Although I’ve not paid much attention to science since I gave it up after my GCSEs, Ben Miller’s new book, It’s Not Rocket Science, is perfect for the science novice – it’s entertaining, informative and easy to understand. I find scientific ideas interesting, but at school science never particularly engaged me. Miller’s approach is to skip the First Principles, ‘to throw you in at the deep end’, and give just enough details for the reader to be able to access the more fascinating areas of science. He describes it as ‘eating the pizza topping and leaving the crust’, and it is definitely a more engaging way to approach the subject for a broad audience.
Miller clearly believes that science is for everyone. Just as you don’t need to be an archaeologist to appreciate how amazing it is to look at an artefact that’s thousands of years old, you don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate how amazing the Large Hadron Collider is. And, if you don’t know what the LHC is, or why the Higgs Boson is so important, Miller is there to explain it all. His purpose is ‘simply to entertain you’, rather than to educate; ‘this is not a science lesson. This is a science orgy’.
Miller hopes the book will act as a ‘gateway drug’ into science for his readers, and he provides a further reading list organised by topic. I can certainly imagine that for many the book will encourage them to continue reading. The book is easy to dip in and out of it – I read most of it on the train on the way to work. It covers a vast range of scientific areas, taking us from atoms, electrons and quarks, via DNA, to space travel. There is something for everyone, and Miller encourages people to dip into science rather than taking it on as one colossal entity.
I attended Miller’s talk at the Royal Institution, where he spoke knowledgeably and entertainingly about science and his career. There was also discussion of the increasing prominence and popularity of science within popular culture. Miller identified Brian Cox as a key factor in popularising science, and I think that the ease of communicating complex ideas that characterises Cox’s documentaries is also found in It’s Not Rocket Science; it’s Miller’s own contribution to the continued resurgence in popular science.