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Science starts to get interesting when things don’t make sense.
Science’s best-kept secret is this: Even today, there are experimental results and reliable data that the most brilliant scientists can neither explain nor dismiss. In the past, similar “anomalies” have revolutionized our world, like in the sixteenth century, when a set of celestial anomalies led Copernicus to realize that the Earth goes around the sun and not the reverse, and in the 1770s, when two chemists discovered oxygen because of experimental results that defied all the theories of the day. And so, if history is any precedent, we should look to today’s inexplicable results to forecast the future of science. In13 Things That Don’t Make Sense, Michael Brooks heads to the scientific frontier to meet thirteen modern-day anomalies and discover tomorrow’s breakthroughs.
13 Things opens at the twenty-third Solvay physics conference, where the scientists present are ready to throw up their hands over an anomaly: is it possible that the universe, rather than slowly drifting apart as the physics of the big bang had once predicted, is actually expanding at an ever-faster speed? From Solvay and the mysteries of the universe, Brooks travels to a basement in Turin to subject himself to repeated shocks in a test of the placebo response. No study has ever been able to definitively show how the placebo effect works, so why has it become a pillar of medical science? Moreover, is 96 percent of the universe missing? Is a 1977 signal from outer space a transmission from an alien civilization? Might giant viruses explain how life began? Why are some NASA satellites speeding up as they get farther from the sun—and what does that mean for the laws of physics?
Spanning disciplines from biology to cosmology, chemistry to psychology to physics, Brooks thrillingly captures the excitement, messiness, and controversy of the battle over where science is headed. “In science,” he writes, “being stuck can be a sign that you are about to make a great leap forward. The things that don’t make sense are, in some ways, the only things that matter.”
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This entertaining and often provocative book examines such mysteries as dark matter and dark energy, the prospect of life on Mars, sex and death, free will and the placebo effect, among other head-scratchers...The book is at its best when Brooks throws himself into the action. He undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to test the assumption that he has free will, and subjects himself to electric shocks for a placebo-response test...This elegantly written, meticulously researched and thought-provoking book provides a window into how science actually works, and is sure to spur intense debate. (New Scientist 2008-10-22)
Entertaining... engagingly written... a worthwhile read for budding explorers of new worlds (Jon Turney Independent 2009-02-11)
Odd data clusters are crime scenes, over which Brooks combs with the reassuring casualness of an expert... to provide riveting cliffhangers of scientific detection... admirable (Steven Poole Guardian 2009-02-14)
Fascinating, bang-up-to-date... Like all the best science popularisers, Brooks reawakens us to the astonishing fact of our mere existence, the strangeness of the world around us, and the astonishing amount that science has yet to discover (Christopher Hart Sunday Times 2009-02-15)
Buy yourself a copy, and prepare yourself to be entertained and challenged in equal measure (Robert Matthews BBC Focus 2009-02-02)
Brooks expertly works his way through... hotly debated quandaries in a smooth, engaging writing style reminiscent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould. At times, as I was deeply engrossed in parts of this book, I found myself as captivated and wide-eyed as I was decades ago when I picked up my first science books and found my calling. Mr Brooks has the ability to make his readers forget their surroundings - in my case a hectic newsroom - and train their minds' eyes on images as foreign as a vast Martian landscape or as distant as a roiling, infant universe. Every mystery is brought to life in vivid detail, and wit and humor are sprinkled throughout (Anahad O'Connor, author of NEVER SHOWER IN A THUNDERSTORM New York Times Science Times)
WOW! is one of the things that Michael Brooks includes here - it is the signal from space that may have come from an alien civilization - but it's also the way I feel about this book's magical mystery tour. You will be amazed and astonished you when you learn that science has been unable to come up with a working definition of life, why death should happen at all, why sex is necessary, or whether cold fusion is a hoax or one of the greatest breakthroughs of all time. Strap yourself in and prepare for a WOW! of an experience (Richard Ellis, author of THE EMPTY OCEAN and TUNA: A Love Story Story)
Excellent... Brooks is breezy and fun - always readable and never dull... each chapter is a little vessel of delights... Deserves to be up there as one of the best popular science books of 2008/9. Recommended (popularscience.co.uk 2009-02-18)
Sensational... pitch-perfect... The ideas in his book are dizzying (Simon Ings Sunday Telegraph 2009-02-22)
Brooks is an exemplary science writer. His explanations have the sort of clarity you often yearn for when you about science, but rarely find. I'm relatively ignorant when it comes to science. But now I feel I can discuss complex things... This is the sort of science book one always hopes for. Learned, but easy to read. Packed with detail, but clear. Reading it will make you feel clever (William Leith Daily Telegraph 2009-03-28)
Will we ever find the ninety-six percent of the universe that is missing? Will tomorrow bring an answer to the scientific mysteries of today? While taking readers on an entertaining tour d'horizon of today's strangest scientific findings, Michael Brooks argues that the things we don't understand are the key to what we are about to discover.
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