Sunday, 28 November 2010


It's been a while since the last review, my apologies.  The two main reasons are that work has been a tad busy, compounded by the fact that I've been wading through Neal Stephenson's 928 page Anathem.

This is fiction we're talking about.  It's somewhere on the boundary between hard sci-fi and speculative fiction if you want to try to pigeonhole it, but the ideas it's playing around with are even more borderline, dancing between mathematics, physics, metaphysics and philosophy.

Science fiction can sometimes be a little lacking in the more traditional elements of literature, like character development and plot, instead relying on the ideas involved to carry the story forward.  Clarke's 2001 and Crichton's Andromeda Strain are good examples, and there's nothing wrong with it if the ideas are good enough.  Anathem, on the other hand, meshes some very big ideas with an elegant and intricate story set in a detailed, imaginative parallel universe.  It's witty, it's smart, it even has its own soundtrack online.

Fraa Erasmus is one of the Avout, a monk class set aside from the rest of the world.  He's a Decenarian in the Concent of Saunt Edhar.  Yup, there's a lot of new language to get to grips with, helped along with regular excerpts from "The Dictionary" and a glossary at the back.  It's tricky at first, with a lot of flicking back and forth, but does add to the whole feel of the novel.

The big difference between our world and Erasmus' is that his monk class are, generally, atheistic.  The Avout are mathematicians, philosophers and theoretical physicists.  Their only possessions are their bolts, cords and spheres (a reference to the basics of geometry) and their only media chalk, ink and stone.  From these basics, and some hard thinking, they probe the nature of the reality around them.  Yes, it's easier with computers and particle accelerators, but that was tried and, shall we say, went badly.  They do, however, have telescopes, and one day somebody spots something which would ruin the plot if I continued...

So that's all I'll say on the storyline, and on to the ideas...

Ideally, you'll be aware of the basics of the history and philosophy of science before you pick this book up, because it's packed with direct and more subtle references from Plato to Einstein.  The main science theme is Platonism, the nature and existence (or otherwise) of mathematical objects.  For example, Pythagoras' Theorem was true before any human discovered does the mathematically perfect right angled triangle actually exist, and if so where?

Tegmark's many-levels-of-multiverse is covered, as are orbital mechanics, fluid dynamics (in zero g no less), and the frankly confusing final few chapters read a little more smoothly if you consider them in the light of quantum suicide and quantum immortality thought experiments.  I'm kind of disappointed that I've finished it, but this is the kind of book that will leave you reaching for many, many others just so you can go back to it with a greater understanding.

ISBN: 9781843549178
Atlantic Books

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Richard Feynman, in case you've not heard of him, was a theoretical physicist who worked at Caltech for many years, formulated large parts of modern quantum theory, and was heavily involved in the Manhattan Project, developing the first atomic bomb.  He was also a tad eccentric.

This book is a compilation of many taped discussions he had with friend Ralph Leighton, and they offer a thoughtful and often hysterically funny insight into the mind of one of the great 20th Century physicists.  There's no real structure to the book, beyond being roughly chronological, it's more of a long series of anecdotes about Feynman's personal life, work and views on life, the universe and everything.  There are tales of his sideline as a bongo drummer, black eyes picked up in some disreputable bars, rants about the idiocy he found in the military and the government, lessons in being a bloodhound and some particularly evil practical jokes.

His safe-cracking exploits are particularly funny, as he recounts repeatedly breaking in to the (supposedly top secret) filing cabinet and then safes at the military base hosting the Manhattan Project.  After developing a reputation as somebody who could get into any safe on the base he finally demonstrated that even the commanding officer's wasn't secure by breaking into it in front of him.  This led, not to improved security as you might expect on a military base, but to a standing order that Professor Feynman was not to be left alone with a safe.

There are thoughts on physics in there, but this isn't really a physics book, it's a wonderful window into the mind of one of the great eccentric geniuses of the last century.

It's one of several compilations of writings and recordings: see also What do you care what other people think? and Don't you have time to think?, on top of his bestselling and more technical Feynman Lectures On Physics.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
Ralph Leighton & Richard Feynman
CCV Publishing
ISBN: 9780099173311

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Subject Poll Results

 So the results are in - physics and cosmology take the win, closely followed by maths and history of science.  So you'll probably see more of that in the future.  (Weirdly the last review of Music Of The Primes covered all three quite nicely, pure coincidence I promise.)

That doesn't mean I'm going to ignore biology or psychology though - the reviews are mostly books I've read recently, or dredged up from my last 30 years of reading.  

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Music Of The Primes

A two, a three, a two, three, five, seven...

It's how Reimann's band's drummer would have counted in....

No?  Oh come on, that was funny, I spent ages on that.  No?  Really?  Oh well.

Rest assured, Marcus du Sautoy's The Music Of The Primes is far more entertaining than my geeky half-jokes.  Don't get me wrong, there are geek-jokes galore in there, mostly from original sources such as the angry young man that is Galoise, or Gödel's startled pigeon, and that's the great strength of this popular mathematics book, the life it breathes into the world of mathematics.

Not only mathematics, but a very specific area of it, prime numbers.

Prime numbers seem innocuous at first glance, a little mathematical oddity that everybody learns about at primary school.  du Sautoy throws us straight in at the deep end with Reimann and his jottings where he, in passing, has an idea about the frequency of prime numbers.  This idea is one of the big fact, with the recent fall of Fermat's Last Theorem (see the excellent book with the same title by Simon Singh) and the PoincarĂ© Conjecture, the Reimann Hypothesis is probably the biggest, baddest, longest standing problem in mathematics.  There's still a million dollar bounty out there, if you fancy your chances.

I wouldn't though, it's driven at least one person to madness, and taken a few to the borders.  It's the stuff that techno-thriller spy movies are made of (literally, see Sneakers) and has been implicated in at least one fatal duel and one national revolution.  It's been the subject of, and I kid you not, two Nobel Prize level practical jokes.  If the Reimann Hypothesis is a film character it's dangerously close to being Sherlock Holmes crossed with James Bond.

That's just my reading of the vivid world that du Sautoy paints, the human backdrop to a mathematical enigma that has floated around teasing humanity for over a hundred and fifty years, and counting.  Your mileage may vary, your cultural reference points may differ, but you'll still be left with a gloriously alive vision of the whole mathematically sordid affair.

The Music Of The Primes
Marcus du Sautoy
Harper Collins
ISBN: 9781841155807

Friday, 11 June 2010

In The News: Solar Sailing

When you're a child, and a bit of a geek child at that, you have visions of the future.  Robots that act like humans.  People living on other planets.  Flying cars.  You know, the usual.

Sadly, the future all so often turns out to disappoint.  Yeah, we got mobile phones, big deal.  Shuttle is being retired, Concorde is no more, and frankly I can't put it any better than by referencing the excellent Edinburgh based band "We Were Promised Jetpacks"

Sometimes though, just sometimes, something happens that makes you realise that 2010 isn't entirely rubbish.  OK, we never quite did the Jupiter thing as promised by Arthur C Clarke, but by Jove we've gone and done the next best thing....

The Japanese IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) project has successfully unfurled a solar sail, a form of space propulsion most famously predicted in Clarke's lovely short story A Wind From The Sun.  I'm trying to get permission to reproduce the images here, but in the meantime you can find the originals at the IKAROS blog (english language translation, sans pictures, here)

Solar sails are seriously cool.  The idea is that when a photon bounces off a surface then it imparts a tiny amount of momentum.  You can use this force to power a spacecraft without using any fuel whatsoever, except a beam of light. This could be a ground based laser if you want to be all high-tech and efficient about it, but good old fashioned sunlight works just as well.  The only snag is that you need a big sail...a really big sail.  A twelve square metre kite will happily lift me off the ground, so that's a force of about 1000 Newtons, but solar sails aren't that efficient.  A solar sail several square kilometres in size will only provide a few Newtons of thrust.

But that's constant thrust, all the time, 24 hours a day.  Give it a few weeks and you're doing thousands of miles an hour.  Ten years and you're doing millions of miles an hour.  When it comes to interstellar travel, covering light years, that's a far better bet than the old fashioned, fuel carrying, excessively heavy chemical rockets we're using at the moment.  Ion engines are better, and currently being used, but they're still nothing compared to solar sails when it comes to interstellar travel.

Anyway, books are the point of this blog....

Firstly, if you haven't already, you should really read Arthur C Clarke's A Wind From The Sun.  It's just a little short story, included (along with the titular precursor to 2001: A Space Odyssey) in The Sentinal, a great collection of short works and novellas from an acknowledged grand master of sci-fi.

For a more modern version, including a description of a mission to a star and (importantly) actually getting back again, there's Charlie Stross's Accelerando, as also covered in my recent science/sci-fi post.  Stross also deals with the idea of using a ground based laser rather than sunlight, a logical next step from Clarke's concept.

And if you want to get really technical, there's the hefty but relatively cheap (for what it is) Solar Sailing: Technology, Dynamics and Mission Applications by Colin Robert McInnes, a comprehensive study of present and near future technology, science and, as the title suggests, applications of solar sailing.  The character development and plot aren't up there with Clarke and Stross, but we'll forgive that for the sheer depth of knowledge and the fact that Springer Publishing have been nice enough to make huge amounts of it available free on Google Books.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Haynes Spitfire Manual

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have owned a Haynes Manual and those who haven't.  Haynes are firmly entrenched as the manual to own if you ever get your hands dirty fixing a car or motorbike.  Whether you just want to learn how to change a tyre or oil filter, or if you're a professional mechanic, or even a classic car restorer, Haynes are the benchmark.  They're written by stripping a car down to each individual nut, bolt and shim and rebuilding it, you can't really get a more comprehensive guide.

A few years ago they started branching out a little, producing some titles that weren't really within the original remit.  One of the first was a guide to the male human body, a slightly tongue in cheek reference to the fact that many men look after their cars more carefully than their own bodies.  This particular manual is like nothing else though - the Haynes Supermarine Spitfire Manual (1936 onwards, all marks)!

I can't imagine anyone reading a blog about science books doesn't know all about the Spitfire, the legendary British WWII fighter.  Whilst the Hurricane outperformed it in many ways the Spitfire is the one that still features in every boy's dreams.  A Rolls-Royce powered single seat aircraft that is pretty much the pinnacle of pre-jet military aircraft.

Given the situation they were built in - a resource stripped rush, and mostly under wartime secrecy - there isn't an extant all-purpose engineering manual for them, and Haynes haven't tried to produce one.  Instead this book is aimed more at the small but enthusiastic group of modern day restorers.  Most of the parts are no longer available, and there are only a handful of surviving aircraft, so much of the manual is devoted to the professional and garden shed attempts to replicate the parts that are needed to keep a seventy year old machine airworthy,  There are glimpses into both the engineering behind the original and the modern day devotees who ensure that a beautiful machine can still occasionally be glimpsed in British skies.

Haynes Supermarine Spitfire Manual
Alfred Price, Paul Blackah
Haynes Publishing

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Alex's Adventures In Numberland

Pic courtesy of the utterly wonderful xkcd

"One, two, many..."

You're probably thinking of one of two things here.  Either some deep-Amazon tribe you vaguely remember hearing of that can't count past two, or if you're like me then you're thinking of Detritus the troll in Terry Pratchett's wonderful Men At Arms.

What does this have to do with Alex Bellos' fun new book?  Well, he's in the first camp, and does a great job of filling in the details on what I'd always thought was maybe something of an urban myth.  Tribes who don't count past two(ish) do exist, and it's not as simple as you'd think - sometimes you simply need "a few", we still do in the western world most of the time, "ish" is probably used more often than exact numbers in everyday life, and for good reason.  Bellos uses this as a starting point for a popular maths book that doen't so much look at maths as an abstract subject but concentrates on how humans use, misuse and interact with it.

Each chapter covers a different area of maths - series, probability and geometry for example - and delves into the human side of them.  We all remember Pythagoras' Theorem from school, but how many know about the hundreds of different amateur proofs over the years?  How did a skewed bell curve get a Parisian baker into a fight with the mathematician Poincare?  Is there any point to the continued efforts to calculate Pi?

This is just as much a study of human psychology in relation to numbers as it is a book about maths, and all the more entertaining for it.

EDIT: And it also inspired a little bit of 3D modelling with Blender....

Alex's Adventures In Numberland
Alex Bellos
ISBN: 9780747597162

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Science Fiction, Sci-Fi and SF

As the blog title suggests, I'm not adverse to including a little science fiction in my definition of science.  It's a fuzzy boundary, especially when either discipline is done well, and as we know from chaotic systems like the Mandelbrot set, the fuzzy boundaries are the interesting bits...

And buried in there somewhere is the reason I'm a terrible sci-fi snob.  Sorry, but there's a side of me who always pretended to be Spock rather than Kirk when we played Star Trek, and he insists on the proper science thing.  Snobs like me make distinctions between sci-fi genres, and the only real, pure form to a geek of my sensitivities is "Hard" sci-fi.  Not soft csi-fi, not space opera, not fantasy, and definitely nothing whatsoever involving Dan Brown.   

It's all terribly precious and highly strung.

In most definitions of hard sci-fi any semi-magical futuristic events have to have a proper explanation according to the scientific thought at the time, or at least have a good stab at it.  That's where Star Trek, in my opinion, falls into the space opera category.  If you're going to base a faster than light drive on Einstein's model of spacetime then please have the decency to respect the other 60% of the theory and deal with the time dilation effects.  Honestly, it's not only lazy, it's all a bit 1920s isn't it?

Sorry.  Like I said, it's an emotional issue.  

The point is, the best science always involves an element of really good science fiction, and vice versa.  This is my pick of some great science fiction, roughly married to a good book for background reading....

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Voyage To The Heart Of Matter

So what's missing in the world of science books?  A quick introduction to Multiverse theory?  Nope, old hat.  Hyperbolic Crochet?  Been there, done that.  

A pop-up book about the Large Hadron Collider?  Oh yes.

  When we ran a shop at the Edinburgh Science Festival recently I was tasked with selecting the books we'd stock.  There's a few obvious choices; everything written by any of the speakers for example, and the top 50 or so from our Pop-Sci section in the main shop, but the really fun bit of the job was picking the odd, quirky titles that somebody is bound to buy.  Voyage To The Heart Of Matter was the first book on that list.

It's a bit of a niche title, only eight pages long (well, four really, given the nature of pop-up books), but it's a glorious piece of paper engineering.  It covers every scale, from subatomic structure, through the ATLAS experiment with Brian Cox's "Regulation EU Scale Humans" to....well...everything.  I kid you not, there's a beautifully rendered Big Bang complete with red-shifting galaxies.

It's been a little bit more popular than the publishers expected I's currently out of print, but we're promised a new edition in June 2010.  I know of at least one celebrity endorsement too....the copy we had at the Science Festival was bought by a very lovely kids science author called Lucy Hawking as a present for her dad, Stephen.  That's really cool.

Take a look at it in all its glory at the ATLAS website - you can also pre-order the new edition here.

Voyage To The Heart Of Matter - The ATLAS Experiment at CERN
Anton Radevsky, Emma Sanders

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Dave Halliday, 1916-2010

I cracked a bit of a gag with our rep from Wiley publishing today along the lines of "David Halliday is coming round later to highlight some of his books".  It's a gag because Dave Halliday's book Fundamentals Of Physics is probably one of the best selling and most comprehensive physics textbooks on the planet, and having it highlighted by the author is probably the best possible way of returning it to the publisher for a refund with no questions asked.

Turns out that it's not all that funny at the moment, because Dave Halliday, physics textbook god and all round nice bloke by all accounts, died a couple of weeks ago.

Aly from Wiley was nice enough to copy me in on an internal company memo.  Dave (as I'll refer to him, as I feel like that) was clearly a person who Wiley, as a company, had a great affection for.  It had less to do with his best selling textbook, and far more to do with the fact that he clearly had a great passion for physics and just as great a passion for communicating it.  I agree...Fundamentals was the one big purchase I made as an undergraduate, and also the one book I've made a point of keeping.  In fact, I've currently got two copies, because at some point the version with the lovely essay covering the Leidenfrost effect was cancelled, and a customer in the shop was good enough to make a point of donating one to me on hearing my laments at losing it.

Dave was a proper physicist in all respects, both the practical (he worked on radar systems in WWII, placing him alongside Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov), and the theoretical...his books were never afraid to nudge the side of science fiction that invariably becomes true given enough time.  By far my favourite suggestion in the book is that final degree exams should be replaced by a firewalking exercise, carrying a copy of Fundamentals under your arm, the idea being that if you believe in physics enough to walk across hot coals, and you believe enough to know just how much it could hurt if it goes wrong, then you deserve a degree.   Then again, I'm biased because I've not got a physics degree and I'd happily carry a copy of Dave's book over hot coals just on principle.

There's a lovely picture that sums up his attitude towards books, and hopefully I'll get permission to replicate it's him alongside a manuscript for a recent edition of Fundamentals.....and he's only slightly taller that the stack of A4.

If you want a comprehensive undergrad level book on physics then buy "Halliday, Resnick & Walker's Fundamentals Of Physics".  If you don't, then please remember David Halliday's name, he's inspired umpteen numbers of physicists who will change the entire universe in the long run.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Edge Of Physics

There's a fairly standard format for popular science books, especially ones dealing with maths or physics:

  1. Say something which on the face of it sounds ridiculous and counter-intuitive.
  2. Go back in time to the person or people who discovered the theory.
  3. Very carefully go through the theory, step by step, in a way that's hopefully comprehensible to the laymen.
Anil Ananthaswamy takes a very different and refreshing approach in The Edge Of Physics.  If you've never heard of neutrinos, the cosmic background, or dark matter then this might not be the best book to start with.  There are explanations of all three, but they're relatively cursory and jump fairly quickly into the meat of the book - a round-the-world trip covering every continent and visiting some of the biggest and most audacious experiments currently being attempted.

It's a refreshing change - this is a very real look at the people who are currently sat in high altitude deserts, or freezing cold icecaps, or anywhere else that counts as remote and inhospitable, and the outrageously big, expensive and precise machines they're using to probe space and time.  You're just as likely to find accounts of the physicist's favourite drinking games and running jokes as you are an explanation of what neutrino oscillation is and why it's important.  It's a book that's very much about the human side of the experiments, the dangers, the Heath Robinson solutions so often employed and the humour that has to go hand in hand with jobs that are as far removed from the dusty, dry popular perception of theoretical physics as it's possible to get.

The LHC, the current poster-boy, get a good going over, as does the far more established (by a century or so) Mount Wilson observatory.  The part I particularly enjoyed was the coverage of two of the biggest neutrino telescopes in the world, one suspended in the depths of Lake Baikal and the other embedded in cubic kilometres of the Antarctic ice cap.  

This is a book that's not only to be applauded, but even made into a very cool TV show.

The Edge Of Physics
Anil Ananthaswamy
Duckworth Overlook 
ISBN: 9780715637043

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Edinburgh Science Festival 2010

Wow.  The Edinburgh International Science Festival has always been a bit of a big deal, but this year is noticeably bigger and better than previous years.  There's a huge range of events on, from kid friendly talks involving bangs and smells to lectures on exactly why E=mc^2, and everything in between...and then some.

My colleague Ann and I are running a bookshop in the Big Ideas venue, very tolerantly hosted by Edinburgh University's Informatics Forum, and our sales seem to show a few interesting things about the book-buying public's interest in science.  Now whilst we're selling books tailored to each event (usually written by the speakers) it's a wide ranging sample of titles - the selection is dominated by our popular science section from the local shop, plus a proportional selection of the more advanced stuff...for example Jeff Forshaw was nice enough to sign a copy of Dynamics And Relativity for me.  This is (L->R) me, him, Ann, Jeff's sidekick Brian, Ben and Imran.  The ones who aren't professional particle physicists are me and my geekier colleagues.

It's become very clear however, that there's two big things catching the public imagination.  The big sellers subject-wise are physics (particularly the extremes of relativity/cosmology and fundamental particle physics, which join up at the back in a very Eddie Izzard way) and psychology/psychiatry.

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's Why Does E=mc^2 is unsurprisingly the number one given both Prof. Cox's current renown and the fact that it's an excellent book, but it's very closely followed by Antimatter by Frank Close, a bit of a surprise hit considering it's always been a bit of a constant but slow burner in our main shop.  (There's a pretty cool Blackwell podcast about it here,)

Marcus Chown continues to be a big seller, initially heading the leaderboard, with in my opinion some of the best popular physics books going, and ones that aren't afraid to tackle the more controversial and wacky (read "interesting" in my book) topics like Multiverse theory and alternatives to accepted theories.

On the psych side Kathleen Taylor's Cruelty has been very popular, and out of nowhere the diametrically opposed Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert has been so keenly and unexpectedly snapped up that we've had to beg steal and borrow copies from all over the UK just to keep it on the shelf.  Ian Deary has also been incredibly prominent, particularly his Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction.

And to finish, there's a few odd little titles that deserve mentions.  Daina Tiamana's Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes is the quirky hit it deserves to be, especially with some of the speakers.  The guys from the LHC really enjoyed the masterpiece of paper engineering that is Voyage To The Heart Of Matter, clearly the best pop-up book about the Large Hadron Collider ever created.  (EDIT: Full review here)

And there's no way to sign off from an Edinburgh SciFest report without special mention to the Edinburgh Geological Society for their superb collection of publications, particularly Building Stones Of Edinburgh (which suffers from a fairly prosaic title when it's a far more interesting book than it sounds) and Discovering Edinburgh's Volcano (which suffers from only being £1.50 when it's easily worth more).  As an aside, I'm kind of proud of pushing EGS titles given the fact that Edinburgh is pretty much the birthplace of modern their books (ideally directly from them) and support a great local amateur society.

The Big Ideas venue deserves a mention in its own right, the combination of a science festival, bookshop and cafe has created a pretty cool space that has developed a real buzz; I've had some fascinating chats with a mountain biking maths teacher called Karen, a physics prof who wanted to know why I'm in to physics ("Sheer curiosity, if you ask 'but why?' often enough you get to physics..." was my honest answer), and a whole legion of volunteers working some silly hours for free just because they're geeks and damn proud of it.

There's still a weeks worth of events left....see you there!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes - Diagram Prize Winner 2009


A well deserved win for Daina Taimina and her lovely book covering the representation of non-Euclidian geometry with crochet and knitting.

Get your copy here:

Blackwell Online (UK based, the company I work for)
A K Peters (US based publishers of the book)

Or (ideally), put the keyboard down, go outside and buy a copy in your favourite local bookshop. :)

If you're Edinburgh based we'll have copies on sale at our Edinburgh Science Festival bookshop in the Informatics Forum on Potterow.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Diagram "Odd Titles" Award 2010

The Diagram Prize is probably the most prestigious and sought after award in publishing.  Probably.  

It's organised and presented by the infamous and highly respected Horace Bent, a time served Old Skool publishing journalist at The Bookseller, the UK's main trade magazine.  The award is given to the book (and it has to  be a real book, none of this short-run self published three copies ever bought nonsense) with the oddest title.

This year's shortlist is:

  • Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter by David Crompton
  • Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich by James A Yannes
  • Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina
  • Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots by Ronald C Arkin
  • The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease by Ellen Scherl and Maria Dubinsky
  • What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua? by Tara Jansen-Meyer

All great and worthy entries I'm sure, but there's really no substitute for voting Crochet.  My reasoning, in the spirit of the competition, is thus:

The superb juxtaposition of relativistic equations and traditionally feminine handicraft skillfully blend against a backdrop of four dimensional hyperbolic space utilising the three dimensional creations of a wool based algorithm in a context of knot theory and non Euclidian geometry carrying a sublimely fundamental and yet simultaneous intimate and accessible viewpoint on the structure of the Universe which opens the mathematical structure of spacetime to the casual ovicentric hobbyist.


The meta-historical setting of a rural craft invokes powerful images of Einstein's modest upbringing in combination with the sub-metaphorical emotional influence of handmade knitwear leading to a subconscious acceptance of the incongruity self evident in the utilisation of a folded two dimensional yarn construct attempting to represent a geometry including a mathematically imaginary component. 

Vote Crochet, you know it makes sense.

In all seriousness, I'm shamelessly pushing this book as a winner because it's a superb book on an astoundingly beautiful subject, both in terms of mathematics, physical theories and handicraft.  In laymans terms it covers (mostly from a crochet/knitting point of view) the stunning results of writing the equations behind General Relativity into a knitting pattern.  It's not as silly as it sounds....knitting patterns are effectively computer programmes for a single strand of wool, and as such are ideal for trying to demonstrate a mathematical idea.  Einstein's theories deal with the idea of treating time as a fourth dimension....but there's no room for one in high school maths.  So he tried using imaginary numbers - ones based on the square root of minus one, and commonly shown on a graph at right angles to "normal" numbers - his little thought experiment turned out to be such an accurate description of reality that the theory has to be hard-coded into GPS satellites to stop them going out of synch by several metres a day.  
This book takes the simple but highly imaginative step of trying to show Einstein's fourth dimension by writing it into a knitting pattern.  The results are extraordinarily beautiful, closely resembling coral reefs.  It's a great coffee table book and conversation starter, odd title aside.  

You can vote for your favourite at The Bookseller website.  (Scroll down, poll on the left)