WHY SH*T HAPPENS by Peter J. Bentley


The Science of a Really Bad Day
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Things go relentlessly, inexorably wrong in this account of a day in the life of a hapless hero who should have stayed in bed.

Bentley (Computer Science/University College London; The Book of Numbers, 2008, etc.) begins with his hero’s failure to hear the alarm clock, a mishap the author uses to discourse on human sleep and dreaming. Next comes a fall from slipping on shampoo in the bathroom and a chance to explain what makes soap soap. (It’s a marriage of alkali and oil that allows soap molecules to wrap up oil and grease from your skin while letting dirt dissolve in water.) What follows is the inevitable nick while shaving, and Bentley’s exegesis on skin, hair follicles and blood-clotting mechanisms, and why blotting with tissue not only can introduce bacteria to the cut, but also disrupt the cells trying to close the wound. And so it goes through several dozen brief chapters that chart more examples of Murphy’s law at work. There’s burnt toast for breakfast. A tank full of diesel fuel instead of gasoline. Another fall while running after the bus. Chewing gum that gets in his hair during the ride. A missed stop. Getting soaked by rain. Lost. Stung by a bee. Of course there are more problems at the office, like liquid spilled on the keyboard and computer viruses. Then our hero arrives home and promptly spills red wine on the rug. Does this seem a bit contrived? It is. All this sh*t is simply the means by which Bentley can disgorge his vast knowledge. Along the way he offers a very brief discussion of the origin of water and similarly brief briefs on the immune system and the sense of pain. Nonetheless, the author is solid in his discussions of modern technology—cell phones, CDs, glues, dyes, springy (“air-filled’’) sneakers—and he even offers helpful tips (see wine stains, for example).

Filled with some good popular science, but to find it you have to wend through Bentley’s over-the-top idea of a really bad day.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2009
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Rodale
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2009