Marc Abrahams

Oneworld Publications

2012 | 296pp | £10.99

Is yawning contagious among tortoises? Does the shape of a chief executive’s head affect a company’s success? Do family members get on better when they have garlic bread at dinner time? If you have ever pondered such questions then, believe it or not, you are not alone.

In this lighthearted read, Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel prizes and a columnist in the Guardian, has collated a whole host of weird, wonderful and wacky research with the aim of ‘first making people laugh and then making them think’.

Each snippet of improbable research is covered in under two pages, essentially making This is improbable better suited to being picked up and opened at random than read from cover to cover. And there is plenty of hilarious material that you will find yourself sharing at every possible opportunity. 

However, as this book is a collection of summaries, the information on offer, although funny, can at times be unfulfilling. Too often I felt as though I was being thrust onto the next bizarre sounding article, with my head still filled with unanswered questions. 

The fact that much of the research looks so ridiculous at first glance ensures that you want to delve into as much detail as possible, but more often than not, answers to the questions that arise simply aren’t there. Why did anyone think that analysing hairstyles at Florida theme parks would be worthwhile? Ultimately, this lack of substance and context means that leafing through the book can soon feel like simply reading a long list.

This book will be enjoyed by all those who enjoy that combination of popular science and humour, which is often a recipe for success. Abrahams achieves his goal: making you laugh and making you think. But the style is more suited to weekly columns in the Guardian than a 296 page book.

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