Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Science Audio-Books

Magazine article The Spectator

Recent Science Audio-Books

Article excerpt

Audio-books are apparently hellish to record, involving days of confinement in sound-proof chambers and aching jaw-- muscles from too much enunciation. So gratitude is due to the scientists and their proxies, who have suffered to bring us Orion's new Talking Science series abridged audio versions of the major works of popular science from the 1990s.

The two best instalments of the series are Edward 0. Wilson's The Diversity of Life (1992) and Martin Rees's Just Six Numbers (1999). Wilson, the father of sociobiology and renowned ant-fancier, is one of the finest describers of the natural world: his impassioned, panoramic prose seems to whisk the listener from desert to mountain to ice-cap to deep ocean. This is the book that established the concept of 'biodiversity' in the common consciousness - the wide spread of species that is essential to nature's capacity for renewal - and which sounded a tocsin for the homogenisation of the globe by man. Stefan Buczacki, a gardening expert and experienced radio presenter, reads splendidly: he has a lovely voice, and a feel for rhythm which can make phrases like `the axial sheaths of the epiphytes' sound dramatic.

Astronomer Royal Martin Rees's Just Six Numbers are the half-dozen values which were imprinted into the cosmos at the time of the Big Bang - the cosmogonical Lottery Draw, as it were. Had any one of them been differently 'tuned', the universe would not exist as we know it. Using these crucial numbers, Rees discusses multiverse theories, the possible existence of other beings `intricate enough to ponder their own origins and purpose', and the remarkable interconnections which are presently being made between the micro-enquiries of physicists and the macro-enquiries of cosmologists. It's incessantly fascinating stuff - sublime, in the radical sense of the word, brilliantly composed and beautifully read. Rees's voice is as unruffled as a millpond, as smoothly attractive as his photograph.

In Why is Sex Fun? (1997) Jared Diamond answers the questions that keep me awake at night, such as `Why are our penises so unnecessarily large?' His central thesis is that humankind, in comparison with all other mammalian species, practises a very 'bizarre' form of sexuality, and that for various complex evolutionary reasons this idiosyncrasy of ours has given us the edge over the other beasts. Emilia Fox is the reader, apparently an audio-book veteran. She has a Radio 4 afternoon play sort of voice - slow, middle-class, RP, occasionally rising to pitches of emotion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.