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A compulsory textbook for undergraduate science students!!
le 19 mars 2002
Apart from being a Pratchett fan, I'm an almost post graduate biology student interested in education en popularising science. Therefore, this book stands high on my list of best books ever. Apart from a very entertaining story featuring the ever-blundering wizards of U.U. (and Rincewind in the role of Professor of Unusual and Cruel Geography), this is really a very, very good science textbook.
The strength of the science book part (reviews on the story can be found aplenty on this page) is that it is for one thing very clearly structured, starting with the "birth" of the universe as we now perceive it and ending with a (maybe) over-the-top look into the future. But apart from this comprehensive structure, the science writing is also very clever. Many science books just state what is known, so only the dry facts. The authors of this book also give a framework, for example some history of how knowledge is obtained, a process that is mostly unknown to those who have not followed an academic science education.
But that's not all. Many times the authors start out by stating something that is known to everybody, giving the explanations we all learn in high school. And then they go about by showing us how exactly these high school explanation (or "lies-to-children" as they call them) are wrong, or at least a small part of the truth, giving a much more complicated image of how things work and even leaving things unexplained (because that's how it is in science, not all things can be explained satisfactorily). And that is, in my opinion, the strength of the book, a glimpse is given on how science is practised, how knowledge is gained and how things are always more complicated than you think they are.
I gave this book to a friend of mine who has had a long career in teaching (not only high-school teaching, but also teaching teachers-to-be how to teach) and he was also very enthusiastic about the book, because it really lets you wrestle with the various ideas and theories presented.
I myself have learned greatly from this book, not only from certain subjects that, being a biologist, are not part of your education (for example the physics involved in the biginning of the universe), but also about the more philosophical side of science (the chapter called "Things that aren't", which deals with how strange human thinking and perception sometimes work, is my all time favorite). This is why I very strongly recommend this book to all undergraduate science students (and really anyone involved in science or even remotely interested in it); they can profit greatly from reading this book. My only fear is that this book will, completely unjustified, disappear on the "Sci-fi and Fantasy" shelves in bookstores, and will not be found on the "Popular science" shelves where is really belongs!