Sunday, March 14, 2010

The American guide to science, new inventions and wacky gadgets.

I was an avid reader as a kid. I devoured comics and classics like the Knights of the Round Table and The Hardy Boys. But my absolute favorite reading materials were the Sporting News, Scientific American (though I only understood a fraction of what I read) and Popular Science.

What I particularly liked about Popular Science was trying to figure out what was really feasible and what was pure fantasy. Sort of like trying to make sense of Washington politics. But a lot more fun. (GW)

Popular Science archive now on Google Books

By Robin McKie
The Guardian/ Observer
March 14, 2010

The 137-year-old magazine has put all its back numbers online, including articles by Darwin, Pasteur – and predictions of orbiting space-hotels

It has a list of authors that would make a publisher's eyes water and includes Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Louis Pasteur and Thomas Edison. They are all great scientists, and all writers who have put their names to articles that have appeared not in dry academic journals such as Nature but in Popular Science, a mass-market American guide to science, new inventions and wacky gadgets.

This strange mixture has been newly revealed to British readers, because every issue of the 137-year old monthly magazine (now published in 30 languages in more than 40 countries) has just been made available through Google Books. Thus you can now log on and peer into the past and note not just the occasional article by distinguished scientists, or frequent features on the fledgling subject of personal computers, but observe how journalists predicted the shape of things to come: the monorail trains that would criss-cross the planet, the planes that would replace cars as our chosen means of personal transport, and of course, the obligatory space station and orbiting hotel that would be flying round the planet before the end of the 20th century. "Will space travel lengthen your life?" the magazine asked in 1957.

This formula has proved startlingly successful: a mix of occasional erudition, large chunks of practical advice for techies and the odd splurge of scientific forecasting, all clearly written and imaginatively packaged. The magazine covers frequently invoke nostalgia for a time when we were more optimistic about science's bounty.

Even so, this month's issue exemplifies the Popular Science mix perfectly: a guide to building earthquake-proof airports, a feature on transgenic, muscle-bound trout and the story of Per Segerbäck, the man who lives in a remote Swedish nature reserve – because he is allergic to electromagnetic radiation and an urban environment would kill him. Classic. See more at


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