A new biography of one of the few Nobel Prize winners never to have completed a degree course leads off our monthly roundup of new technology books.
British Institute of Radiology
Godfrey Hounsfield: intuitive genius of CT
by Richard Waltham et al. £14.99 ISBN 978-0-905749-75-4
In the late 1970s an unknown English electrical engineer - Godfrey Hounsfield - stood before Carl XVI Gustav, King of Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for the development of computer-assisted tomography. His technological achievement, which eventually led to the CT scanner, revolutionised modern medicine by allowing doctors to see three-dimensional images of the brain. According to his biographers, seldom had one man held such a pivotal influence over the advancement of the preservation of human life.
But who was the mysterious Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, who prior to his work in the medical field had spent a career developing computers and radar? The answer comes in the form of this wonderful account of his life that reads, at times, like an official biography packed with facsimiles of technical drawings, while at others like a scrapbook of family photos and fond reminiscences.
On page one we learn that Godfrey, as the authors affectionately call him, left school with absolutely no academic qualifications. Indeed, he was one of the few Nobel Laureates never to have taken a university degree. By the end of the book we are mulling over a list of fascinating contradictions and inconsistencies that comprised the mind of a true engineering genius. Between these two bookends lies one of the most compelling tales of an eccentric, but nevertheless authentic, visionary.
One of the first rules of book reviewing is that you should never say "I couldn't put it down". But with 'Godfrey Hounsfield: Intuitive Genius of CT', once it's in your hands you'll find it difficult to do anything other than stay with it to the end. Produced by a group of Hounsfield's friends and colleagues, with Richard Waltham responsible for the lion's share of the writing, this excellent biography is a fitting memorial for one of the great unsung, self-taught engineers of the modern, or any other, era.
The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters
By Mark Henderson £18.99 ISBN 9780593068243
Science is having a moment in the sun. Interest in the Higg's boson, solutions to climate change, and our energy future have collided with the emergence of charismatic figures such as Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre and Lord Winston to move science and the scientific method firmly onto the public stage.
Onto this stage steps Mark Henderson, fomer science editor at the Times and now head of communications at The Wellcome Trust, Britain's biggest biomedical research charity, with The Geek Manifesto, an entertaining call to arms for scientists, engineers, skeptics, rationalists and fans of the scientific method. His rallying cry? That science matters, that it is often mis-used in public discourse, and that it is about time that those who care about what science can achieve stood up for it.
Henderson illustrates his argument with a tour d'horizon of some of the most egregious recent misuses of science: in the media (the scandal of MMR reporting); government (the way that evidence-based policy initiatives are discarded when the evidence doesn't suit); health'(the availability of homeopathic 'remedies' at taxpayers' expense); and education (the failure to conduct proper trials of educational interventions).
If you have read Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' then a lot of this is familiar territory. You'll recognise the call for scientists to stand up to the forces of irrationality. What's new here is Henderson's outline of the tools available, from social-media campaigns and complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency through to personal engagement at the school gates to refute concerns about issues such as vaccination.
As the author points out, with as many people in the UK working or qualified in science, engineering and related disciplines as there are members of ethnic minorities, the opportunity to develop political clout is there. This book, with its 60-plus pages of supporting references, may help do just that.
Yale University Press
The New Industrial Revolution: Globalization and the end of mass production
By Peter Marsh £25 ISBN 978-0-300-11777-6
From engineers and manufacturers to financiers and politicians, people often speak of a "new industrial revolution". But how many of them really understand what an industrial revolution - and Marsh cites four of them - actually is, never mind how it changes things? That is what this book is about: starting as a history of manufacturing, it explains the underpinnings of the current industrial revolution, from flexible manufacturing and mass customisation to new materials and globalisation.
It is also highly readable and engaging, liberally peppered with anecdotes that convey both Marsh's knowledge of the topic and the very human nature of industry. As he reminds us - explicitly at first, and then implicitly time and again - while engineers tend to be most interested in how products are made, what really counts is how they are used.
So while it sweeps from place to place, time to time, and technology to technology, it is as much a story of ideas and interconnections. And the message is always the same: that manufacturing underlies everything, and that the demand for craft skills changes but never disappears. Indeed, one of the points made quite early on is that the world's manufacturing output is rising ahead of its GDP. That means we are constantly making more stuff, but we are also making - or having to make - it cheaper.
With its good grasp of history and of the current state of world industry, 'The New Industrial Revolution' will be a valuable read for anyone who wants to understand the role of manufacturing. It also highlights just how many of today's challenges - the shift to low-cost countries for example'' are not new or insuperable, but have historical parallels. And above all, Marsh shows that there is always a future for manufacturing, even in high-cost countries, as long as governments and companies recognise the changes that are underway and work with them, not against.
The MIT Press
Raising The Stakes
By TL Taylor £20.95, ISBN 9780262017374
In 'Raising the Stakes', TL Taylor provides an academic take on the ever changing world of competitive e-sports and the professionalisation of computer gaming.
Taylor is an associate professor in the Centre for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen, so it is understandable why the book reads like an academic paper, and a dry one at that. Sadly Taylor's writing style doesn't evoke the excitement and adventure that comes to mind when you think about competitive gameplay, however the book does give a huge insight into what is quite an unknown world.
Taylor draws from years of in-depth research into the e-sports arena, which have seen her travel the world to attend gaming competitions such as the World Cyber Games, meeting with their organisers as well as the coaches and the gamers themselves.
She looks at the fascination people have in transforming what is considered a casual leisure activity into an internationally recognised sport and follows the successes and failures of individuals and organisations who have tried to make this dream a reality.
Drawing the reader in with an introduction as to how e-sports came about, she goes on to dedicate sections of the book to information including corporate initiatives and the role governments have had on promoting the e-sports concept,'how the "new sport" has developed its own set of rules, a look at gender and the growth of fandom, an interesting take on the issues of spectatorship as well as presenting a detailed picture of the development of an e-sports career.
Taylor gives an honest outlook on an industry still trying to find its feet - as well as a successful business model. It's more a coffee table book than a rest your feet up read, and it won't appeal to all, but for those with an interest in gaming and the concept of e-sports it can be good to dip into as you'll be sure to increase your knowledge.