Pheebs, our sixth-former reporter and reviewer, gives her thoughts on Caspar Henderson's A New Map of Wonders

The first thing that struck me about this book was the sheer breadth of topics. The second thing was how enjoyable learning from this material was, and the evident passion of Caspar Henderson, the author, for all knowledge.

Armed with an astounding array of subjects, such as astrophysics and biology, A New Map of Wonders is, for the most part, scientifically-based. Starting with the manipulation of light and the Sun, moving through the anatomy of the heart and brain, and ending with the larger world, technology and humanity, there is, not to be too clichéd, something for everyone.

And it is fascinating science; for example, I learned that there are twenty trillion red blood cells in the average human body, that foetuses practise smiling and laughing in the womb, and that ‘dark matter’ may exist outside of time itself because it may be faster than light (quantum physics seems to be a very ‘maybe’ series of predictions… but awesome ones!). I was gawping at cool pieces of information on practically every page, and my parents became rather annoyed as I parroted facts at them every ten minutes.

Yet the book doesn’t just stop at science: music, philosophy and poetry, alongside other influences, constantly crop up throughout, providing a pretty rounded look on, well, everything! It’s jam-packed with epic diagrams-slash-drawings and contains a generous smattering of grey notes in the margin to give extra detail on the main narrative. These are often interesting quotes from poems and texts. I really liked the inclusion of these ‘margin notes’ because they often gave a different perspective that made me appreciate the main text more.

On this point, the ‘Introduction’ also gives an entirely different perspective from which to read the book, as opposed to reading it simply as an excellent exploration of different sciences: it presents the writing as grounded in the concept of ‘wonder’. Henderson argues that ‘wonder’ is something to be sought after, and I have to agree. The institutionalisation of education is necessary, but it can make learning a massive drag. Here, in a book that clearly delights not only in learning knowledge but in the wonder of learning itself, there is a delightful change from the stress of doing and learning because rules require it, to instead doing and learning because it’s fun.

It’s not an easy read, it must be said; the science and concepts included are not so hard that I could not understand the majority of what was written, but I had to work at it frequently. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of complex information to process!

Well-written, incredibly well-researched (with a 29 page bibliography!), and absolutely fascinating from cover to cover, A New Map of Wonders is indeed ‘wonderful’, especially for its enthusiasm.

A New Map of Wonders with Caspar Henderson 11:00-12:00 Sun 29 April, Town Hall Suitable for all the family from 8+


Caspar is also at the Festival to interview Stephen Westaby about his memoirs of his life as a pioneering heart surgeon, Fragile Lives 16:00-17:00 Sat 28 April, The Theatre