Jul/Aug 2010  •   Reviews & Interviews

Science: If Only Textbooks Could Be This Cool!

Review by Colleen Mondor

When it comes to coffee table books DK puts very nearly every other publisher to shame and their gorgeous overview of science history, Science is a perfect example of everything they do right. Huge in size in scope (it's a doorstop in the best possible way), Science is organized chronologically and covers every aspect of the field. From planetary motion to steam power to evolution and fission and fusion, there are two-page (and occasionally more) spreads on everyone and everything along the path to scientific advancement. What keeps it all from being overwhelming is the classic design which brings the past and present clearly into focus for readers of all levels. From preteen whiz kids eager to learn to adults looking for an accessible reference or unique way to while away the hours, Science is light years beyond the standard fare and irresistible from the moment the first pages are turned.

Full color illustrations are a hallmark of DK titles and there are thousands of them to be found here but as striking as so many of them are, it is how they relate to the text that impressed me the most. The editors have chosen photographs or paintings of historical figures whenever possible as well as evidence of their work, tools they used and interesting examples of experiments such as a hot air balloon to discuss the behavior of gases or a bicycle to illustrate pneumatic tires. The table for species classification is especially enhanced with photographs of animals and the entire section on the Industrial Revolution will interest everyone from jaded refugees of junior high social studies classes to steampunk aficionados. (Especially steampunk aficionados!)

I was further impressed by the inclusion of boxes on many pages noting who had done research in the past on major discoveries. This refutes the notion that scientists operate in a vacuum and provides readers with a bit of deeper history than you would expect in a large scale title. The thread of history is indeed very intense here—on many pages I felt as if I was paging through a scientific scrapbook with collaged pages of images, quotes, timelines, capsule biographies and the fact-based text. Not a single square inch is wasted and the care exhibited in everything from page color (brighter and cleaner for the modern topics, more muted and almost sepia toned for older discoveries) to illustration choice, and how those illustrations fit into each page, makes the reader want to linger in their perusal. You might come to Science with one question in mind but you will stay here much longer for the sheer pleasure of learning which is probably the biggest reason I can give for why it succeeds so well.

At $50.00 Science comes with a hefty price tag, but it's book for the ages. This is a title that can live on bookshelves and coffee tables for generations and will enlighten different readers in different ways long after trendier titles will fade away. No flash in the pan here, just smart writing coupled with fantastic design and the kind of care I wish publishers would show more often.


Science: The Definitive Visual Guide
Editor-in-Chief Adam Hart-Davis
DK 2009
ISBN 978-0-7566-5570-9
475 pages


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