Asimov's New Guide to Science, by Isaac Asimov

Took a long time to get through this one, and maybe it's intended more as a reference book, but it's very readable all the same, and plenty of useful info: he covers cosmology, astronomy, geology, physics (classical and quantum), chemistry, biology, and psychology. In each case, the story of how the science developed is covered, with certain key experiments and characters described (just about every page has a sentence "for this he was awarded the nobel prize" - they mostly are men).

I think he's quite good on biology, but I did struggle on the section where he talks about the way that chemistry can be used to understand biological processes. I reread the explanation of nucleic acids a couple of times before giving up with it and moving on to "the origin of life".

One of the things I did like in the book were the frequent explanations of the etymology of certain words that are now in common use. E.g. "vaccine" deriving from the latin for "cowpox", which it was what the first vaccine contained, and "limelight" was what they got when they burnt calcium oxide to produce illumination on theatre stages.

Here are a couple of the sections I marked:

I don't think I'll read it from cover-to-cover again, but it's definitely worth keeping on the shelf for reference.

Completed : 31-Aug-2004

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