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How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science Of Everyday Life Hardcover – October 15, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Science is a way of life more than a set of answers, according to Fisher, an English physical chemist and Ig Nobel Prize winner. In his delightful book, he uses " `the science of the familiar' as a key to open a door to science, to show what it feels like to be a scientist, and to view from an insider's perspective what scientists do, why they do it, and how they go about it." Each of his nine chapters focuses on relatively mundane affairs-the best way to dunk a doughnut, how to catch a fly ball, how simple tools function, how to throw a boomerang, how an egg and a sperm manage to unite to form a new life-and each poses scientific questions about the underlying premises and principles involved. Real scientific lessons are embedded in each chapter (Fisher nicely explains the three laws of thermodynamics, for example, as well as the difference between heat and temperature), and the thoroughly engaging anecdotes serve to bring the process of science and the people who conduct scientific investigations to life. He successfully shows how science influences all aspects of our lives and how the "consequences of any particular scientific discovery are often not obvious, even to the discoverer." This view is increasingly important as politicians regularly favor applied research over the pure research so essential for meaningful progress. Fisher's humor and readability could go a long way toward making his perspective acceptable to a wide public. 70 illus., and charts. Scientific American Book Club alternate selection.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In this vastly entertaining and informative book, the author, winner of a 1999 IgNobel Prize for his exploration into the physics of cookie dunking, expands his cutting-edge research by tackling a structure of infinitely more complexity. Well, not exactly. The IgNobels are those spoof awards handed out every year at Harvard, and there ain't much cutting edge about food dunking. But don't let that make you think this is one of those silly books with no real informational value. Fisher, a research fellow at the University of Bristol, has a lot of fascinating things to say about what we do every day. He shows what our supermarket bills reveal about numerical patterns and about the way we see those patterns. He approaches catching a ball as a split-second, problem-solving exercise. He reveals the physics of foam. And he does it all with clarity, wit, and the bare minimum of mathematical equations. This book is just a lot of fun. Oh, and how to dunk a doughnut? On an angle; it's better than straight in. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; 1 edition (October 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559706805
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559706803
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,688,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Australian-born (1942), my main achievements after a life in science have been the award of an IgNobel Prize for using physics to work out the best way to dunk a biscuit, the creation of a carrot clarinet for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, and the invention of a champagne jelly that keeps its fizz (the more serious stuff about me and my activities is on my webite at lenfisherscience.com). My books are intended to reveal what really goes on in science, and to share the science that I love, by showing how scientists think about the important and not-so-important problems of life. I now divide my time between England's West Country and the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, following the theory that an endless summer provides the best conditions for writing. The picture was taken in the mountains of Ecuador, the jumping off point for a lifelong ambition to visit the Galapagos Islands.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
With an enthusiasm that is clearly contagious, the author applies scientific reasoning and methodology to better understand certain things in everyday life that we may take for granted. Topics that are examined under the microscope of the author's sharp and witty mind include: the science of cooking, the scientific principles behind tool usage, boomerang design and throwing, quick determination the cheapest supermarket, the physics of sex, and more. The author's excitement in describing his scientific approach to these matters stands out - much as an excited child describing the joys of discovering something new and wonderful, but in a clear, lucid, even funny, way. Complete with lots of diagrams and charts, this book is pleasure to read. The author has definitely succeeded in clearly illustrating how the scientific method and the scientific mind work, and all this in a most enjoyable way.
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Format: Paperback
This book didn't work for me as well as it apparently did for others. I do think that it succeeds handily at two important things: showing how science is involved in everyday things, and showing that while we tend to think of science as an ivory-tower exercise for super-geniuses, much of science is actually a process involving intuition, experimentation, collaboration, persistence and luck that any reasonably intelligent person can contribute to if they are interested.

My problem with the book is that parts of what he talks about just didn't hold my interest well, e.g. How To Add Up A Supermarket Bill and The Art And Science Of Dunking. And Catch As Catch Can left me thinking that surely what happens in the human brain is quite different from the complex sort of computation he talks about.

I did like parts of the book, but I liked the book "The Secret House" better (although perhaps it is unfair to compare them because "The Secret House" does not dive so deeply into any topic).
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Format: Hardcover
It is very rare to find an author who writes with such enthusiasm about their subject, particularly in this kind of field. The information isn't just presented in a factual way, it is made into interesting accounts of the author's (sometimes failed) experiments, that can be related to tribulations of everyday life, such as knowing when the Sunday roast is cooked! As a student, I found this book very interesting and worthy of the highest praise.
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Format: Paperback
Fisher's offering is a work written by a scientist but well and accurately aimed at the non-scientist. Where many before him have failed, Fisher has succeeded in crafting a work which does well at dancing the line between too technical and downright insulting. The author very carefully defines his terms once upon first use and then rightly expects his audience to remember them. He is accessible without being annoying.

As to his content, Fisher is widely varied while staying fundamentally true to his background in physics. In his 200 pages he touches on liquid uptake of permeable foods (the eponymous dunking of the doughnut), the protein transition of cooked eggs, the physics of simple tools, math tricks to make your trip to the supermarket less costly, boomerangs, beer foam and ball games. He closes with chapters on the physics behind the sense of taste and human sexuality.

Throughout, Fisher provides not only factual content but historical anecdotes to lighten the mood a bit. Most memorably for me, he relates the brief tale of an Australian man in the 1930s who protested loudly and publicly that the use of an erect penis during intercourse was simply too forceful. He argued that a flaccid state was more respectful and appropriate and one that allowed the woman to draw the instrument of insemination into herself at a time of her own choosing. Personally I suspect this was a case of a movement founded in the fertile ground of a personal shortcoming but regardless of the cause for the statement, it does give one a proper sense for the character of the book.
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Format: Paperback
How To Dunk A Doughnut is the title of a popular science tome by British physicist Len Fisher who, in 2002, sought to spice up topics that would by in large fall outside the realms of a serious scientific mulling over. Despite drawing sharp criticism and jabs of mockery from some who have taken exception to his seeming trivialization of the scientific enterprise, Fisher maintains that the beauty of science lives as much in the "intimacy of every day, familiar detail" as it does in the unstoppable march of academic progress. And a quick perusal through the chapters of his book shows just how hard he has worked to prove his point.

Baffled by the idea that doughnut dunkers could possibly benefit from some yet un-disseminated scientific pearls of wisdom, I sat down doughnut in hand to put Fisher's book through its paces. And there was a lot that I learned about this ring-shaped `gluten net' that today forms a staple ingredient of English tea time reunions. Fisher introduces the reader to the principles of capillary action, surface tension and viscosity, skillfully intertwining scientific facts with the history of discovery. His capacity to draw from apparently incommensurate examples of physical phenomena (eg: crack formation in the SS Schenectady and the splitting of a wafer-thin cookie) lays bare a deep understanding of the themes that he presents.

Story-telling adds an element of excitement to any scientific exposition. And when it comes to popular science writing, Fisher is a master of his trade.
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