There is sometimes a bit of snobbery about the science found in kitchens and gardens and city streets. It’s seen as something to occupy children with, a trivial distraction which is important for the young, but no real use to adults. An adult might buy a book about how the universe works, and that’s seen as being a proper adult topic. But that attitude misses something very important: the same physics applies everywhere. A toaster can teach you about some of the most fundamental laws of physics, and the benefit of a toaster is that you’ve probably got one, and you can see it working for yourself. Physics is awesome precisely because the same patterns are universal: they exist both in the kitchen and in the furthest reaches of the universe.
I’m re-using the above quote (already used in a progress update) because it truly describes the book’s take on science and getting people interested in the subject(s) of science.
I really enjoyed this book. I have a both a personal and professional interest in science, but am neither a scientist nor engineer, which makes me somewhat of an oddball in my family.
While much of this is due to other interests and perhaps a smidgeon of defying parental expectations, I cannot help but think that having a maths/physics teacher and a chemistry teacher who were truly awful at explaining things. To give an example, I once asked my mum, a chemical engineer, for help with my chemistry homework. Thirty minutes later we were discussing it over the phone with her friends from work, also experts in the field, with the outcome that they all concluded that the proposed homework assignment was nonsense as the chemical reaction proposed would not and simply could not occur… I can’t say that this impressed my chemistry teacher. Thankfully, I left the country to go to school in the US after that particular year, and didn’t have to take any chemistry after that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about chemistry – and other sciences, since they are all related, but particularly chemistry – but I strongly believe that the way that science is taught plays a huge role in fostering interest, enthusiasm and even confidence in people, particularly young people, who want to learn about it.
This is where books like Storm in a Teacup come into play. I have seen a few books – and we certainly seem to have picked a few books for the Flat Book Society reads – that in some way failed to communicate with the reader. Communication and the ability to explain concepts and relationships, however, is crucial to producing a good science book.
Helen Czerski did a marvellous job at this. At least in my opinion. I have seldom found myself bored or talked down to. What is more, I could not wait to pick the book up again every night to read the next chapter. I also did not mind at all when I had to re-read a previous chapter to remind myself of a concept that had been explained earlier – which is my failing, or rather my reading too fast. There was a lot to absorb in the book despite Czerski’s great efforts to use everyday objects like toasters, tea cups, a piece of buttered toast, a candle, ducks’ feet, etc. to explain complex concepts of physics.
And for that reading experience alone – the inspiration to want to read more – I applaud Storm in a Teacup.