Science Book a Day Interviews Michael Brooks


Special thanks to Michael Brooks for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise

Michael Brooks, who holds a PhD in quantum physics, is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He is a consultant at New Scientist, a magazine with over three quarters of a million readers worldwide,and writes  a weekly column for the New Statesman. He is the author of At The Edge of Uncertainty, The Secret Anarchy of Science and the bestselling non-fiction title 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense. His writing has also appeared in the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer, the Times Higher Education, the Philadelphia Inquirer and many other newspapers and magazines. He has lectured at various places, including New York University, The American Museum of Natural History and Cambridge University. – From Michael’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for At the Edge of Uncertainty?

I simply wanted to take people on a tour of the wilder frontiers of science. We come across the straightforward “here’s what scientists have done this week” so often, but so many of them work on things that might never be finished or resolved – and are all the more interesting because of it.

#2 – How did you decide on the 11 discoveries? Covering a broad range of topics, what did each discovery need to make the cut?

It had to be on the radars of “proper” scientists, but not quite in full public view yet. It had to have been around a good while in some form – you can trace most of the things in the book back for decades, and in some cases a century or more. And it had to be important – the field had to promise some deep impact on humanity if we made progress with it.

#3 – How was writing a book like this different to your weekly blog? What affordances did it give you?

Oh, in so many ways!! I love the process of writing a book – you go into such depth, and off on such tangents, and you have to read SO MUCH INTERESTING STUFF! My weekly New Statesman column is very focussed, and is the result of a quick glance about me, really. A book is the bubbling up of a long-standing passion, an overflow of obsession, in a way. I do try to keep in mind what a privilege it is to be given the space to indulge my curiosity so completely.

#4 – What was the topic that was the hardest for you to write about? How did you overcome this difficulty?

For me, the hardest chapter to write was the one exploring what’s still missing from our history of the Universe. Cosmologists and astronomers have done extraordinary work stitching this story together from the available facts, but it’s an inescapable fact that there are still too many loose threads – too many anomalies – to be sure that the picture we’ve created is correct. Part of me didn’t want to write about this because I don’t want to be seen as sneering at cosmology; at the same time, I think it’s really important that science admits its shortcomings and unfinished work. I guess what made me knuckle down and tackle it was the notion that someone reading it might be inspired to help find solutions to these problems.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects that you can tell us about?

No firm plans as yet. I’m in the process of deciding which of my obsessions I’ll try to get license to indulge next! It may be something from At the Edge of Uncertainty, one of the tiny details I can’t bear to leave unexplored…but there are several entirely unrelated things captivating me at the moment. I’m being vague because I don’t want to commit myself to anything just now!

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