Dec 14, 2011

Why Don't Pengins' Feet Freeze?

and 114 Other Questions
by New Scientist

Another book I found just browsing library shelves. Of course, it's not about penguins. It's a kind of trivia book, full of questions asked by readers of New Scientist magazine. All kinds of quirky and curious things you might wonder yourself, like: what makes your hair turn grey? do fish die when lightning strikes a body of water? how do gnats avoid raindrops? how do you make ice cubes without bubbles (as seen in commercials)? how does temperature affect the taste of food and drink? etc etc. A lot of the answers got quite technical in the details of physics or chemistry that causes certain effects, and sometimes I have to admit I got a little lost, even though I could tell the answers were written for laypeople. And here's the one little problem with this book. The answers in Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? are not uniform in quality. They're not written by the same author, or even by a team at the magazine. They're sent in by other readers, and vary quite a bit. (Some of them have impressive little list of credentials after their names, others just list their name and you wonder who they are or what they know). Quite often completely contradictory answers are printed next to each other and there are even some that are obviously making a joke of the whole thing. They did make me chuckle, and it was interesting to see different ways of explaining the same phenomenon, but a few times I was still left wondering which response was the most accurate. It didn't bother me too much, but other readers might find this uneven quality dissatisfying.

I want to see them answer the question about the hummingbird my sisters and I used to pose to each other as kids when we drove around in our large volkswagon van: if a hummingbird is hovering in the car and it takes off suddenly, will the bird keep moving along with the car or get smashed against the rear window? (I think this was mostly answered by the question in the book about how a floating balloon behaves in a moving car, but somehow I think a living creature powering itself, like a hummingbird, might act differently?)

rating: 3/5 ........212 pages, 2006


farmlanebooks said...

I used to subscribe to New Scientist and I loved reading this bit in the end of each magazine. I know they are of varying quality and authority, but I liked that. I also liked the way people would debate the answers to each question. We don't always know the answer to every question, but I liked knowing what the top people in each field thought the answer might be. Sorry you didn't enjoy this more. Perhaps you just have to be a science geek to get it?

Jeane said...

I must have given the wrong impression, I did enjoy the book! it just was a bit tedious when it got technical, and a bit confusing when the answers were completely contradictory. But overall I found it a good read that answered a lot of questions and entertained me in the bargain.