Review of “The Where, The Why, And The How” by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe

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If you love science and you love art, you will find this book as irresistible as we do. The editors invited seventy-five artists to make illustrations based on questions posed to fifty scientists. Each two-page spread features the question with the scientist’s answer on one side, and an artist’s interpretation on the other.

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The queries are ones most of us wonder about: What existed before the Big Bang? What is the origin of the moon? Why do we blush? How do migrating animal find their way back home? What did dinosaurs eat? How much of human behavior is predetermined? How do squirrels remember where they bury their nuts? Why do we hiccup? Why are humans and chimps so different if they have nearly identical DNA?

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As for the answers to these questions, it soon becomes clear why the editors chose this quote from Richard Feynman as an epigraph:

“…I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose – which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell.”

But even if there is no definitive answer (and sometimes there isn’t), you still get a pretty good explanation, and a summary of the state of knowledge about the question at the present time. Most of the entries are succinct, clear, and understandable to the lay person, written by an array of contributors including physicists, aerospace engineers, biologists, research librarians, and quite a few professors.

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The illustrations are outstanding. Sometimes you may not quite “get” them until you read the accompanying science piece, and then their cleverness impresses you all the more. The artists chosen by the compilers are from a mix of backgrounds, and include comic artists as well as fine artists. Most of the pictures are ones I wish I had on my walls.

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At the end of the book, there are helpful indexes of not only of the questions explored, but of the names of contributing scientists and artists.

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Evaluation: This book will provide endless stimulation, both intellectually and visually. The authors said their goal was to bringing back a sense of wonder in the age of Google and Wikipedia, and they have certainly succeeded.

Highly recommended!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Chronicle Books (an excellent source of books on art and design), 2012

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7 Responses to Review of “The Where, The Why, And The How” by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe

  1. Beth F says:

    This looks like my kind of book. Beautiful and informative and fun!

  2. Aw, I love Chronicle Books. This looks beautiful — I love the picture of the whales! What question is that illustrating? (I’m crazy about whales.)

    • Why do whales sing? The answer is written by David Kaplan, PhD Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Florida Ecohydrology Laboratory. The illustration is by Lisa Congdon.

  3. trish422 says:

    Oh this looks so amazing. I am definitely going to get my hands on this one.

  4. sandynawrot says:

    Way, way cool. Like the most awesome science museum right in your hands.

  5. Care says:

    Lovely! And might be just the thing to give my friend for her birthday.

  6. Looks great! I had to take a closer look at the whale illustration because my first thought was of the falling whale and flowers from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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