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The Wonder of Brian Cox: The Unauthorised Biography of the Man Who Brought Science to the Nation

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Professor Brian Cox is probably the best-known physicist in the world today. As presenter of the hit television series Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe, his affable charm and infectious enthusiasm has brought science to a whole new audience. Born in Lancashire in 1968, Cox was a bright, but not brilliant pupil at school - only receiving a D grade for A level mathematics. He flourished at university, however, gaining a first-class honours degree and an MPhil in Physics from Manchester University before being awarded his PhD in particle physics in 1998. Alongside his studies he also found time to play keyboards for the band and the band topped the charts in 1994 with 'Things Can Only Get Better', which was famously used by the Labour Party for its 1997 election campaign. Although he has appeared in several television shows, Brian Cox is not just a celebrity presenter - he is a Royal Society University Research Fellow, a professor at the University of Manchester, and he also works on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. In 2010 he was awarded an OBE for his services to science, and he has also won several awards for his television work.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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Ben Falk

9 books2 followers

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Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 206 books2,651 followers
June 19, 2012
Poor old Brian Cox. Many scientists are already very snippy about his media success – they will be even less delighted to see he now has a biography on the shelves, putting him up against the likes of Einstein, Dirac and Feynman. (Or more accurately the members of One Direction.)

‘But why?’ they will moan. ‘He’s nothing special as a scientist.’ And there they will have missed the point entirely. What is special about Brian Cox, a point this book brings out superbly well, is that he is ordinary. He’s the bloke down the pub who can really explain science to you. (And it doesn’t hurt that the ladies like him.) As Zaphod Beeblebrox’s analyst says of him in Hitcher Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ‘He’s just this guy, you know?’

I ought to say straight away – and it’s the reason it only gets three stars – that this isn’t a scientific biography. Ben Falk is straight about this. Referring to a talk by Cox and his long-time collaborator Jeff Forshaw, Falk says ‘Personally I struggle to understand why they’re talking about, but then I gladly gave up science at GCSE.’ This is not a book that is going to explain Cox’s science to you, it’s very much about Cox the man, Cox the musician and Cox the media star.

As such, and bearing in mind it has been written without any cooperation from Cox, it does a pretty good job of putting together a picture of where he came from, his lucky breaks and his essential qualities that allowed him to make something of those breaks. Perhaps the most fascinating point is where the second band Cox had an involvement with, D:ream have just became well know and are about to set off on a world tour. He decides (a good choice as it turned out, because D:ream’s fame did not last long) not to stick with them, but to go and start his physics degree.

I’ve had coffee with Brian Cox while waiting to do a gig at the Science Museum together just before he was famous, and I think the book is a fair reflection of how he comes across in life. A nice guy, passionate about his science, but dazzled by the media. At the time he had just got the job of science advisor to the financially disastrous Danny Boyle movie Sunshine, and he was absolutely fascinated by the whole business.

My main criticism of the book is that it’s a shame Falk couldn’t do a bit more with the science. He can’t entirely ignore it, but it’s clear whenever he talks about the scientific part of Cox’s life (a relatively small percentage of the book), Falk is just quoting what he’s read without any understanding of it. Anyone familiar with press releases on science subjects will be familiar with this style.

Weakest of all is Falk’s coverage of IT. I think because it’s less scary he is prepared to put things in his own words, and gets it wrong. So, for instance, we are told that ‘Perhaps the most incredible discovery at CERN prior to 2008 was the internet.’ This would come as something of a surprise to those at ARPA who started the internet from the non-secure part of ARPAnet years earlier. He means, of course, the world wide web. Elsewhere, Falk tells us that Cox was using C++ and clearly thinks this is obscure and highly technical, apparently unaware that the vast majority of bog-standard programs on Windows, Mac OS and Unix are written using this language.

This is a good book, as long as you treat it as you would any other media biography of a current phenomenon. (It’s interesting that there is no back material, not even an index, which somehow is very suggestive of this genre). It even has a longish quote from our review of Cox and Forshaw’s The Quantum Universe. Don’t look for science here, but those jealous scientists who can’t understand Cox’s success would do well to look here to get a better understanding of why it’s him, and not them, in the limelight.

Review originally published on www.popularscience.co.uk and reproduced with permission.
Profile Image for Xanthi.
1,442 reviews12 followers
August 13, 2012
I am a bit slow on the uptake, when it comes to Brian Cox - who he is what, what he has done, etc. I'd imagine I'd be a bit more aware if I lived in the UK or was a physics nerd or both. I'm neither. Infact, I am a humanities uni graduate. Science and maths were never my thing. And yet, here I am, totally getting my geek on over what I consider to me one of the hardest sciences to get your head around - physics - all because of this man. Obviously, I am not alone, given the popularity of the man and his work as a scientist and science media presenter.
This book goes through the good professor's background from childhood, teens, and adult. Are we really all that surprised that he had a very early interest in astronomy? Are we surprised he was in a hair metal band in the 80's? Err...yeah, actually. And in a dance band after that? Yep. That part of his life made for entertaining reading.
And then there was the shift into his studies and work at CERN, making the documentaries for the BBC and some smattering of information on his family life - children, wife, etc.
All in all, this book serves as a good background on the man. If you are not a physics boffin, don't worry. What physics is in here, won't break your mind too badly. This is a biography, not a textbook, after all.
Profile Image for Steve Cann.
180 reviews4 followers
May 2, 2013
I found this a very enjoyable read, although, as with any biography, it's not the 'cover star' in their own words (although he is routinely quoted throughout).
The clue I guess is in the title - 'unauthorized biography', but it feels well-researched & not just a cash cow.

The book does however seem to deal more with his adult life (as I guess there is more information to be found here) - and all this is covered well, charting his career as musician, student, physicist and eventual TV star.
I was so interested to read about his work at CERN - & one new thing I learnt was that the internet was invented there!

It would have been great to have had more of his personal thoughts, maybe his hopes and dreams as a child & young adult, & to get to really know him more intimately - but I guess this will have to wait for his autobiography (if he ever gets the time to write it!).

All in all, an interesting & informative read about a genuine nice guy (no skeletons in this closet), & someone whose passion for his chosen field has had such a positive effect on how we (& epecially young people) view science.
Profile Image for Phaedra Patrick.
Author 12 books2,531 followers
February 6, 2017
Well researched but strangely lacking in photos of Professor Cox's earlier life. He was in a couple of rock bands before he became the nation's favourite scientist - so some images to illustrate this, and his earlier years, would have been interesting and the book misses them being present.

The Professor lived under a mile away from me in Oldham, so I found the local references and place names fun to read about and the first half of the book gets 5 stars from me. The second half of the book is a lot dryer with some lengthly descriptions of episodes of Cox's various TV programmes, so I'd give this 3 stars.

All in all an informative, well-written book.
Profile Image for brian andrews.
132 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2016
Was in the local library with some time to kill and I picked this up.
Interesting book, it comes across about his generous time, being a normal person in the spotlight of the media and enjoying what he does.
Worthwhile read

The book covers his life from 10 years of age till date of publication (2011).
His life growing up, interest in tinkering, music and life in general.
Covering how he joined his first band, Dare and life on the road for approx 5 years
Then back in college and D:Rem band years and being in the right place/knowledge to become the keyboard player whilst on Top of the Pops (BBC), meeting famous bands and musicians, doing the support gigs for Take That around the UK, whilst studying in college.
His college time, doing his Phd and then life in front of the camera.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Günter Richter.
16 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2012
Not too bad as a narrative, but all of the author's research is secondary and as such does not really do it for me as a biography. There is absolutely no comparison to something like the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.
Profile Image for Allmec.
3 reviews
April 25, 2013
Love the subject, but I just didn't get on with the narrative. Sorry
Displaying 1 - 7 of 7 reviews

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