I absolutely loved this book. Miscellanies like this can be very trying if poorly done, with uninspiring or patronising rehashes of familiar stories, a lot of gee-whizzery and jokes that aren't nearly as funny as they think they are. Simon Flynn has avoided all that and produced a delightful pot-pourri of science-related snippets which, for me, gets the tone exactly right. It is enthusiastic and witty without being gushing or flippant and the sheer variety of stuff here is a delight.
Each "article" is brief - the longest are five or six pages, covering things like Galileo's dispute with the Holy See, Darwin's impact or Einstein's ideas about Relativity. If you want a detailed examination of any of these things, this isn't the place to look, but for a really well-written, engaging summary of the important points with the odd interesting aside it's brilliant. For example, Flynn makes sure to mention Milton's visit to Galileo while he was under house arrest as well as giving a excellent summary of Galileo's dispute, complete with a translation of his famous Recantation - and all in four short pages. I have studied all this at university and have actually read quite a lot of Galileo's writing and I still found the section fresh and fascinating. Other bits are so varied it's impossible to give an overall flavour, but they include things like radioactive decay, a spoof of Shelley's Ozymandias, the meaning of the Richter Scale, and so on. There are even some good jokes scattered throughout the book.
You never know what is coming next - a spoof analysis of the thermodynamics of Hell, a historical summary, a quirky fact, an explanation of the binary system - and this is a great part of the book's charm for me. The science is always spot on. The explanation of Schrodinger's Cat, for example, which is one of the most misunderstood notions in popular science, is accurate, readable and placed in its proper historical context. The only error I noticed in the whole book was Flynn's assertion that a solar eclipse was important in Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, when, as my adolescent memory reminded me, it is in fact a lunar eclipse. I think I can forgive him this single slip, and the only other fault I can find is that the book cries out for an index which is sadly lacking, if only so you can find that little bit you wanted to look at again.
I recommend this book very warmly - it's a huge pleasure to dip into and, because of it's haphazard structure, has kept me looking at "just one more section" well after I should have gone to sleep. It's neither a reference book nor a serious popular science book. It is a delightful compendium of fairly random bits and pieces by someone with an obvious love of science, and anyone with a curious mind who takes pleasure in scientific oddments as well as important ideas will almost certainly get great pleasure from it.