Does anything eat wasps? And 101 other questions

Does anything eat wasps? And 101 other questions
Mick O’Hare (ed) 
London, UK: Profile Books | 2005 | 218 pp | ?7.99 (SB) | ISBN 1861979738 

Reviewed by Tony Stubbings

Does anything eat wasps? sounds like a question that David Attenborough would answer using a very small camera strapped to the insect’s back, but it is in fact a collection of over 100 questions and answers from the Last Word column in New Scientist; this is reckoned to be the most popular part of the magazine after the job pages. Readers send in thousands of questions each year hoping that they will be answered and this book is a collection of the most interesting, idiosyncratic and baffling. It follows the previous similar collections The Last Word (1998) and The Last Word 2 (2000) (both still in print from Oxford University Press). 

Questions asked include: Why do bruises go through a range of colours? Why do people have eyebrows? Does beheading hurt? And, of course, does anything eat wasps? Most of the questions have several answers, each looking at the problem from a different angle, and many involving the application of chemistry. Some of the answers are very complex and reveal a deep understanding of how science is involved in our everyday lives, while others are short and humorous. For example the question How long can I live on beer alone? has a long answer covering human nutritional requirements with historical anecdotes, but there is also the short answer: ’I’m 39 and still alive’. 

This a very enjoyable and interesting book, revealing that no question is too silly to ask and that science can be applied in several ways to provide both useful and useless answers.