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HOW TO DUNK A DOUGHNUT [Paperback]

LEN FISHER
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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One of the main problems that scientists have in sharing their picture of the world with a wider audience is the knowledge gap. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The scientific mind at work .... and loving it May 12 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Pepper and Handsprings Dec 8 2003
Format:Hardcover
As a non-science oriented person, I found myself skipping around in this book, skimming parts about claw hammers and boomerangs, but reading the entire chapter on supermarket bills. Frankly, that doughnut on the cover got my attention, and the fact that I had just heard about the Ignobel Prize on the radio, which the author of this book has won.
I enjoyed the chapter on The Physics of Sex, but had to read the notes to find out why a woman taking the antidepressant clomipramine supplemented her dosage with pepper. (You'll have to read it yourself, I don't want Amazon removing my review!)
In addition to making science more accessible, Fisher makes scientists seem more human. He describes colleagues of his reacting to successes by singing, shouting, and one who removed all his clothes and did a series of handsprings. Now that is a happy scientist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Offering Dec 13 2013
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.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read Feb. 14 2004
By claire
Format:Paperback
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.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The scientific mind at work .... and loving it May 12 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as enthusiastic as the others April 22 2006
By Nicholas Sterling - Published on Amazon.com
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).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read Feb. 14 2004
By claire - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Offering Aug. 25 2012
By Rob Slaven - slavenrm@gmail. com - Published on Amazon.com
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Banqueting Table For The Inquiring Mind July 29 2010
By Robert A. Deyes - Published on Amazon.com
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. His retellings of the famed reconstruction of Archimedes' ship-lifting lever, the use of wheel barrows in the building of Gothic cathedrals, ball catching in a 1930s English village cricket match, the painting of Aboriginal motifs on boomerangs and the numerous world-class culinary science events that he has attended, all give brio to what would otherwise be a colorless overview of scientific equations and hypotheses. Concepts such as momentum, heat convection and conduction and Galileo's principle, which the non-expert reader may not be completely familiar with, are vividly described. And the mathematically-minded will no doubt find much to sink their teeth into with scintillating calculations using the square rule of heat transfer, the radius of a boomerang flight circle and the torque needed to break a half inch bolt.

For the self-made home improvement buff, the Tao Of Tools chapter is a veritable gem-piece of tool learning. Fisher's journey through a menagerie of common tools leaves budding DIYists such as me wondering how they ever aspired to become anything more than amateurish dabblers in the essential duties of home ownership. The claw hammer remains my all-time favorite. The fulcrum of the claw can be placed close to any well-secured nail, supplying the user with a huge mechanical advantage (and a gratifying feeling of power as the nail is cleanly drawn out of its hole). The screwdriver, which Fisher classifies as little more than "a rigid extension to the operator's arm" likewise increases the mechanical advantage when aligned with a screw. The hammer is of course more commonly used in a percussive manner for driving nails into wood.

Fisher ends his literary tour de force with a high level review of the physics of sex, capitalizing of course on the power of this delightful topic to hold an audience captive. Details on hydrostatic pressure, sperm swim rate and the stretch `quality' of cervical mucus give the reader a rather novel perspective on the race towards fertilization. And it turns out that the tendency of cervical mucus to form protein-rich cusps at its interface with other liquids is indispensably important if a spermatozoon is to overcome the 60 Pa yield stress of the mucosal barrier that stands in its way. The prowess of the humble sperm, as it crosses the length of the cervical canal in 10-15 minutes, is enough to put even the fastest human swimmer to shame. Having made it through a multifarious collection of physical hurdles, the winning spermatozoon is duly rewarded: "like a knight of old, scaling the defended ramparts and eventually breaking through to the maiden within".

If there is a low point in How To Dunk A Doughnut it is unquestionably Fisher's application of statistics to the mundane task of adding a supermarket bill. Rounding up numbers is fairly intuitive to most. And frequency distribution tables on pricing show few surprises. Most seasoned shoppers (I am at the `infrequent' end of that particular distribution profile) are aware of the psychologically-motivated practice of putting 99 after the decimal on a price tag. Not much to grip the reader's interest there. But Fisher quickly regains credibility in later chapters that deal with boomerang throwing, ball catching and gravy absorption in mashed potatoes. His easy-to-read summarization of the common molecular forces that characterize everything from detergents to DNA once again demonstrates a talent for explaining the complicated in simple language. Altogether How To Dunk A Doughnut provides a most stimulating read that science enthusiasts from all walks of life will find to be a valuable addition to their personal libraries. It is without a doubt a veritable banqueting table for the inquiring mind.
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