Customer Reviews: Why Can't Elephants Jump?: And 113 Other Tantalizing Science Questions Answered
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on October 29, 2010
This slim book is a collection of readers questions and answers from the New Scientist. Readers mostly ask simple questions related to everyday observations, while the answers are often surprisingly complex and reveal how little we actually understand of the world around us.
This is a pleasing enough little book, but my impression is that the best questions and answers have gone into earlier books from this series and we find here the duller examples.
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This is one of my favorite types of book- short, brief articles with a question and answer format on science, engineering or technical topics.

The Good Stuff:

* The questions are all over the map and have a nice variety. Everything from monkeys holding hands to the technology of a ball point pen.

* On those questions where I already knew the answer, the book's information seemed accurate and reliable. All the other answers given seemed plausible, although I didn't verify any of them.

* There is some reasonable level of organization, with topics broadly grouped by category.

* The book includes a fairly comprehensive index, so you have a good chance of finding a particular article or topic.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

* The style of many of the articles is a bit dry. Those of you familiar with "The Straight Dope" format will be disappointed (or relieved) to find none of the humor or snarky comments that made Cecil Adams an American tradition.

* Sources: This is my biggest problem with the book. For a great many of the articles, you do not know the qualifications of the author of the response. In some cases, the author will be identified by affiliation- (e.g. Simon Iverson, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia). OK, Simon may be the janitor in the department, but there is some level of credibility of the man's credentials.

Most of the responses however have sources with no affiliation (e.g. Simon Langley, West Yorkshire, UK). Not to cast any aspersions on Mr. Langley, but how do I know that he has any real expertise on Bic ballpoint pens and is not just giving us an opinion?

Jon Richfield of Somerset West, South Africa is a contributor of a significant number of responses, but other than an author's note that his very existence has been questioned, no mention at all of Mr. Richfield's credentials to answer questions from nutrition to athletic performance.


I admit to being overly sensitive to the sourcing problem, but just one of my quirks. My problem is that I have a very good memory for things that I read, and I am very careful not to read opinions disguised as facts. I hate to find myself quoting nonsense as scientific fact.

If that doesn't bother you, then you will enjoy the book. If it does, you will always be reading with a question in your mind.
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on January 16, 2012
What a piece of junk. At least the title is correct "tantalizing science questions". If they described the answers as "tantalizing" or "science" it would be a complete lie.

The book reads like you are browsing an internet forum (because that's all this is an internet forum turned into a book), complete with unqualified strangers dropping in to make unscientific answers to the questions. Every answer is taken at face value with no regard to the scientific method and every regard to "in my experience", "a friend told me", etc.

Most of the time the question isn't even answered, just some e-nerd ranting about a semi-related subject but avoiding the actual question. Even when it is answered, the next answer directly contradicts the first answer so you are left worse off than when you started.

I bought this book as a bathroom book, just something to read for fun when I had some downtime in my day. It didn't even work in that role.
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on April 21, 2012
Being a trivia buff, I'm always drawn to books with questions like these. This one is unique in that it is a compilation of questions from real readers of New Scientist magazine and the answers are given by readers as well (hopefully, ones who know something about the topic). I love the range of inquiries over everything from bodily functions to space travel. But, the informality (and sometimes incongruity) of the answers makes me lack confidence in their validity, and more than once I found myself questioning the purpose of even reading it because of that. I think I would have rather the editors had taken it one step further and instead of publishing the exact letters received for the answers, to sum up the best answers as they see them. It began to become tedious to read 2 or 3 answers to each question. It would have been nice to include imperial versions of the metric units given in the answers for all the American readers who aren't as familiar with meters and Celsius - I'm a scientist and I still had to pause and try to put things into perspective.
Overall, an informative and sometimes entertaining book, but I prefer the more succinct style of the similar books such as Why Do Men Have Nipples? and When Do Fish Sleep?.
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on September 25, 2012
This is the third book in a series by the editors at New Scientist magazine. The magazine is divided into sections and is answered by a variety of people--some questions have many answers and it's almost like following blog posts on the computer.

It is unclear who is answering some of the questions---researchers, scientists or general readers. It seems more like random readers of their blog so I'm not sure how much credibility I can give to their answers and many answers seem to even contradict one another.

Anyone who reads trivia bokks (and this is just one trivia tidbit after another) know the pitfalls and pleasures of reading this genre. It is a book to read over time, not one to read at one sitting. Pick it up and put it down at your leisure. Overall, interesting scientific questions; questionable answers.
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on March 5, 2015
Not at all about elephants as the front cover suggests. Actually not intended for kids.
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on September 6, 2012
It's interesting but a little bit repetitive and a little boring sometimes. The good thing is that it's not linear so you can just skip to the points you are interested in and that's it.
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on October 24, 2013
The majority of this book was a fun read and a reader could learn a lot. Sometimes it was a little bit too esoteric, however.
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