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Alom Shaha – ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’ review

The author of ‘Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines’ has returned with ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’. The subtitle ‘And six other science lessons you missed at school’ gives you a good idea of who the book is aimed at and what you can expect. Whereas the intention of Shaha’s previous title was to encourage children to get actively engaged in exploring scientific concepts by creating experiments at home, ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’ seeks to connect with an adult readership. This book will especially appeal to young parents who have intellectually curious children asking straightforward questions that somehow require profound answers. If you’re scratching around the recesses of your memory banks looking for knowledge from long-forgotten high school science classes to satisfy a hungry young mind, or perhaps even if you’re just looking for a way to reconnect with the basics of science, then this book is ideal for you.

‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up’ is a delightful gallop through the scientific disciplines. Each chapter answers, in a digressive, roundabout way, simple yet complex questions. Shaha covers, ‘Why is the sky blue?’, ‘Why don’t things fall up?’, ‘Why does ice-cream melt?’, ‘What is the smallest thing?’, ‘What are stars?’, ‘Are fish animals?’ and ‘What am I made of?’ Each chapter leads readers on a journey, introducing them to scientific principles and models that are key to our understanding of the world around us and the composition of matter.

Around a decade ago I went through a period of intensely reading almost nothing but popular science books, though in recent years I’ve pivoted to history and politics. Thus, I was ripe readership for ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’ As a non-scientist with a waned interest in the subject, I found the book to be a highly engaging refresher, and for the most part readily understandable. There is little intrusion by the aspects of science most likely to terrify and alienate the lay reader – equations and mathematics. True, the second chapter on ‘Why don’t things fall up?’ contains a few, and throws in Newton’s Laws of Motion for good measure. It’s easy to get lost in a tangle of what is scientifically meant by terms such as ‘mass’, ‘acceleration’, ‘force’ and so on, but readers of a more nervous disposition where these things are concerned can rest assured that the second chapter raises the trickiest concepts.

The author is skilful at conveying complex ideas and opening up scientific concepts to casual readers. Shaha’s enthusiasm for his subject is palpable, and his writing will conjure images in the reader’s head to aid understanding. Learning of his experiments and puns to engage the interest of a classroom full of pupils reveals that he has honed his skill as a scientific communicator through winning over the toughest of crowds.

Another enjoyable aspect of the book is that it covers a lot of scientific disciplines, so if you’re looking to brush up, or if you want to gift a book to somebody to further their interest in general science, ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’ is a good choice. The chapter ‘Are Fish Animals’ is mostly about evolutionary biology and references the work of Charles Darwin. It gives a brief overview as to why it is so difficult to define what is meant by a living organism. ‘What Am I Made Of?’ is also mostly contained within the biological sciences but at a more cellular level, delving into the make-up of DNA, the genetic code that shapes us all.

The chapter on ‘What are Stars?’ examines nuclear fusion and fission, and references the work of Robert Oppenheimer, whose legacy has increased in prominence thanks to the recent biopic that has proved a box office smash hit. ‘What is the Smallest Thing’ covers subatomic particles that will intrigue budding physicists, whereas ‘Why Does Ice-Cream Melt’ slides into chemistry.

Shaha is clearly a lover of practical experiments. This comes across in the text and the appendix provides a few ways for you to test the ideas in the book. Find out how to make a pinhole camera, or more intriguingly, a jelly baby wave machine!

The overviews of multiple scientific disciplines means that the book is an introductory tome rather than a deep dive on any subject. Enthusiastic readers will probably find a hook within these pages to learn more about the topics for themselves. But as a way to inspire those who may lack confidence in science or who wish to brush up on their knowledge, ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’ has a lot to recommend it.

'Why Don't Things Fall Up?'
Credit: Hodder & Stoughton

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton Publication date: 17th August 2023 Buy ‘Why Don’t Things Fall Up?’

Greg Jameson
Greg Jameson
Book editor, with an interest in cult TV.

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The author of 'Mr Shaha's Marvellous Machines' has returned with 'Why Don't Things Fall Up?'. The subtitle 'And six other science lessons you missed at school' gives you a good idea of who the book is aimed at and what you can expect. Whereas...Alom Shaha - 'Why Don't Things Fall Up?' review