Turn away if you’re looking for a book about the rock maverick Ian Dury; this is a book about science.
Its author, Zoe Cormier, is part of a group called Guerilla Science which aims to make science “amazing and inspiring” in much the same way that maths teachers use betting odds and gambling jargon to enliven an otherwise dull lesson.
Cormier does try very hard in investigating “the science of hedonism and the hedonism of science”, peppering the text with facts that rarely make it into the school curriculum. Yet despite that, there is, I’m afraid, still the whiff of textbook about it.
Along the way, it is possible to be entertained. Nuggets include the fact that, although most of us make do with two, third nipples can be found anywhere on the human body, including the foot; and that when mating, the deep-sea squid covers most of the female in sperm, which then burrows into her body.
When it comes to drugs, however, Cormier has all the familiar facts and fables without really making us feel that we have learnt anything new. Only when she tells us of her own personal experience with a drug she was prescribed for her epilepsy which, she says, destroyed her happiness and her health – “I woke up with limbs made of concrete” – does the book come alive.
All this sensual self-indulgence, as she calls it, comes together in music, where Cormier’s somewhat laboured prose (“jazz musicians were notoriously enamoured with opiates”) again fails to enliven what should be a fascinating topic. In one wild surmise she seems almost to be sending herself up by suggesting that hominids first started to walk upright because of a desire to dance. Really?
But again here, it’s the personal stories that keep us entertained. At a rock concert she hands out balloons emblazoned with the words “Free Bass” to punters who then discover that the balloons vibrate in time with the music.
In her conclusion, Cormier asks if there is any biological root that unites sex, drugs and music and knocks us back down by concluding there probably isn’t one.
Sadly, revealing that these hedonistic desires are universal and powerful doesn’t make for a satisfying ending. Certainly not as telling or as insightful as Mr Dury’s thoughts on the matter: “Sex and drugs and rock and roll is all my brain and body need, sex and drugs and rock and roll are very good indeed.”