Non-Fiction Reviews

At Least Know This
Essential Science to Enhance Your Life

(2018) Guy P. Harrison, Prometheus, 14 / Can$20 / US$19, trdpbk, 384pp, ISBN 978-1-633-88405-2


Many of us have heard of the idea of the canon of literature. The idea of a canon is the list of essential books that you need to read. What happens in practice is that a few titles come up and then it all goes into a debate about what to include. However what the author is attempting to do here is to create a canon of general scientific knowledge for people like me who are terrible at science, hence the title of this book. Harrison discusses his aim, in the introduction, as being to awaken the reader to the world around them and encourage them to learn more. It is a revival of the idea that science can be mind expanding.

The book begins with a chapter explaining what science is. From there it goes into more categories such as what makes up a human, how the world and the universe was created and what makes up life.

The book does constantly astonish you with mentions of things such as the creation how scientists think how the Moon was created, how many billion neutrons in a human brain and who came who came up with the notion of atoms first.  It is like a nature film that shows you a picture of garden and then zooms into close ups of the world of the plants and the insects within.

That is, I think the main metaphor for what Harrison is doing with the book. Bringing up on one hand the sense of everything being connected to everything else and on another the vastness of scale. The latter comes from the sheer weight of numbers and time that come from the extent of this galaxy and the amount of factors that were and have been acquired to make up people, historically and biologically.  Repeatedly Harrison references to our genesis in Africa and how we spread out from there to draw the reader's attention to how little the structure to a human has changed. This goes into the wider point about having to manage the demands of what our body was built to do with the way that the world works know and the conflicts that arrive from it.

While the writing is honest about the harm to people can do, the author also does maintain a sense of optimism about what is possible and what people have achieved.  The book explains the harm caused by 'confirmation basis' and how many of the ideas that cause it are false, such as in the chapter on human biological diversity.

Actually this might be one of the most potentially radical books of the year, by bringing all this information together and then making it available to people.  In the text, Harrison mentions the weakness of just assuming that you can Google the answer to something and have it provided.  For him it is the ability to investigate and find out and build on that which helps to stimulate us and drive us on to make the world a better place.

David Allkins


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