Published 2016 by John Murray
Full title: How Long is Now? Fascinating answers to 191 mind-boggling questions
Subtitle: Questions and answers from the popular ‘Last Word’ column
Edited by: Frank Swain
Genre: Non-fiction, science
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
“‘The Last Word’ is all about following your curiosity, wherever it leads.”
Synopsis from back of book:
Life is full of baffling questions. And, as New Scientist readers know, answering them takes us on the weirdest and most wonderful journeys. How Long is Now?, the latest extraordinary instalment in the million-selling ‘Last Word’ series, offers a guide through the unexplained that takes in everything from gravitational waves to goldfish memories.
My Goodreads review:
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book comprises a selection of the final column ‘The Last Word’ featured in each issue of New Scientist magazine. The best have been selected and presented here in book form for curious minds who might not read the magazine. I read it for three reasons: Firstly, from what I’ve seen/read, I like New Scientist magazine, and they have some very interesting features. My favourites being about memory and time. Secondly, I want to read more non-fiction this year, and the format of this book makes it easy to access the kind of non-fiction I’m after, to ease me in as it were. And thirdly, I like the title, and it’s a question I was keen to have an answer to. I’m interested in time and what constitutes the ‘present moment’.
Most questions and answers are posed and responded to by readers of the magazine, and these are divided into chapters depending on the subject they cover. However, the best questions are saved for last, and are answered by those at New Scientist. I haven’t read any other books from the New Scientist series, but I thought this was an okay read. I learned some stuff, but other times it all just went straight over my head.
As you will have noticed, the synopsis tells us that this book covers the subject of goldfish memories. Although I don’t often like to start off a review of a good book on a negative note, the goldfish theme that runs throughout the book and seems to be its selling point, is highly misleading.
There’s a goldfish on the front. We’re told we’ll get an answer about goldfish memory, there’s even a goldfish animation running up and down the edge of the page as you read (which is the second book I’ve read which has one of these, the first being Fishbowl by Bradley Somer). One of the reasons I bought this book was the title, and the assertion that I would be able to read about memory. But, if you look in the index under ‘goldfish: attention span’ you’ll find that the goldfish is mentioned in one sentence. So it appears to me that they’ve used it as the big selling point, and I wish the content had delivered on that aspect! Either that or my interest in memory is evidence of how awful it is, and I simply can’t remember any other mention of goldfish. But I trust the index.
Other than that, this is a good read. I didn’t used to engage with science in school, and I think for me it’s better to read books and magazines like New Scientist to educate myself. I did learn some things, and a selection of the questions stuck with me, and I found myself recounting them to my friends and family.
However, I didn’t know when I ordered the book that it was made up of ‘The Last Word‘ column. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean we;re not reading anything written by the New Scientist writers until the end of the book. A lot of the answers are written by recurring contributors such as Mike Follows. Some questions have multiple answers, and in most cases they complement one another, but I found that sometimes they were almost contradictory, which stunted by capability to understand and learn effectively from what I was reading.
I read all of this book whilst travelling on the bus to and from university. So it’s a good book for dipping in and out of, and you may even want to read chapters out of the conventional order, depending on what your area of interest is. Or look up something in the index and read whatever takes your fancy.
The book didn’t live up to my expectations, and not all of the information entered my brain and stayed there, but the range of questions are imaginative and genuinely interesting. Some of them took me by surprise, and I found answers to questions I didn’t even realise I wanted the answer to!
Link to the book on Goodreads: How Long is Now?