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BOOK REVIEW: Karl, the Universe and Everything by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

BOOK REVIEW: Karl, the Universe and Everything by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Pan Macmillan Australia
October 2017
Hardcover, $34.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Science / Popular Science

8/10

If Iggy Pop had a “lust for life” then Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has a “lust for science.” This loud-shirt wearing man is a beloved Australian institution and our very own, “Science Guy.” He has recently penned his 43rd book, Karl, the Universe and Everything, an all-encompassing volume where the worlds of science, facts and studies into human and animal behaviour intersect to form a fun, informative and highly accessible set, which proves that science really is golden.

My special power is that I am a moderately broad Generalist, but I am not expert in any field whatsoever – so Big Thanks to the invaluable Experts. (As always – all mistakes are my fault; all goodness is from them.)

This volume is divided into 33 separate chapters that are as diverse and colourful as the bespectacled, Doctor’s tops are. Here, Kruszelnicki covers topics as diverse as: sexist air-conditioning, ponytail swing, childhood amnesia, refried beans, and earworm, to name a few. The thing that draws all of these different topics together is Dr Karl’s crisp and clear prose, as well as his ability to summarise quite complex scientific phenomena into a way that is easy for readers to understand without completely dumbing things down:

We humans are a messy lot. We leave junk behind us, everywhere. Space is no different. We have already paid a price for littering in space, with damaged spacecraft…
Space junk has closely threatened the International Space Station (ISS).
On 16 occasions, the ISS has actually had to fire its rockets to shift its 420-tonne bulk. This was to get it out of the way of some incoming space junk that could have destroyed it.
On four occasions, the threat from space junk was not realised until there was literally not time to move the ISS out of the way. On those occasions, the crew had to put on their space suits, seek shelter in the Soyuz re-entry spacecraft- and hope that nothing blew up. If the International Space Station had been hit, they would have abandoned it, and carried out an emergency landing on Earth in Soyuz.

In some instances, Dr Karl is venturing into relatively new phenomena and territories. When he examines these topics – as when he approaches his other chapters, and in his appearances on radio and TV – his enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter is obvious. Dr Karl’s eagerness to learn and educate is infectious for readers and listeners who can travel along on this journey with him, like in the following quote where Dr. Karl describes new book smells and then stumbles across a new field of study involving scents and paper products:

Both the food and pharmaceuticals packaging industries have been pouring lots of money into studying the odours of paper and cardboard.
They’re concerned that during packaging, storage and shipping, taints and odours might transfer from the paper and cardboard into their products.
This has started a whole new field of study with its own special jargon.
This field is called “Material Degradomics”, and studies all the chemicals released (known as the “Degradome”) from the host product as it degrades. If you analyse the quantities of chemicals from a specific product, that’s “Degradic Profiling”. If you then build up a large database of how these chemicals change over time, and in response to their environment, that’s “Degradic Fingerprinting”. When you study what these chemicals do to the environment around your smelly product, then that’s “Degradic Footprinting”.
Who knew that such a field existed? Not me!

The length of the chapters varies, and in some instances readers may be left wanting more information about a particular subject. There is a bibliography at the end which details the books, newspaper, and journal articles that Dr Karl used in his research, which could satiate some readers’ desires. This list also shows just how extensive Dr Karl’s research is.

This book can be dipped in and out of and doesn’t need to be read sequentially or from cover-to-cover, but you will probably find yourself feeling smarter and more enlightened if you do so. This text also has some cute and clever illustrations by Jules Faber. These often reinforce a point like when Karl is depicted in comic book-style form and for instance, with a play on the master’s voice symbol with a picture of a dog looking angrily at a gramophone for the topic of misophonia, a condition Karl describes as:

The word “misophonia” literally means “hatred of sound.”
Misophonia is a disorder of how the brain processes sounds.
The unfortunate sufferer gets extremely powerful negative reactions in response to perfectly ordinary, everyday sounds.
These “Trigger Sounds” are overwhelmingly generated by fellow humans. About 80 per cent of them are related to the mouth and nose, while about 60 per cent have a strong repetitive element. Trigger sounds include hand noises (such as typing or clicking a pen), eating, chewing, footsteps, breathing, yawning, and even the plosive sound of the letter “P”, as in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Karl, the Universe and Everything is another fantastic book by Dr Karl that will continue to support his endeavours to increase public awareness of science and technology and it’s great that he achieves this in his own unique and inimitable way. Karl, the Universe and Everything is an interesting and off-beat collection of different explorations, lessons and explanations and Karl proves to yet again be a knowledgeable and colourful guide through what is ultimately shirt-loads of science!

Here is one final intriguing fact from Dr Karl’s latest book:

An interesting aspect of Chronic Lateness is that we all experience the passage of time in our own individual way.
One study asked people to estimate how long it took for a minute to pass.
It appeared that people who are achievement-oriented, fast-paced, highly strung and occasionally hostile (classic Type A) perceived a minute as passing in 58 seconds. Not surprisingly, Type A personalities tend to be punctual.
But the more laid-back and relaxed people (classic Type B) thought that it took a comfortable 77 seconds for that minute to float past them.

BOOK REVIEW: Karl, the Universe and Everything by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

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