Book: Lolcatz, Santa, and Death by Dog

Andrew Masterson has an unerring ability to winkle out the oddball from the avalanche of research that hits a science writer’s desk each week.

Included in this collection are answers to how Twitter has expanded our swearing vocabulary, a caution over the poison-laden death-trap that is your cat, and a warning that the rise of the machines might just be starting in your broom closet.

But while his taste for the absurd is well‑honed he also has a keen eye for serious science. An interview with Brian Greene, for example, does a masterful job of explaining the physicist’s insights into string theory in a way that leaves you thinking you truly understand at last.

Elsewhere there is an entertaining encounter with the work of Bill Nye “the science guy” (and Nye’s unexpected quarrel with physicist Brian Cox), a meeting with astrophysicist and television superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson and a tryst with that infamous exposer of secrets, Edward Snowden.

This witty, informative, and sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny book is a tremendous diversion for dipping in and savouring its bite-sized pieces.

Masterson, a regular contributor to Cosmos magazine, has an engaging, sardonic style of writing that lends itself to his unexpected lines of inquiry – such as when he explains how chilli is the common link between rap music, cancer and obesity, or how to scientifically stick a pin in a can of Guinness.

But there is also his clear curiosity for the world around him as he explains the common thread through the eclectic subjects packed between the covers of Lolcatz. It is, he says, the “wide tapestry of research – of science and its children applied across a dizzying variety of cultural activities”.

Some hold promise for a better world, others are amazing discoveries, still more raise disturbing questions about how humanity can live with the ubiquitous technology it has become so addicted to.

Highly recommended.

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