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Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day Hardcover – March 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Everyone has one of those days when nothing seems to go right, but why? Unlike others who have broached the question, British computer science guru Bentley (Digital Biology) actually escorts readers through a really bad day, exploring the science behind all the little things that can go wrong: he looks at why you slept through the alarm (to explain the nature of sleep); why you then slipped on the spilled shampoo (a look at the nature of cleansers and lubricants); why that torrential downpour soaked you on your way to work (a look at the cycle of water in nature). This journey through the day, if sometimes strained (getting chewing gum stuck in one's hair on the bus), is a neat device for explaining the science behind everyday things such as how clothing is woven and why fabric is so strong (until it rips when you bend over) and how capsaicin in chilis fool the body and provoke a burning sensation. Each chapter ends with a brief tip on how to avoid future mishaps. Hopefully, readers and librarians won't be put off by the title and miss Bentley's reader-friendly explanations of the science behind everyday life. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

PETER J. BENTLEY, PhD, is one of the most creative thinkers working in computer science today. A senior research fellow and professor at University College London, he is well known for his prolific research covering all aspects of evolutionary computation and digital biology. He is the author of the popular science books Digital Biology and The Book of Numbers, and is a regular contributor to BBC radio.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594869561
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594869563
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #941,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Charlie on March 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
About: Bentley goes through a hypothetical very bad day in which the science behind 34 mishaps is explained. Oversleeping, shaving cuts, bad milk, bird poop, skipping CDs, skin burns and hard drive crashes are examples of what's covered (good thing this bad day is hypothetical!)

Some Interesting Things I Learned:

* To remove chewing gum, try peanut butter or mayonnaise (the oils in them help the molecules in the gum slide off whatever they are stuck too). You can also try icing the gum to freeze it, and then break the frozen mass.

* NASA didn't spend millions of dollars to develop a "Space Pen," They bought them from Fisher. Most normal ballpoint pens will work in zero gravity anyway.

* If you eat something very spicy and want to cool down your mouth, drink milk. It's thought that the mix of casein and fat will wash away the capsaicin molecules that give chilies their spice. Milk chocolate and several types of beans and nuts are thought to have a similar effect.

* Cut yourself shaving? Don't dab the cut with a tissue, you'll just keep disrupting your platelets that are trying to heal the area. Instead, apply steady pressure.

* Anti-lock brakes leave dotted skids that look like ======= . Non-anti-lock brakes leave solid line skids.

Pros: Well-written with very interesting and varied topics. Short chapters make for easy pick-up reading.

Cons: No cites, no full bibliography provided. No real sum up, book just sort of ends.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Dr Bentley has crafted a light hearted, easy to read book that takes you through one of the worst days imaginable and then teaches you exactly what the science behind the event is. He details 39 bad events with great humor, which quickly draws you into the idea, and then he follows with a 5 to 10 page discourse on the science behind the event.

Our protagonist, a business man who should have really never left the bed in the morning, Goes through a sequence of events; none of them particularly horrid, but all very annoying. Each event, whether its a bee sting or eating dirt and glass, is used as a launching point for a discussion on such topics as to why the bee stings, how the teeth work, how the digestive system protects you and so on.

There are 39 chapters in the book, each contains a mini lesson.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By bhr on July 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a neat little book about a really sad dude who has the worst day ever. Each chapter starts with something awful happening to him and then goes into the science behind why or how that happened.

Much of the science is something a person with any analytic background will already know. There is some new stuff, and I really liked the way it was presented.

The overall tone of the book had me thinking of some kind of british special that John Cleese might narrate - like the science behind beauty thing he did with that Hurley woman.

Overall, a very approachable book that explains the logic behind all the stuff that happens, and lets you explain way bad luck.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By neuralucy on April 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Peter J. Bentley takes his PhD qualification beyond the insular laboratory setting, and uses his critical thinking skills to explain the inexplicable. When you're faced with excessive misfortune, it's easy to forget that there's no one else to blame and there's always a simple scientific explanation for the events that shape your day.

This book integrates concepts from many fields of science. As a scientist-in-training, this book was an excellent example of how you can use a PhD to engage a wider audience. I admire the author's creative thinking skills to tie these scientific explanations into a cohesive story, that would otherwise just be another book of interesting facts.

This is a book written by a scientist, for scientists, or at least those with a scientific inclination. This book would appeal to all those out there who ask "WHY?", not "WHY ME?". Written in a high level of detail, this book is an excellent example of science communication for those who want to learn.

As a Bachelor of Science graduate, I found some of the biological descriptions as a good review of my forgotten knowledge, whilst providing sufficient new information to hold my attention. (Incidentally, in the course of reading this book, I found myself engaged in several conversations were I was able to draw upon knowledge gained from this book.) Perhaps if I wasn't already familiar with scientific writing, I may have struggled with some of the finer details, and some quirky hand-drawn diagrams may have helped the reader to imagine some of the finer details.

If you really were having the worst day of your life, I doubt you'd be receptive to a science lecture. But this book is a non-fictional explanation of a fictional story. You put this book down feeling exhausted, but mentally challenged and ready to tackle anything that the day thows you.
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