Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Free Radicals by Michael Brooks (Book Review)

What goes on in Science does NOT.....

What really goes on in the world of Science? Except for the rare evil scientist shown in movies, normally scientists are portrayed as cool, logical, level headed personalities - maybe slightly timid but nevertheless those who follow the rules. Now in "Free Radicals", Michael Brooks shows how wrong this picture is.

According to Brooks, in Science anything goes. The competition is so tough and the prizes so valuable that no punches are pulled. Drugs, lies, fraud, politics - all are part of the game. He exposes famed personalities from Newton to Einstein - showing how human they all are; and how the successful ones never hesitated to break the rules. Most of us have heard of Newton's famous statement on '..standing on the shoulders of giants', but we would not have heard of his skill of stomping down other scientists!. Any literate person would have heard of Einstein and his E=MC2 equation, but it is unbelievable to hear that he could not fully prove it in spite of eight attempts!!

Well researched and narrated in a fast pace, this book beats most fiction novels. I was enthralled at the stories, though in the beginning some of the `exposes' did give me a shock. But as I proceeded in the book it was clear that the author's intentions were honorable - the objective was not to deride the scientists but show that they are human just like the rest of us. Being an expert in one discipline does not make a person super human - nor does that expertise translate into other areas. I was also surprised at how `close minded' experts are and how difficult is for new ideas to break though - even in a field which is supposed to foster open thinking.

Brooks goes on to explain how to encourage more youngsters to get into Science and exhorts the Scientists to play a more activist role in causes that they believe in. Highlighting scientists like Carl Sagan, Brooks shows the important role that Scientists can play in formulating public opinion. However Brooks seems to get a little carried away on the benefits of drugs like marijuana or LSD to expand the mind's horizons - I am not convinced whether that was as important as he makes out.

I should hasten to add that the book is just not a bunch of `hot' stories. Excellently weaved through these stories, the author brings out beautifully a number of scientific breakthroughs and their impact on society. This is a science book that one can gift to any youngster to read!. It would also not hurt scientists to read it either.

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