The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything* (*abridged)

Everyone needs to read this engaging, delightful, and informative book! Read it even if you’re not a math-and-science geek. Or maybe I should say especially if you’re not a math-and-science geek.

Geneticist Adam Rutherford and mathematician Hannah Fry are well known on the other side of the pond, but not so much here. That’s a pity, as they are the rare sort of experts who can not only communicate their fields accurately to the intelligent layperson but can also be entertaining as they do so. As is typical in math and science popularizations, each chapter wrestles with a different topic and presents it in a way that challenges and informs the reader. There is an underlying emphasis on the scientific method, which means that the book should particularly be read by those who are anti-science, anti-vax, etc.

If Hannah Fry’s name sounds familiar to you, it may be because I wrote about her two months ago in this blog. So clearly she is worth paying attention to. But I do need to warn you that both she and Rutherford have a very dry, very British sense of humor—one that can catch you unawares if you’re not paying attention. This starts with the title of the book. When I first saw it, I figured that the authors must originally have published a longer version—one that truly explained everything—and now they’ve shortened it so it only explains some things. But wait! That doesn’t make any sense. Think about it a minute…

A lot of the humor takes place in the footnotes, so don’t skip them! How often does a book have a footnote right in the title?

Mostly, pay attention to a Big Idea that Fry and Rutherford point out early in the book:

The mistake that people sometimes make, and often teach, is that science is a bank of knowledge. After all, the word “science” comes from the Latin score—to know. But science isn’t just about knowing, it’s about not knowing and having a way to find out.

Categories: Books, Math, Teaching & Learning