It's Not Rocket Science by Ben Miller book cover
It's Not Rocket Science (2012) is a whistle-stop tour around the most interesting parts of science, courtesy of comedian Ben Miller. Having studied for a PhD in Physics (dropping out to take up comedy full-time) Miller is a well-informed and enthusiastic guide. His stated aim here is nothing more than to entertain, show how brilliantly exciting science can be, and inspire readers to go on to more in-depth studies of the parts that grab them.

Unsurprisingly, given Miller's own background, physics and astronomy play a big part, but he certainly races through a broad range of topics, from the large hadron collider to evolution, global warming to quantum physics, DNA to space travel, Victoria sponges to alien life. It's enough to make one's head spin, and yet strangely, it doesn't. Each topic has its own section and all the information is laid out and relayed in a deceptively well-ordered manner. The fact is that a lot of science, at its simplest level, comes down to fairly easy-to-understand ideas, and Miller makes these accessible while enthusing the reader with his own excitement about the development of these ideas and the brilliance of the scientists who are responsible for them.

Miller's writing is immediately engaging, finding a perfect balance between humour and detail. The early chapters express his own fascination with the subjects he discusses while not getting so bogged down that he can't step back and offer a quip or humourous comment. As the book progresses this balance is lost a little, with either too much detail or too much fluff (the food section is particularly meandering.) Nevertheless, the book slides by easily, Miller's style incredibly readable and his ability to explain complex ideas in understandable terms, reassuring and comfortable. Having said this, the science is not dumbed down to the point of being nothing more than entertaining. There are plenty of facts here, and enough discussion of theories and current thought to keep the reader engaged and leave them informed.

It's Not Rocket Science will certainly expose areas of the reader's own knowledge that are less well-rounded than desirable, while bolstering confidence in other areas. Some of the discussions about popular science turn to myth-busting exercises, which as well as being informative, also encourage the reader to look beyond media reporting of science and explore in a little more depth themselves.

For a popular science book this is thoroughly entertaining and offers enough insight into a broad range of topics to inspire readers to seek out information about the areas that really catch their interest. It's Not Rocket Science is by no means comprehensive. As Miller says, this is an "orgy of science," an enjoyable saunter around some Big Science, with the option to stop off and find out a little more at any point.

Jolly good fun as idiots' guides to science go. There's actually quite a lot of information to sink your teeth into and the book certainly gives you a good start in areas where you know less than you'd like.

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