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Sunday, 27 March 2016

Anything can happen in the next 30 seconds

I just received my contributor’s copies of 30-second Physics and 30-second Newton – pictured above with 30-second Quantum Theory from 2014. All three books are edited by Brian Clegg and include contributions from some really top class science writers (as well as me). As I said when the quantum book came out, I really like the format of these books. The covers may look dull, but the interiors are packed with information and visually stunning images.

There’s a whole series of 30-second books, including subjects like Opera, Shakespeare, Religion, Mythology and Architecture as well as the sciency ones. They’re based on the “elevator pitch” theory that anything that’s worth knowing can be summarized in 30 seconds. That doesn’t mean the books can be read in 30 seconds, but they’re organized in double-page spreads and the idea is that each DPS can be absorbed in 30 seconds (although when I tried it with a stopwatch, it came out closer to 90 seconds).

The publisher’s website includes a few example spreads from each book. To give you a flavour, I’ve put a copy of one of these (my entry on “Comets” from 30-second Newton) at the bottom of this post. Note however that it’s a deliberately degraded low resolution image – to read it properly you really need to buy the book!

Speaking of which, here are a couple of Amazon links for you:

6 comments:

Brian Clegg said...

I seem to be the only one not to have seen these yet! Looking forward to getting a copy soon...

Andrew May said...

Yes, these books always look much better in real life than in electronic form. I imagine you will get more than one copy of each book, so maybe they use a different delivery method for that.

Colin Jones said...

There's nothing wrong with a bit of "dumbing down" to explain complex ideas - I remember watching Horizon on BBC 2 about the theory of other universes called "branes" and they made it sound so complicated that I was left none the wiser but a few months later I read the same theory in a science magazine condensed into half a page and I understood it without any problems. It's the same with biographies of great historical figures like Julius Caeser, Napoleon, Charlemagne etc - the biographies are hundreds of pages long and full of pointless intricate detail when all you really need to know could be summarized in two or three pages.

Andrew May said...

I take your point, Colin, but there is a big difference between "dumbing down" and "getting to the point quickly". Dumbing down is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts in a misguided attempt to appeal to readers who wouldn't otherwise be interested in (or capable of understanding) the subject. These books absolutely don't do that. It's simply that they get to the point - the honest, true, factual point - as quickly as possible. That allows the reader to make an informed decision as to whether they want to get into a subject in more depth. And hopefully it doesn't leave them with the totally erroneous view that they fully understand a subject that may really require years of study to master.

Colin Jones said...

OK, thanks Andrew - I withdraw "dumbing down". But I do feel that science is often presented in such a way as to sound more difficult to understand than it needs to be - one example that always bugs me is the statement that "birds evolved from dinosaurs" which gives the impression to anybody who doesn't know about the subject that a little sparrow somehow evolved from a lumbering T. Rex when ,of course, birds evolved from a SPECIFIC KIND of small, feathered dinosaur about 150 million years. I feel that by not explaining properly it gives ammunition to religious fundamentalists who can then scoff at the notion of a sparrow evolving from a stegosaurus.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Colin - I wasn't saying that "dumbing down" doesn't happen (it happens far too often, particularly on TV and in journalistic articles) but that it's not something I would ever do, or any of the other contributors to these 30-second books.

Your comment about "dinosaurs evolving into birds" is a perfect example of dumbing down, and it drives me mad every time I hear it. The truth is that "birds and dinosaurs share a common ancestor", but that just isn't exciting enough for some people so they give the impression that T Rex, Diplodocus et al suddenly morphed into seagulls, chickens etc - which is just nonsense.