Book Review – “Why Are Orangutans Orange?” by New Scientist

Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Book Review, Quick Note, Thoughts | 0 comments

On my recent trip to Sydney, I had a significant amount of time on my hands before my flight home after finishing the job I had to do there. I usually buy New Scientist mag on short interstate trips, but I had already devoured the current issue on the flight up the previous day, so following my yearning for interesting reading material, I went to the airport bookstore and picked up a copy of New Scientist’s book “Why Are Orangutans Orange”, a 2011 compilation-style book of questions posed by NS readers, some of which are posted in the back pages of each issue. The difference between these questions and questions posed in other magazines is that these are actually answered by the readers, rather than the editorial staff. What is most interesting about this scenario is that the readership of NS magazine are some very intelligent people, and sometimes are the people at the forefront of research in a particular area. This means that not all the answers are in sync with each other, and sometimes answers given can be refuted by another reader down the track.

So what does the book contain? Did I like it? Is it worth reading?

The contents of the book are varied, from questions about curious cloud and ice formations, to queries about the colouration of plants and animals, and to the chemical properties of foods one might find in their kitchen. For instance, did you know that red cabbage juice can act as a litmus paper-like divice for testing the PH of substances? Did you know that the “orang” in “orangutan” has nothing to do with their colour, but everything to do with language? No, neither did I, but this book proved to be a vertitable font of knowledge.

What I found most interesting about this book was the way it showed in practice the scientific method. When someone’s answer was in doubt, another would answer with a better solution, and not every question drew out a conclusive answer. The voices of the people answering the questions are, by and large, very intelligent and knowledgable. It certainly is heartening to see so many intelligent people out there in the world, and from so many different places.

One should not expect to pick up this book and feel enlightened after reading this book. One can however walk away with a greater knowledge of the world, and also a fair collection of tidbits of information, the type that I always find intriguing. A good solid light read.

The book is available for purchase at my bookstore.

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