Farmer Buckley’s Exploding Trousers ed. by Stephanie Pain


The eponymous trousers don’t make an appearance until halfway through this compendium of scientific and technological curiosities, but when they do, they are a cautionary tale of ragwort, herbicides and clothing that will serve as a warning to any amateur horticulturalist with an eye for chemical intervention.  That this was chosen as the catchy title of the book sets the tone for this collection of short articles.  This is a light-hearted toe-dipping in the well of weird science by a variety of authors, brought together by editor Stephanie Pain, a New Scientist journalist.  The association with the New Scientist is another clue that this sits on the ‘popular’ end of the popular science continuum.  That’s OK though.  This is fun.  Scientific tales are allowed to be fun and often times a little macabre – if science was as dry as the serious literature frequently makes it seem, it would fail to attract as many devotees as it clearly does.  Just as everyone in a lab is likely to be vying for microscope space if an unusual fly mutation appears, so too are you eerily drawn in to tales such as the one of a man who, by right of an unfortunate shotgun wound, provides a physician with a long-term window (in the literal sense of the term) into the working of his stomach.  The treatment of these curious scientific stories is nothing more than a surface fly-over but they pique interest and more than one has sent me back to the annals of science to see how much more information I can find.

This is a fun book, nothing more, nothing less.  It’s coffee-table fluffy science history but it’s a diverting selection of anecdotes that titillate the imagination and amuse for a while.  That said, I can’t say I’ve retained much information in the long term so not an enduring book.  Even taking this in the context of popular science, I really crave more detail than the cursory take the authors have on each subject.  I wouldn’t recommend it as anything more than a diversion.


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