was reading was about gold and its cultural value, its rarity, and its usefulness. This was followed by how platinum is only considered more valuable than gold because of marketing. This stuff should be fascinating.

As I’m writing this now, I find I really want to give the book another chance because these are things I want to read about, things I think are inherently interesting. And somehow, the author managed to tell these stories in a way that sucked all the life out of them. It’s definitely about the writing. Maybe there were too many nuggets so that none of them could be explored in sufficient depth or maybe it’s because the storytelling got lost in favour of a list of facts.

If anyone knows of another book that tells really good stories about the elements, please let me know.