Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Inflight Science

by Brian Clegg


Air travel has become such an ordinary occurrence that most of us don't pause to consider it. In Inflight Science Brian Clegg discusses the often surprising science that keeps us flying, as well as the science we can observe during a plane journey. The book takes in everything from check in to touch down, shedding new light on the everyday things we often take for granted. It's meant to be read during a flight.

The flight is used to explain lots of diverse topics: x-rays when you check in your bags and how light works; GPS sat nav and the speed of light; how Newton's laws apply at takeoff; views from the air and how river deltas and meanders form; coastlines and fractals; sodium and chlorine in sea water; and much, much more. This is only a modest-sized book, yet it packs in a great variety of subjects. What this means is nothing is treated in any great depth. In some cases the book presents the kind of information most of us would have been taught at school, but it's jazzed up with interesting facts and brought up to date.

There's a lot of physics, a fair bit of geography, and rather less of other branches of science. It's presented in a light, undemanding style that mixes in entertaining trivia and a friendly tone. There are also plenty of illustrations and various boxed-out experiments to try out, some of which can be done on an aircraft or at home. There are even a few experiments clearly marked as too dangerous to try unless you want to get arrested, included in order to make a point. It amounts to a very easy read, which is just as well. As is explained in the chapter on Cabin Life, low air pressure, dehydration and jet lag mean that air passengers won't be at their sharpest, so light reading is ideal.

I enjoyed Inflight Science because it explains the concepts behind so many different aspects of flying very clearly. From cosmic rays to crop circles, via cloud formations and cabin pressure, it deals with an ambitious range of topics. This does mean it's brief and a little superficial. However it does manage to say something about each subject rather than skirting round them, and in the process the book reveals quite a few startling facts about air travel. By bringing together such a range of disciplines the author has created a book with something new and amusing to offer all but the most well-informed polymaths.

5th September 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books


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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson