Goodreads: Insane Inventors
Series: Twisted True Tales from Science
Source: City Book Review
Published: February 1, 2017
Nikola Tesla was crazy smart. He invented the idea for cell phones in 1893, discovered alternating current, and invented a death ray gun. Of course, he also talked to pigeons, ate only boiled food, and was scared of women who wore jewelry. He was an insane inventor. So was Henry Cavendish, who discovered hydrogen, calculated the density of the Earth, and was so scared of people that he had to write notes to communicate. Sir Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity, believed in magic, and thought he could make a potion to create gold. These stories may sound twisted, but they’re all true tales from science!
This installment in the Twisted True Tales from Science series takes on “insane inventors,” men and women who took large risks, often with their health and safety, to test their theories and advance scientific knowledge. The book is divided into three parts—Don’t Try This at Home, Anything for Science, and Strange Days of Science—though it is not clear what the divisions are based on or what order the stories are presented in since they all have the same general theme of “extreme things people did in the name of research.” The stories are interesting, however, and young readers will enjoy discovering how interesting and daring science can be.
Bearce covers a good range of scientists, including both more and less well-known ones. I am always delighted to learn about historical figures I hadn’t heard of before. The book could have been more diverse, however. There are two women (both, I might note, who didn’t actually know what they were doing—working with radiation and x-rays—was dangerous…unlike some of the men who seemed like they might be actively trying to die). The featured scientists were generally European and American men, and Garrett Morgan seems to be the only person of color in the book. Somehow Tesla is featured twice. (I like Tesla. He’s quite interesting. But I didn’t see the point of repeating part of his story in such a short book.) Bearce has a whole series of science books, however, so it’s possible that some of the other ones (Disaster Discoveries, Explosive Experiments, and Medical Mayhem) are a bit more wide-ranging in the people they feature.
In addition to the anecdotes, Bearce provides a selection of fun science activities and experiments kids can do themselves, ranging from building their own flashlight to experimenting with blacklights to looking up optical illusions online. And since many of the stories are about people dying or getting seriously injured, she makes sure to end the book on a positive note: the invention of the supersoaker and you can make your own out of a water bottle. Illustrations also add to the fun of the book, and there are some insets with quotations, though personally I didn’t see the point of quoting something that was written in the text itself. I would have loved to see the insets feature new information, like something the featured scientists had said.
This is a great book for middle schoolers, particularly those interested in the weird and the gross.