John Murray, £12.99 (324pp) £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Boffinology, By Justin Pollard
Friday 01 October 2010
After encountering the weird odds and ends in this book of scientific quirks – the "Halifax gibbet", invented for the dispatch of Yorkshire miscreants, was a predecessor of the guillotine; heroin, invented by the Bayer company, takes its name from heroisch because it made one user feel heroic; an Indiana mathematician persuaded his state to grant him a patent for pi at the incorrect value of 3.2 – the reader may recall a TV programme that specialises in unlikely revelations.
It comes as no surprise that the author is a researcher for QI, and his book is equally addictive. Typical is the story of how James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, continued his researches while incarcerated in Germany during the First World War by amassing radioactive toothpaste.
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