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Science

Brian Cox's Human Universe

We're great and baboons are losers: this week's lesson from Brian Cox

11 October 2014

Anybody feeling a bit depressed about the shortcomings of humanity could do worse than watch Brian Cox’s new series Human Universe (BBC2, Tuesday) — which, judging from the first episode,… Read more

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I believe in animal research. But it’s time to draw a line

16 August 2014

Imagine, for a minute, that you’re a frog — a pro-science frog. You’re so pro-science that you’ve decided to donate yourself to it. You sign the consent forms, climb into… Read more

Florence Maybrick and husband James Maybrick, once thought to have been Jack the Ripper Photo: Getty

On the trail of a Victorian femme fatale

15 March 2014
Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic Kate Colquhoun

Little, Brown, pp.419, £18.99, ISBN: 9781408703908

Kate Colquhoun sets herself a number of significant challenges in her compelling new book, Did She Kill Him? Like Kate Summerscale before her, Colquhoun mines the rich seam of legal… Read more

human beehive edit

E.O. Wilson has a new explanation for consciousness, art & religion. Is it credible?

7 September 2013
The Social Conquest of Earth Edward O. Wilson

W.W. Norton, pp.330, £18.99, ISBN: 9780871403636

His publishers describe this ‘ground-breaking book on evolution’ by ‘the most celebrated living heir to Darwin’ as ‘the summa work of Edward O. Wilson’s legendary career’. As emeritus professor of… Read more

Is there geological evidence for Noah’s Flood — and if so, was it a local or  world-wide catastrophe?

The Rocks Don’t Lie, by David R. Montgomery - review

31 August 2013
The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood David R. Montgomery

Norton, pp.320, £17.99, ISBN: 9780393346244

This is a book about the clash of faith and reason over the truth or otherwise of a catastrophic, world-shaping flood — and it doesn’t once mention climate change. The… Read more

Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in Hyde Park incorporated within its structure several magnificent elms — a tree that has now all but vanished from Britain

The Man Who Plants Trees, by Jim Robbins - review

8 June 2013
The Man Who Plants Trees Jim Robbins

Profile Books, pp.217, £10.99, ISBN: 9781781250624

Remember the ‘Plant a Tree in ’73’ campaign? Forty years on, has anyone inquired into what happened to all those trees and how many are still alive? Since then, planting… Read more

The Cleansing of Naaman by Elisha. Woodcut from the Biblia Sacra Germanaica

The Serpent’s Promise, by Steve Jones - review

11 May 2013
The Serpent’s Promise Steve Jones

Little, Brown, pp.446, £25, ISBN: 9781408702851

The weight of bacteria that each of us carries around is equal to that of our brain, a kilogram of the creatures, billions of them, ten times as many in… Read more

Two Hunting Dogs by Jacopo Bassano (1510-92)

What dogs know about us

2 March 2013
The Genius of Dogs: Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

Oneworld, pp.367, £20, ISBN: 9781851689859

In Aesop’s fable of the Dog and the Wolf, the latter declares that it is better to starve free than be a fat slave, but the fact is that, without… Read more

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A gruesome sort

31 March 2012
Circulation Thomas Wright

Chatto, pp.248, 16.99

Everybody knows that the heart pumps blood around the body, and that a man called William Harvey somehow discovered this fact. Before Harvey, people thought that blood moved around the… Read more

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His dark materials

3 March 2012
The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee Glynn Parry

Yale, pp.336, 25

Like the dyslexic Faustus who sold his soul to Santa, the life of John Dee was a black comedy of errors. His vain and vulgar efforts to harness the occult… Read more

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Robot on the loose

18 February 2012
Losing the Head of Philip K. Dick David Dufty

Oneworld, pp.273, 10.99

In December 2005, a passenger on an early-morning flight from Dallas to Las Vegas fell asleep. Woken by a steward when the plane touched down, the man wearily disembarked and… Read more

More big questions

14 January 2012
The Science Delusion Rupert Sheldrake

Coronet, pp.392, £19.99

There is something rather odd about the current state of science. The funding for its prestigious institutions and mega projects now routinely runs to hundreds of millions, even billions, of… Read more

Quirky Books: Treasure-troves of trivia

3 December 2011

Connoisseurs of the Christmas gift book market — we are a select group, with little otherwise to occupy our time — will have noticed a couple of significant absences from… Read more

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The Brain is Wider Than the Sky by Bryan Appleyard

12 November 2011
The Brain is Wider Than the Sky Bryan Appleyard

Weidenfeld, pp.271, 20

With all the advances of science, we may be no nearer to understanding ourselves than before, says Anthony Daniels — but we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility outright Some years ago… Read more

Speak, Memory

4 June 2011
Moonwalking with Einstein Joshua Foer

Allen Lane, pp.307, 14.99

One day, the American journalist Joshua Foer is surfing the net, trying to find the answer to a specific question: who is the most intelligent person in the world? He… Read more

The mind’s I

28 May 2011
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain David Eagleman

Canongate, , pp. 290,, pp.290, 20

The quasi-religious zeal with which certain popularising neuroscientists claim that man is no different, essentially, from the animals, and that consciousness is but an epiphenomenon, strikes me as distinctly odd.… Read more

The nature of evil

21 May 2011
Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty Simon Baron Cohen

Allen Lane, pp.208, 20

Simon Baron-Cohen has spent 30 years researching the way our brains work. His study of autism led to The Essential Difference, which asked, ‘Are you an empathiser or a systemiser?’… Read more

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Massacre of the innocents

12 March 2011
The Killer of Little Shepherds: The Case of the French Ripper and the Birth of Forensic Science Douglas Starr

Simon & Schuster, pp.312, 16.99

‘La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite’ — Justice withers, prison corrupts, and society gets the criminals it deserves. ‘La justice flétrit, la… Read more

Care or cure?

5 February 2011
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Siddhartha Mukherjee

Fourth Estate, pp.571, 25

Cancer is usually associated with death. For the cancer specialist, however, cancer is more about life: not just patients’ lives; the cancer itself often lives the life of Riley. If… Read more

Perchance to dream

5 February 2011
The Immortalization COmmission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death John Gray

Allen Lane, pp.273, 18.99

This book reads like an interesting after- dinner conversation between intelligent friends. That said, it is a rambling conversation, and although it is extremely entertaining, it does not add up… Read more

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Learning to listen

18 September 2010
How Music Works John Powell

Particular Books, pp.264, 12.99

How Music Works opens with a blizzard of reassurances. First, John Powell establishes his ordinary-bloke credentials by means of a slightly tortured analogy between many people’s attitude to music (‘pleasure… Read more

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A plague of infinities

11 September 2010
The Grand Design Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

Bantam, pp.199, 18.99

Stephen Hawking is the most distinguished living physicist, who despite the catastrophe of motor neurone disease has been twice married, is a bestselling author and a media super-star. He is… Read more

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In and out of every dive

23 June 2010
Noir Robert Coover

Duckworth, pp.224, 12.99

Robert Coover’s Noir is a graphic novel. Robert Coover’s Noir is a graphic novel. Not literally, in the contemporary sense in which the phrase is used to designate a highfalutin… Read more

Faith under fire

24 March 2010
Souls in Torment Giles St Aubyn

New European Publications, pp.590, 25

Giles St Aubyn, in this long, scholarly book, sets out to chronicle the shifts in the Christian churches from the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and the Enlightenment of… Read more

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A cosmic comedy

10 March 2010
Solar Ian McEwan

Cape, pp.304, 18.99

Not long ago I had an email from a friend, wondering if I’d yet read the new Ian McEwan. Not long ago I had an email from a friend, wondering… Read more