I, and quite a few others, going by how many are published, really rather like those books that list things (films, food, books, people, places) you need to experience before you or they disappear. I also like those weird and wonderful eclectic miscellanies that appear on the shelves from time to time. The latter are usually also really stunning as objects, great examples of book design and binding. Such books are great when you want something interesting to read or dip into, but don’t feel like the commitment of a wholemachines book on one subject or maybe you need a bit of inspiration about a subject, or you need to assuage a vague curiosity.

I was fiddling about in our Popular Science shelves and came across a couple of books that I remember thinking, when they first came in at Christmas time, that I wanted to have a look at them – then Christmas book buying began and we couldn’t keep them on the shelves. It is a bit calmer now, they are not disappearing quite so quickly so I was able to look at them over the weekend.

I can quite see why they appealed as gifts – especially for those hard to buy for people who are clever, already know a lot of things about a lot of stuff, could be 16 or 94, maybe don’t read an awful lot or else they have every important book on a subject. The Science magpieMagpie: A Hoard of Fascinating Facts, Stories, Poems, Diagrams and Jokes, Plucked from Science and Its History by Simon Flynn (Icon Books) and Eric Chaline’s Fifty Machines That Changed the Course of History (Crows Nest Books) are two beautifully designed, really appealing books that do what they say on the cover. I defy anyone, even those who would never think of picking up a book on either topic, not to find within something amusing, intriguing, surprising or thought-provoking. They are written clearly and  with a light charm – to be honest, my favourite is The Science Magpie‘s glittering collection of clever and sparkly science-y baubles. Especially when they collide with bookworld – D.H. Lawrence on relativity, after reading Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory in 1921: “The universe isn’t a spinning wheel. It is a cloud of bees flying and veering around.”, (p162), and a list of fiction featuring scientists and science (pp196-201). On the other hand, I can think of two people who might well receive Fifty Machines


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