What a Wonderful World

Marcus Chown

Why I looked at this book

This book is a contender for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

First impressions

It's an ambitious idea - to explain everything in layperson's terms. Of course, to keep the book to a reasonable length, Chown has to pick carefully what he includes . Interestingly, he doesn't take the reductionist's approach of starting with fundamental physics (which I think would soon get the reader bogged down). Rather he starts with the nature of cells, and respiration. I would say that these give a good start to the book, introducing scientific topics to the reader in a non-technical way.

Main review

The book continues well, with introducing the reader to a good amount of biology & physics and a few other things besides.

There are a few quibbles that I have with the book though. The chapter on capitalism isn't so much about capitalism, its more about the problems of financial trading, which I would see as something different - and this is looks too much like an attempt to shoehorn politics into the book. I also found that the book got a bit too speculative towards the end - this is supposed to be a book which explains difficult concepts, rather than indulging in flights of the imagination.
As well as that I found some of the earlier ideas were explained again in later chapters. I would have thought that this would be avoided to keep the size of the book to a minimum. It also can confuse the reader. For instance at one point the amount of helium in the universe: 25% (by mass). In a later chapter it is given as 10% (by number of atoms). That's my emphasis - without it readers may well be rather confused.

Overall, though, I think the book has many good points. It's easy to read, very informative and there are plenty of notes and references at the end for those who want to take things further. If you don't expect the impossible, and don't mind that Chown puts his own spin on a few of the topics, then it's well worth reading

Reviews Elsewhere

Not many Amazon Reviews for the US site - more at amazon.co.uk. These reviews, as well as those at Goodreads and that at The Book Bag were overwhelmingly positive, although some felt that Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything was better for beginners.

Some reviewers found other examples of repetiveness, e.g. Sciblogs, which as I said above is something that a book like this should really try to avoid