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The Importance of Being Interested: Adventures in Scientific Curiosity

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Comedian Robin Ince quickly abandoned science at school, bored by a fog of dull lessons and intimidated by the barrage of equations. But, twenty years later, he fell in love and he now presents one of the world's most popular science podcasts. Every year he meets hundreds of the world's greatest thinkers. In this erudite and witty book, Robin reveals why scientific wonder i Comedian Robin Ince quickly abandoned science at school, bored by a fog of dull lessons and intimidated by the barrage of equations. But, twenty years later, he fell in love and he now presents one of the world's most popular science podcasts. Every year he meets hundreds of the world's greatest thinkers. In this erudite and witty book, Robin reveals why scientific wonder isn't just for the professionals. Filled with interviews featuring astronauts, comedians, teachers, quantum physicists, neuroscientists and more - as well as charting Robin's own journey with science - The Importance of Being Interested explores why many wrongly think of the discipline as distant and difficult. From the glorious appeal of the stars above to why scientific curiosity can encourage much needed intellectual humility, this optimistic and profound book will leave you filled with a thirst for intellectual adventure.


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Comedian Robin Ince quickly abandoned science at school, bored by a fog of dull lessons and intimidated by the barrage of equations. But, twenty years later, he fell in love and he now presents one of the world's most popular science podcasts. Every year he meets hundreds of the world's greatest thinkers. In this erudite and witty book, Robin reveals why scientific wonder i Comedian Robin Ince quickly abandoned science at school, bored by a fog of dull lessons and intimidated by the barrage of equations. But, twenty years later, he fell in love and he now presents one of the world's most popular science podcasts. Every year he meets hundreds of the world's greatest thinkers. In this erudite and witty book, Robin reveals why scientific wonder isn't just for the professionals. Filled with interviews featuring astronauts, comedians, teachers, quantum physicists, neuroscientists and more - as well as charting Robin's own journey with science - The Importance of Being Interested explores why many wrongly think of the discipline as distant and difficult. From the glorious appeal of the stars above to why scientific curiosity can encourage much needed intellectual humility, this optimistic and profound book will leave you filled with a thirst for intellectual adventure.

30 review for The Importance of Being Interested: Adventures in Scientific Curiosity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sid Nuncius

    I think The Importance Of Being Interested is excellent. It is witty, insightful and extremely interesting. Robin Ince, as most readers will know, is a comedian who began with little knowledge of science but developed an interest and has now presented over 100 episodes of The Infinite Monkey Cage with Prof. Brian Cox on Radio 4. In The Importance Of Being Interested, he reflects on his and others’ responses to discoveries in science, using the very considerable knowledge he has gained combined wi I think The Importance Of Being Interested is excellent. It is witty, insightful and extremely interesting. Robin Ince, as most readers will know, is a comedian who began with little knowledge of science but developed an interest and has now presented over 100 episodes of The Infinite Monkey Cage with Prof. Brian Cox on Radio 4. In The Importance Of Being Interested, he reflects on his and others’ responses to discoveries in science, using the very considerable knowledge he has gained combined with the humility of a non-expert, to try to understand what some of these ideas mean to people. These people include a wide range of scientists, astronauts and the like who have deep knowledge of the subjects, and also ordinary non-scientists. It’s a fascinating, thoughtful and entertaining read. Ince addresses subjects like the relationship between science and religion, what space travel means for humanity, evolution and why some people refuse so violently to accept it and so on. He is plainly knowledgeable but wisely leaves most scientific exposition to experts whom he has talked to or read, while concentrating on the human aspects of what the science means. I found it fascinating and very well balanced; for example, as an atheist himself he has immense respect for a lot of rational religious people, strives to understand how it it possible to believe in both scientific rationalism and a God and concludes (correctly in my view) that it certainly is, even if it isn’t a set of beliefs he shares. Ince he has no truck with anti-scientific ideas which clearly go against the evidence, but is genuinely interested in finding out why some people hold them and seem to be immune to reason. He also recognises the importance of trying to re-establish rationality in areas where irrationality and conspiracy theory abound, and the importance of making genuine human contact and explaining scientific ideas with respect and humility. No one has ever been insulted into changing their mind. One other aspect which I liked very much is that Ince stresses how much scientific knowledge has enhanced his – and humanity’s – awe, respect and wonder at the universe and the natural world. I have always thought that it was a naive and insulting view of the universe to insist that analysing and investigating a poem, for example, leads us to a greater appreciation of its beauty, but doing the same for the natural world somehow destroys all beauty and wonder in it. My own study of science has had quite the opposite effect and it is very pleasing to see this view shared and advocated so well. In short, this is a fascinating, humane and very enjoyable read. I can recommend it very warmly. (My thanks to Atlantic Books for an ARC via NetGalley.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    Inevitably, Brian Cox introduces his sparring partner's book: "There are two categories of idiot: the curious idiot – a category that includes all scientists – and the idiot – a category that includes all who are certain. Robin is a category one idiot, and that's why he's an engaging and wise guide". This is exactly the sort of line you can imagine coming across much better spoken, with a faint edge of awareness of its own paradox, than in writing. And at first I got some of the same sense from Inevitably, Brian Cox introduces his sparring partner's book: "There are two categories of idiot: the curious idiot – a category that includes all scientists – and the idiot – a category that includes all who are certain. Robin is a category one idiot, and that's why he's an engaging and wise guide". This is exactly the sort of line you can imagine coming across much better spoken, with a faint edge of awareness of its own paradox, than in writing. And at first I got some of the same sense from Ince's own writing here. Which is only to be expected; sure, he's written a couple of books before, but that's dwarfed by the amount of time he's spent honing his talents as a performer, so no wonder if he can't modulate his effects quite so perfectly on the page, especially when this particular book seems to have been less a thing he specifically wanted to do as a book, than a way to stop himself from going entirely potty in lockdown after live performance ceased to exist. Even aside from that, though, the book's early sections can sometimes feel a little limp, a bit too 'why can't we all just get along'. Yes, it's valuable to point out that the memes and shirts which suggest science is wholly objective are bullshit (Ince gives the solid example of Fred Hoyle, an astronomical pioneer in some respects but one doggedly unwilling to accept the big bang theory*), or that just telling people they're idiots is unlikely to shift beliefs - but when does politeness lapse into appeasement? I can veer fairly centrist dad myself at times, but I absolutely understand why people bridle at this. Though hell, you can see why someone who's previously put on the likes of Richard Dawkins, and then watched as, like pretty much everything else, atheism has become more annoying over the past decade, might feel the need to reformulate his position. Especially when you contrast Dawkins' gift for putting backs up with the example of Carl Sagan, one of Ince's scientific saints, whose humility and charm even managed to convert a 'creation scientist' he initially met while they were testifying against each other in one of those ludicrous US trials. In a sense, that searching for connection and common ground is one of the main threads running through the book. Often, I loved it, as when Ince tweaks the nose of human exceptionalism by not only detailing but relishing our demonstrably close kinship not just to apes, or even other higher life, but with organisms right down to the level of yeast. Elsewhere, though, it can occasionally lapse into a false and cloying universalism. I adore the idea of an archaeologist proposing in front of a picture of a pharaoh and his bride, because these were people who had pledged to be together for eternity, and she wanted that same commitment. And maybe Egyptian love poetry really is impressively sexy, though we're told rather than shown as much. But then we get the point this is used to illustrate: "Just as the laws of the universe lead to the principle of uniformitarianism, so the principles of human lust and jealousy show that being human throughout time has not been so very different, simply because we didn't have smartphones and sandwich toasters." Really? Even today, within a given country, let alone around the world, lust and jealousy, never mind the structures around them, can vary an awful lot. Would an Egyptian marriage be so very recognisable to us, or ours to them, when our own relationships are strange enough to each other to keep Channels 4 and 5 in large chunks of regular programming? Still, I forgive a lot for the idea that of all the behaviours we've been told are uniquely human over the years, the relevant interviewee (and the book has many, including a few fairly big names) suggests that the only one really particular to us is the ability to contemplate multiple meanings of a single thing. Though even aside from my own example, which I would have liked to ask her about (not using tools directly, but using tools to make better tools), this does suggest depressing corollaries regarding the many people incapable of doing that, the regrettably numerous types who always take depiction for endorsement and assume all creators support their protagonists' actions. When the book is at its best, though, there are some wonderful sections where Ince is using his academic contacts as supporting evidence rather than skeleton, and where his undoubted way both with concepts and words leads to some very smart and moving sections. Most impressively, the book is often at its most winning precisely when it's on the scariest ground. I don't recall ever before entirely putting together the pieces that if you're overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe today, just think - tomorrow it's going to be even bigger! Above all, towards the end there are absolutely gorgeous chapters on the end – both of ourselves, and of everything – which manage to address the biggest, most unappetising concepts there are, and yet still offer not just wisdom, but laughs: "If you think that Lost had a disappointing series finale, wait until you hear about the cosmos." So how does someone who can't abide being bored deal with the notion that "One day all of this will end and, before it ends, for billions, perhaps trillions of years, it may be very, very dull. You would end up praying for it to end with something as spectacular as a whimper"? By delighting in the fact that it's not that boring yet, of course. And as per the title, that sense of delight, and delighting in the delight of others, seems to be a big part of what keeps Ince going, and what makes him such an engaging guide. In particular, I enjoy his emphasis – and his disagreement even with the likes of Brian Eno – on the notion that it's possible to find entirely the same sort of joy and imagination and sense of wonder at what humans can do in science as it is in art. Even if that can't help but feel like its own futile gesture in the face of entropy for those of us living in a country where an awful yet apparently unshakable regime is determined to render the former as Gradgrindian as possible while altogether defunding the latter. *No, not as in the TV show. Refusing to accept that vile thing is entirely right and proper. (Netgalley ARC)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Michelle

    Robin has such a way with words that made this an utter joy to read. I saw so much of my own early experiences in his (and no doubt, what many others will have found too) with the loss of a spark in secondary school science classes. Where all of a sudden all the bright colours of science are turned drab and grey and you can’t wait for the bell to ring to be out of that physics classroom!! But it’s so important to keep a curiosity when it comes to science. It is everywhere whether we like it or n Robin has such a way with words that made this an utter joy to read. I saw so much of my own early experiences in his (and no doubt, what many others will have found too) with the loss of a spark in secondary school science classes. Where all of a sudden all the bright colours of science are turned drab and grey and you can’t wait for the bell to ring to be out of that physics classroom!! But it’s so important to keep a curiosity when it comes to science. It is everywhere whether we like it or not. In our lives, in what we do, in what we are. It can be an amazing thing when that spark for science is relighted and something I’m very grateful to the Infinite Monkey Cage podcasts for, which Robin Ince also hosts (would recommend!). I found my love for science through curiosity and I’m now a scientist so, guess anyone can overcome their preconceived high school dislike of science. Many people think science is for ‘others’. For people with an Einstein level IQ and those who were born with a quantum physics book in their hand. But science is everyone’s. Robin really goes a long way to show that and this book is beyond perfect to rekindle a curiosity in science. It can enrich your life and how you think, and can be nothing but a benefit to those who retain their curiosity about the world and the universe through science. It really is greatly written and I love Robin’s style of writing. So easy going, entertaining, a pleasure to read and easy to sink into. Non fiction can be something that people struggle to read but not so with this one. Whether it’s about conspiracy theories and questioning our information, on the topics of science and religion, the vastness of the universe, aliens or about our place in the universe, there’s definitely something in here for everyone to get your brain firing and your curiosity peaked. The chapter about life and death was so beautifully written and so well done. The book also includes talks to many eminent researchers in their field, astronauts who have had a very unique perspective of earth and those who have had their own stories to tell when it comes to scientific curiosity. With that and Robin’s own thoughts and experiences, it made for very informative and great reading. A very worthwhile read! I loved it. A massive thank you to the author and publishers via NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in return for my honest thoughts and review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Isla Scott

    I enjoyed reading this book - its certainly very thought provoking and likely to make you imagine many wondrous, space related/cosmology related things. Its a thoughtful read and its mostly a fairly easy read, at least I found it pretty accessible to start with but I admit I was in a bit of a rush to finish it and towards the end, it felt a bit more of a slog to read. Some subjects of course are more interesting than others I guess and certainly at the end, thinking too much about the ultimate d I enjoyed reading this book - its certainly very thought provoking and likely to make you imagine many wondrous, space related/cosmology related things. Its a thoughtful read and its mostly a fairly easy read, at least I found it pretty accessible to start with but I admit I was in a bit of a rush to finish it and towards the end, it felt a bit more of a slog to read. Some subjects of course are more interesting than others I guess and certainly at the end, thinking too much about the ultimate death of the universe may feel a bit cold and depressing, so you may well want to be in the right frame of mind to read some of this but for the most part, this is a good read, with contributions from numerous scientists and some celebrities. I liked the quotes and the images provided alongside the text. I enjoy reading Robin's books - his previous book called 'I'm A Joke and So Are You?' was one I really liked, when I read it a few years ago. I've seen some of his live stream shows via his Cosmic Shambles organisation online and I see myself in his anxiousness. Reading the book, his anxiety becomes quite clear but for me its good in that I can relate and understand his perspective on things. One mild down point would be that sometimes I felt a little confused about when it was him as the main author talking to the reader and when it was the previous interviewee. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention but I can't deny I got something out of this book - for me, overall, it was a re-assuring read and I like that there are pages of notes at the back, including some URLs and in the main text itself are references to authors and books that may interest the reader, if their curious about what's being discussed. I definitely recommend this book to anyone with a curious mind, especially anyone with a if basic interest in philosophy and science. Thank you for reading my review, I hope you found it useful.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hazel Bright

    Science interests me endlessly and always has. Perhaps the problem I have with this book is that I do not need to be convinced that science is interesting and a lot of rather narcissistic discussion of how science-phobic the guy once was. There was quite a lot of this, and I grew fatigued after about two hours of reading about how science (gasp!) is actually really interesting! Who knew? I used to hate science in school! And now I'm a science podcaster! What the heck! Because science is pretty i Science interests me endlessly and always has. Perhaps the problem I have with this book is that I do not need to be convinced that science is interesting and a lot of rather narcissistic discussion of how science-phobic the guy once was. There was quite a lot of this, and I grew fatigued after about two hours of reading about how science (gasp!) is actually really interesting! Who knew? I used to hate science in school! And now I'm a science podcaster! What the heck! Because science is pretty interesting! Wowee! How about that? What do you know? Science itself appears to be conspicuously absent for the first several chapters. It reminds me of Katherine Mansfield's famous quote about EM Forster: "EM Forster never gets any further than warming the tea pot... Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea." DNF

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    This non-scientist was happy to be swept along by another non-scientist. Robin Ince, once as bored by the subject as I was at school, has taken the opportunity to discover, and immerse himself in the world of scientific discovery. And he communicates his excitement and enthusiasm for evolution, outer space... everything really, in an engaging and comprehensible manner. The jokey style that goes down so well in his irrepressible live appearances don't work so well on paper, but I'm prepared to fo This non-scientist was happy to be swept along by another non-scientist. Robin Ince, once as bored by the subject as I was at school, has taken the opportunity to discover, and immerse himself in the world of scientific discovery. And he communicates his excitement and enthusiasm for evolution, outer space... everything really, in an engaging and comprehensible manner. The jokey style that goes down so well in his irrepressible live appearances don't work so well on paper, but I'm prepared to forgive him for confirming that science is indeed far more fascinating and engaging than school science led me to believe.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    The inimitable Robin Ince, comedian, radio host and all round good guy, has produced a superbly affecting account of science through the lens of some of the most engaging thinkers around. Everyone who might think that science is to hard, or too far removed from their experience, or who was just turned off the subject at school should read this. It presents some of the most difficult science subjects in an engaging, understandable and, most of all, human format. Definitely worth buying.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Luke Hockey

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alan Thornton

  10. 4 out of 5

    Miss

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  12. 4 out of 5

    LUE

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carlos Carriedo

  14. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shivam Faraday

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vinod

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emma Kennedy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kay Siuti

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  22. 5 out of 5

    Miss C

  23. 5 out of 5

    Grace Shao

  24. 4 out of 5

    J. Pedro Ribeiro

  25. 5 out of 5

    Arabella

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jill Turner

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Ha

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shaun Moffatt

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mirella Hetekivi

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