I was in a bookshop this afternoon (yeah, I do occasionally visit bricks-and-mortar book stores), and I came across a very large and dazzingly white volume, The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe by Michael Frayn. I’ve always enjoyed his work, all the way back to The Tin Men in 1965, and I was tempted. But it was $32.50, and I decided that I should read the reviews first and then see what Amazon’s price was.
I’m glad I waited. The reviews were, for the most part, scathing, replete with adjectives such as “meandering”, “repetitive”, “tedious”, and “naive”. Here’s one reviewer at Amazon.co.uk:
In the more technical earlier chapters he completely loses the scientific and mathematical thread, making errors such as the claim on p 41 where he states with forceful amazement that there are two square roots of negative numbers as if this is a surprise to the likely readership. What he really means is there are two square roots for any number, but he misses this obvious fact and repeats the schoolboy mistake later in the book. This simply sets the scene for a plethora of later errors of a more significant scientific nature. […] I completed the book due to my respect for the author – I would not recommend it to anyone else unless seeking a critical exercise in the poor use of logic.
For the record, the Amazon.com price is $21.45. However I spent that money on two more CDs of Jonny Hahn’s solo piano music instead. (It was a beautiful afternoon here in Seattle, and Jonny was playing in his usual spot next to the Public Market.) For my various flights over the last few weeks I loaded my iPod with Jonny’s albums Collage and Lost in the Inzone, set it on “Repeat”, plugged in my headphones, and relaxed….
UPDATE: Here’s Colin McGinn, a philosopher who knows what he’s talking about, politely eviscerating Mr. Frayn.