The Science of Discworld IV

Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen
Ebury Press

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Terry Pratchett once again teams up with mathematician Ian Stewart and biologist Jack Cohen for The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day. This time the intrepid trio try to answer the ‘REALLY big questions’ about God, the universe and everything in between.

The Science of Discworld IV follows the format of its predecessors by interspersing some truly excellent science writing with a bit of light entertainment from the fictitious Discworld. In Discworld an argument has erupted between magic and religion. An argument over the ownership of roundworld, a 20cm globe that normally sits on a dusty shelf in Unseen University. Did I mention that this globe is actually the planet Earth?

I have to say that being unfamiliar with the Science of Discworld books I initially found the inclusion of a fictional tale within what is otherwise a fantastic popular science book a bit grating. However as I got used to the format I soon began to enjoy my little sojourns in Discworld, especially as the science part of the book deals with some pretty hefty subjects, like quantum theory and the origins of the universe. It was nice to give my mental muscles a bit of a break now and again.

As a popular science book The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day is unparalleled. Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen deftly explain complex scientific concepts with a wonderful set of tongue-in-cheek analogies. For example the hunt for the Higgs Boson is a bit like trying to find out what a piano is made of by hurling pebbles at it and studying any musical notes that result.

As well as discussing up-to-the-minute scientific theories on everything from the origin of the moon to antimatter collisions in thunderstorms, The Science of Discworld IV also explores the history and philosophy of scientific thought. It poses the question; do you have a human centred view or a universe centred view? It is also not afraid to probe the differences between scientific and religious thought.

If you are looking for a humorous popular science book full of fascinating snippets from the worlds of cosmology, philosophy, physics, biology and mathematics, then this book is for you. If you are not a particular Pratchett fan you may want to skip the Discworld chapters and stick to the science bits, but I feelyou would be missing out. I for one enjoyed the fictional narrative and felt it very much added to the philosophical discussions at the heart of this intriguing and highly entertaining book.

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