01/04/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Boxtree. 344 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7522-2783-2.
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com
‘Electrified Sheep’ is the third book in Alex Boese’s look at bizarre experimentation which also throws up a variety of incidental information. Although this book is aimed at us adults, the dangerous and often gruesome elements would no doubt appeal to those who enjoy ‘Horrible Histories’ and a demonstration that Man really didn’t know what he was doing with his discoveries. If you are going to let your more older sprogs loose on this book, ensure they have strong stomachs though.
Take electricity for instance. The discovery of how two contrasting metals in an acid bath could conduct an electrical charge that could stimulate muscles in the living and dead, which inspired a certain Mary Shelley after all, was an odd starting place to what how we use electricity to run our homes today. It took a long time to work out how to build bigger conductors so it could be used to do anything worthwhile like lighting a lamp. Much of the problem was in how to conduct it and even started off with human chains to see how far the charge could be passed down the line before metal was decided as a better conductor. Incidentally, the term ‘battery’ came from the noise of the discharge sounding like a ‘battery of cannons’. Definitely don’t try that at home. There was even an animal protection league even that far back but it had a lot less power (sic) than it has today and many animals suffered in the discoveries that were made.
The examination of the development of the nuclear bomb and determining the range of the blast area might seem rather simplistic today but it was the knowledge from what they gleamed is how much we know today. If anything, the most disturbing thing was no one had any idea about radioactive contamination or how long it would take to kill and people were sent in as the dust settled. Also of interest was the use of atomic explosions to power spaceships. We should all sigh with relief that this was abandoned. I mean, not only would that have been immense fallout on Earth but around our planet as well. Let’s not even go into depth about letting a nuke off on the Moon although Boese explains the plan.
Chapter Three on ‘Deceptive Ways’ should be required reading because it brings up how witnessing an event, such as a crime, can be more delusional than reality as to what you think you saw against what happened. You might also appreciate why it’s important that witness statements should be checked against the forensics of the crime to ensure the two match. Maybe that would sort out why people are sent to prison purely on witness statements although Boese doesn’t go as far as to say that.
Another area of interest is what Boese calls conformity and me ‘the herd instinct’ and how quickly it can spread among people. For those of you living across the pond, conformity is the way of life as you see people use it to fit into the type of jobs they have if they want to get on. Apparently, we British and the Japanese are the most non-conformist although I would have liked to have seen more as to why we should differ so much from other nations and why it’s slowly affecting us. My own comment on this is there is safety in numbers. You’re less likely to be picked off or bullied if you look the same ie you even the chances. Looking individual can also mean you shouldn’t mess with me which is something I can appreciate because it also works. One thing that was pretty obvious from the chapter is don’t have an opinion on anything without knowing what you’re talking about. If ever there was a lesson in being informed, then this is it.
The final chapter, ‘Do-It-Yourselfers’, is another chapter that will have you thinking a lot. If you always thought scientists, especially in the medical field, relied on test subjects or guinea pigs (oddly, a species that isn’t actually used for research) will find that many used themselves. This went up with the discovery of cocaine and how it could annul pain and they wanted to see what could be done, especially when it came to self-surgery. Of course, there must have been some addiction going on along the way but it’s an interesting revelation. The tests with animal venom is very interesting. You can survive a tarantula bite but less so that of a black widow but don’t absorb too much venom.
I find these books extremely informing and this one is no exception. The insights given will have you questioning a lot of things. Probably at the top of the list is how Man learnt by trial and error than knowing why and how in the first place. Indeed, much of what we have around our civilisation was created that way than intelligent predicting by these pioneers. They might have been regarded as eccentric or mad then or even now but the knowledge wasn’t wasted. A fascinating read.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA