How to Build a Universe – Brian Cox and Robin Ince

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Published October 19th 2017 by William Collins

Full title: How to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage Adventure

Authors: Brian Cox, Robin Ince, Alexandra Feachem

Format: Hardback

Genre: Science, Humour

Pages: 273

Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening line:

“Welcome to The Infinite Monkey Cage.”

Goodreads synopsis:

From the hosts of the legendary BBC Radio 4 programme comes this irreverent celebration of scientific marvels – a hectic leap through the grand and bizarre ideas conjured up by human imagination, from dark matter to consciousness via neutrinos and earthworms.

Prof Brian Cox and Robin Ince take the musings of the great and the good of British science, producing an insight into the multifaceted subjects involved in building a Universe, with pearls of wisdom from leading scientists and comedians peppered throughout.

Covering thousands of concepts and conundrums, they tackle everything from the Big Bang to parallel Universes, fierce creatures to extraterrestrial life, brain science to artificial intelligence. Bringing together the best, most unusual and hilarious of the inquisitive minds that help shape and understand our world, from Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dara Ó Briain to Sir Patrick Stewart, Tim Minchin, Stephen Fry and more, How to Build a Universe is an illuminating and inspirational celebration of science – sometimes silly, sometimes astounding and very occasionally facetious.

My review

Science is a topic that I enjoyed in school but found difficult. Biology was my strongest of the sciences, chemistry I never really understood or could grasp, and physics was interesting but again I found it difficult to know what everything meant. But strip away all the stuff you have to do at school, and I can tell you that I have always been someone interested in the universe and the natural world.

I had no idea this book was in the making or that it would be released, I happened to find it in my local Tesco, and it caught my eye for two initial reasons:

  1. I love Brian Cox.
  2. I only recently became aware of the existence of Robin Ince, after he apparently heard me on the radio.

Somewhere along the line, a few months ago when I was trying to explore the radio and get into listening to it, I chanced upon The Infinite Monkey Cage except it didn’t register with me, I just knew Brian Cox was involved somehow. My mind was muggy, and I abandoned my radio quest and forgot all about this show about science.

Until finding this book, that is.

A quick flick through reveals that it is no ordinary science book. There’s illustrations and pictures galore. There’s a lot of words too, but the margins in this book are huge to fit in all the doodles, which means the words are less dense and intense. Immediately, this looked like a good recipe for a science book. I bought it.

The next day, a Sunday, I began reading it and by the end of the day I’d read over half of the book, which is broken up into 6 sections: Introductions & Infinity; Life, Death & Strawberries; Recipe to Build a Universe; Space Exploration; Evidence & Why Ghosts Don’t Exist; Apocalypse.

By those titles, this book offers me everything I could want from a science book (for someone who’s understanding of science at school was how I described above). It’s fun, it explores these subjects with serious knowledge, and words that I don’t understand…but does a good job of explaining these words while still making it entertaining.

The format is sort of a conversation with Brian and Robin, both between them and towards the reader. I’m guessing that because this book was inspired by a radio show, this is to mimic and re-create that conversational tone and feel. It really works. And one of the best things this book has enabled are Brian Cox footnotes. Every so often, you’ll be reading a section by Robin, and a footnote will appear of Brian offering his view or correction or general comment. I love books that play with footnotes, and they’ve done it well here.

The best thing about this book though is that it does have the serious science and facts that you want to read. I know more about the universe now than when I started the book and that was my ultimate goal when I bought it. There are mind-blowing theories and facts about the universe contained in this one book, and they literally do provide you with a recipe for building a universe. There are so many gems in this book, and a couple of comic strips too. It’s packed with fun, and a whole lot of knowledge which you can soak up in just a few sittings.

Now I’m ready to read Forces of Nature.

Link to the book on Goodreads: How to Build a Universe: An Infinite Monkey Cage Adventure

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