Hayley Birch, Mun Keat Looi, Colin Stuart

Andre Deutsch

2013 | 192pp | £14.99

ISBN 9780233003955

I have to admit to being impressed when I received this book; it looks gorgeous. But I worried that the substance might not match up with the style. Luckily any such concerns were unwarranted.

The subtitle of the book (the quest to solve the great unknowns) might sound grand, but for each of the book’s 20 questions it takes a straightforward look right from the background basics to some of the ways the questions are being tackled today.

The answer to the question ‘How did life begin?’, for example, starts with Stanley Miller’s attempts to recreate the primordial soup before charting the path to making proto cells. And the chapter on what makes us human doesn’t just talk about genes and proteins, but also language and culture.

There’s plenty of chemistry in the book, from water splitting to cancer drugs, but one of its strengths is that looking at how ‘big’ questions are being answered shows how different areas of science contribute. And often one chapter will refer to another.

The book certainly isn’t exhaustive, each of the 20 questions could be the subject of a book twice the size of this one. But despite that, I learnt things. I particularly enjoyed the ‘inside expert’ portion of every chapter, where a researcher in the field gives their perspective. This isn’t a book that requires any study or prior knowledge, more one that you can pick up and flick through. It’s sure to be a welcome find in the stocking of anyone with even a passing interest in science.

Purchase The big questions from Amazon.co.uk