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Book Reviews


Tweeting the Universe

Author: Marcus Chown, Govert Schilling

Publisher: Faber and Faber Ltd

ISBN:978-0-571-27843-5

Price: £12.99 (Hb) 311pp


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As a Twitter addict, I especially enjoy following scientists and science writers and one of my favourite people to follow is Marcus Chown (who also wrote my favourite science book, The Magic Furnace). A few weeks ago I began to notice that he would tweet a series of fascinating science facts under the heading ‘Tweeting the Universe’. These would stop as abruptly as they would start, and, unusually for him, he didn't reply to my questions about them.

It turned out to be a delightful project he and Govert Schilling, another well-known science writer from the Netherlands, have been hard at work on. The two drew up a series of ‘tweets’ – paragraphs containing no more than 140 characters – to explain astronomy to a huge stage in very short bursts, which turned into a pleasantly light, chunky, pale blue book.

You'll find around ten tweets each on subjects from rainbows to quasars, encompassing a huge breadth of discoveries. To a practiced ‘Twitterer’ the style is distracting as I keep finding ways to further shorten or clarify tweets, and thought this wouldn't make good bedtime reading – but I quickly adapted!

One of the best thing is that you get the most startling ideas compressed into one sentence, with no jargon. For instance, "Your best way to see a real Martian face may be to look in a mirror." It comes with a healthy dose of common sense, plus news of future research and space missions planned.

The book is like a box of luxury chocolates, all too easy to glut when you should savour. Because of the style, every sentence is an astonishment. The only problem was that a lot of it is the ‘what’ and very little is the ‘how’, but it is a huge impetus to go and find out for myself. In fact, the people I'd most recommend this book to are bloggers and teachers. Pick any tweet, do some Googling, and you'll have a great story. It's truly a book of the modern age.

Alice Sheppard

 

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