Micheal Brooks – 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense

In recent years, I’ve not been much of a reader – little things getting in the way like earning a living etc. As a result, I appear to have missed out on a flurry of popular science books. Imagine my excitement then when this Christmas, I found amongst my many presents, a copy of Micheal Brooks’ 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time. For the last week, I’ve been riveted to this book.

Brooks’ writing style seemed familiar straight away – thanks to a recent diet of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and it’s successor. I half expected it to be a bit more in-depth, like A Brief History Of Time
(which was hard work but very fun). This was welcome, as I’m mostly reading on the bus either early at night or right after work.

Brooks starts with some of the wider aspects of the cosmos. Where is 96% of the universe? Are all our cosmological constants actually constant? Is there life on Mars? After the first few chapters, it starts to focus on more earthly topics: Mimivirus, free will, and death – as well as homeopathy which is a surprisingly balanced chapter considering the controversial topic.

On doing a bit of research it became apparent that a number of reviewers feel that by acknowledging homeopathy as an anomaly (thereby suggesting that it may have some kind if scientific merit alongside dark matter and “free will”), Brooks is a supporter. I’d read the reviews before reading the second half of the book, so was expecting so preachy nonsense, but actually found a a very balance debate. Brooks raises the obvious issue that any perceived effects from homeopathy cannot be sufficiently explained using our current collective scientific knowledge – but presents a seemingly logical explanation of how it might work, using previously observed properties of the structure of water, and it’s formation of large structures based on the weak bonds (which may lead to some kind of “memory” effect).

Despite this I don’t think he was trying to put a positive spin on the topic at all, and it matched the questioning, unassuming tone of the rest of the book.

Unfortunately it’s probably not possible to delve any deeper without ruining it for you. Don’t bother if you are expecting definitive answers, but if you want some real food for thought then I highly recommend this book.