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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Science of Discworld (Revised Edition)

The Science Of Discworld - Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart

This book.  I'm shaking my head over this book.

 

It boils down to three things:

 

The Discworld portion of the book, involving the Unseen University, is excellent; 4 stars.  Pratchett's writing is always good, even when it's average for him, and the UU storyline doesn't disappoint.  I loved the verbal interplay between the Archchancellor and the Dean.  The librarian and Rincewind also kept me going when I was at risk of wandering away during the science-y chapters.

 

The Science part of the book was also, if distilled down to its essence, good.  Solid.  Accurate, if dated (even the revised edition is over 10 years old now).  The explanation of some difficult concepts sometimes even reaches inspired in its clarity.

 

The rest of the science writing is... well.  Hmph.  The authors of the science sections decided to weave commentary throughout their chapters; I don't know if they were going for a whole Statler and Waldorf vibe, or really are the supremely condescending and arrogant gits they sound like, but either way - I didn't like them.  At all.  Which really in the grand scheme of things matters not a wit, except that I'll avoid anything else either of these two puts their name on, and that amounts to a raindrop in an ocean.

 

They started off with this whole ridiculous premise they call lies-to-children, which, if you've read any of my status updates so far, you'll be fed up to your eyeballs hearing about, so suffice it to say they don't understand the meaning of the word lie and leave it at that.  Even though they don't, and proceed to condescend to the reader throughout the book, telling them they've been believing these lies-to-children all along; everything the reader thinks they know is wrong and then proceeds to explain the concepts using simplified terms in easy to understand ways.  You know, lies-to-children.

 

The thing is, most of the time I did understand the concept just fine before they started in, and wasn't at all wrong about what I, in fact, knew thankyouverymuch.  And maybe I'm not the target audience for this book; that's fair.  But the hypocrisy of condescending to the reader out of one side of their mouths by telling them what they believe to know is wrong, while simultaneously condescending to them out of the other side of their mouths by re-explaining the concept in terms just as simplified is simply too rich. 

 

I was worried about giving concrete examples of this hypocrisy because I'm crap at taking notes (as in: I don't.) while I read and figured I'd never find those examples again.  But it just now occurred to me to check the index, and, sure enough, there's an index entry for lies-to-children.  Excellent!

 

In chapter 26, Stewart and Cohan take exception to the term genetic code, conflating the term with genetic blueprint.  To be fair, most people do and they're right, DNA is not a genetic blueprint.  But it is genetic coding - something they later refer to and claim as being the only part of the DNA we do, at this time, understand.  So... thanks for clearing that up.

 

In chapter 36 - on dinosaurs - they mention a bunch of fiction including the cartoon Fantasia, quote a psychologist named Helen Haste who claims that we all think of dinosaurs as icons of sex and power (you might, I sure as hell don't; they're just really cool, freaky-looking reptiles), and infer that these are the basis of our knowledge concerning dinosaurs.  Really?  Is this true?  All I remember from Fantasia is Mickey doing his Sorcerer's Apprentice bit, and maybe something about hippos in tutus?  And I've never read Wells or The Lost World, so I'm pretty sure the bulk of my knowledge about dinosaurs came from Discover Magazine as a kid and later, NewScientist.  

 

There are other examples, I'm sure, and don't even get me started on the whole idea that they know what happens when life on earth ends.  They are wrong by sheer dint that nobody knows what happens.  You can feel certain within yourself that you know what will happen to you, but that is not empirical certainty and to believe otherwise is a...lie-to-children!

 

So - did not like the commentary.  2 stars for that.  3 star average.  Won't be reading anymore of their stuff, although I'm with Pratchett until the wheels fall off.

 

 

Book themes for Newtonmas:  Any science book.