Book review: The Naked Scientist: The Science of Everyday Life Laid Bare by Chris Smith

Whoever said science was boring didn’t spend a few hours in the company of the invigorating Chris Smith...

Thursday, 10th November 2011, 6:00 am

He might be a medical doctor, scientist, specialist registrar and clinical lecturer in virology at Cambridge University but he also has the gift of making science fun!

Not content with being one of the most knowledgeable men in viral medicine, he has made it his business to answer weird and wonderful questions like is it possible to tell how happy a dog is by watching the way it wags its tail and can one really read other people like a book?

Smith, better known to BBC Radio 5 Live listeners as the Naked Scientist, explores present-day predicaments and tomorrow’s technologies in this brilliantly entertaining compendium of bite-sized facts, anecdotes and insights into the science of everyday life.

From the most surprising facts to the most innovative new inventions, from staggering stats to serious developments that will transform the world around us, Smith uses his wit and charm to lift the lid on the curious, crazy and compelling – and answer those questions you never thought to ask.

Discover why the Eiffel Tower is 15 centimetres taller in mid-summer than it is in mid-winter, whether sound travels faster in water or air and why so many people hate eating their greens.

As Smith points out to his readers, science isn’t just for ‘geeks’; it’s something that can be full of wonder, affects us all and will almost certainly change your life in some way or another.

By stripping down science to its bare essentials, we see what it really is – addictive, interesting and occasionally a bit naughty!

Photography, astronomy, forensic science, geology, genetics, electricity, X-ray technology and even sport are covered as Smith takes us from deep into the earth’s layers to the heights of space to uncover what is happening in the world of modern day science.

From bizarre facts (there’s enough energy in a lightning bolt to make more than a hundred thousand pieces of toast) to awe-inspiring achievements (nano-capsules which deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumours so sparing healthy tissue), Smith dips into every facet of science and technology.

For instance, you need never worry again about being a party ‘pooper’ with a mobile boredom detector to clip onto a pair of glasses and warn you if you are sending people to sleep!

And yes, it IS possible to read other people like a book – but in a literal rather than a metaphorical sense. In Europe, some libraries are adding humans to their archives. ‘Readers’ pop into their local library to borrow an individual for a half-hour chat in a nearby cafe to discuss their life, beliefs and values.

And as doctors warn of a future dementia ‘timebomb,’ it could be time to start eating curries. Researchers have found that turmeric, the yellow spice added to curry and some rice dishes, can help to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

Smith makes a marvellous guide through this maze of amazing facts... if only school science lessons had been so enjoyable!

(Abacus, paperback, £9.99)