13 things that don't make sense: the most intriguing scientific mysteries of our times

13 things that don’t make sense: the most intriguing scientific mysteries of our times 

Michael Brooks 

London, UK: Profile Books 2009 | 256pp | ?12.99 (SB)

ISBN 9781861978172

Reviewed by Tony Stubbings 

Thanks to science we know a lot about our world, but that knowledge is exceeded by what we don’t know. Brooks explores 13 of these ’anomalies of science’ in this well-written and enjoyable book, based on a highly popular New Scientist  article published in 2005; it complements Michael Hanlon’s earlier 10 questions science can’t answer 


Spanning disciplines from biology to cosmology, chemistry to physics, Brooks captures the excitement, messiness and controversy of scientific research. Each chapter can be read separately, but the last sentence of each chapter leads into the next to give the whole book a sense of flow. 

On matters of cosmology, the book explores what dark matter and dark energy are, and why the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, launched in the 1970s, are moving out of the solar system on paths that aren’t properly explained by our current understanding of gravity.  

In the area of physics, there were obvious doubts about the original cold fusion results in the 1980s - but equally there is now evidence that there is something happening in some of the experiments.  

Some of the biology questions are rather fundamental - What is life? Why do we die? The answer to the latter may have to do with something else we don’t really understand - sex. The chapter which I found most interesting is the one about the mimivirus, a giant virus which challenges the conventional account of life on Earth.  

When we look to the ’anomalies’ that science can’t explain, we often discover where science is about to go. So we should look to today’s inexplicable results to forecast the future of science.