A review of The Greatest Science Stories Never Told, by Rick Beyer
There is a great chance that of the stories included in Rick Beyer’s latest collection, The Greatest Science Stories Never Told, you will learn something from each and every one of them. I say that without regards to how educated you might be or how well you may be versed in any one of the single items in the collection. Even if you know the basics behind any of the 100 main entries, Beyer manages to include minutiae that even the Internet’s most well-read will find enlightening.
Beyer has previously published three books in the “Greatest Stories Never Told” series: the original, War stories and Presidential stories. It’s clear that knowing history isn’t enough for Beyer; he must also know that history’s history and, luckily for us, he is more than happy to share his findings with his readers. His research is exhaustive; see only the six small-print pages of sources at the back of the book as proof.
What I was first taken of in the book is how much fun is was to read. Science isn’t usually the most engaging subject to read. Beyer makes it so. Each of the individual stories is two pages, the first the main story behind the story and the second notes about the people or the invention/phenomenon at issue. The book is incredibly accessible, suitable in my mind for even younger inquisitive minds up (say, fourth grade or so, given that my daughter took to the book as readily as I did) to college professors and beyond looking for information. Certainly, some of the topics may be too involved for kids, but there are enough ordinary items discussed for them to enjoy the book as well.
Beyer effortlessly moves between some of the most ubiquitous inventions (vacuum cleaners, wire hangers, paper, television) of this day and age to the roots of mankind’s more sophisticated technology such as seismographs, airplanes, x-ray machines, and artificial hearts. It’s not only inventions that Beyer highlights, however. The story behind the first long-distance communication lines (think the fires lighting atop the mountains in The Lord of the Rings) or the way the man who invented the polygraph also gave us Wonder Woman also merit attention.
It is my belief that the central theme of Beyer’s book is how those brains that came up with so many of the things we couldn’t do without work, and how it is so different from the way that most people think about things. Many of the individuals given their overdue credit in this book held multiple patents and/or made multiple scientific discoveries. One of the later stories in the book is about how Albert Einstein’s brain is still being kept under scientific lock-and-key in hopes that someday an equally impressive brain will come up with a way to determine what made Einstein so special. It wouldn’t surprise me if an answer to that question is ultimately given, that many of the people mentioned in this book benefited from the same things as the 20th century’s greatest mind.
I don’t know if Rick Beyer possesses that particular trait, but it’s clear that Beyer has a genuine knack for telling stories in a way that is interesting and informative, not an unimpressive feat when dealing with generally prosaic subject matter. You can’t read just one of these stories and set the book aside. Each story leaves you wanting more, and the book is imminently re-readable. The book holds value in the vein of the Bathroom Reader series, which is high praise in my estimation.
Everyone has a friend who seems to be able to speak intelligently over a wide variety of topics. That friend manages to come up with an anecdote about something interesting while conversing at an office party or the backyard cookout, but not in a way that is arrogant or off-putting. Read this book, remember the way that Beyer entertains and informs, and you’ll be that friend.