Take an idea like “nothing” and then invite a variety of scientists, mathematicians and other experts to write about it in their field.This is the premise behind a collection of essays called “Nothing” published by Profile Books and edited by Jeremy Webb.

Thus we have the history and science of the temperature 0K – absolute zero – and what happens to materials such as Helium when cooled to very close to zero degrees. You learn that there are different  kinds of vacuum and that Quantum Physics suggests that a vacuum might not be as ’empty’ as we imagine.

Then there is the history of ‘zero’ both as a number which does funny things (a bit like infinity) as well as being a place marker so that we do not mix up 11, 101, 110 and 1001 etc for instance. We also find out about placebos and their evil twins nocebos. Other topics include the noble gases which, at first glance, do nothing.

This is the sort of book you might dip into or have at your bedside. That is not to say that the reading is especially light but that the style is informal and you don’t have to understand any technical details.

I like this book enough to read it over my cereal but it is not particularly entertaining if you do not have at least some idea what they are talking about. Although I found it readable, I prefer the New Scientist books derived from their ‘Last Word’ feature in the magazine.

Overall three stars or 6 out of ten.

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