back to article Weekend reads: Neil Young and Brian Cox ponder cars and universe (in that order)

Phil Strongman joins El Reg bookworm Mark Diston to review the pick of publishing this week. Neil Young's second autobiography is more, much more than cars and girls, while the nation's omnipresent telly scientist Brian Cox offers insights to our origins. Also, James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton team up for the first time for a …

One out of three ain't bad...

The Human Universe sounds like a must read book to me, and I shall.

Neil Young? Love his music, don't care to read his take on life or cars.

Frey? If this had been a true original idea, maybe, but given his past willfull lying, no thanks.

Excellent reviews by Strongman and Diston!

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More travelogue than science

First, I have to declare a purely personal bias. Brian Cox's accent and delivery style I find almost unbearable. It reminds me of a newbie English supply teacher trying to interest a bored class.

That said, any new science based TV is to be welcomed. However, his new series is, to my mind, a massive waste of BBC money which would be better spent on more Horizons. The visuals are very pretty but more suited to a travel show than a serious science one. (Specially true of the slo-mo clips which contribute nothing apart from extending the running time for cheap.) I see no great benefit to shipping Cox to dozens of exotic locations to deliver a few sentences which could be done in voiceover from a nice warm UK studio. Does he work for airmiles?

I just watched episode 2, "Why are we here?". It lacks even a basic explanation of what the question means. Is it an inquiry as to purpose or means? Turns out to be a little of both, neither in any depth. For example, introducing the concept of inflation without further explanation is just plain weird. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the concept will be left wondering what the big bang has to do with the Retail Price Index, and those who ARE familiar will be none the wiser.

All the topics have been covered much better in other preograms. This, IMHO, is just eyecandy and a vehicle for the science golden boy on TV. David Attenborough would be spnning in his grave, if he were dead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More travelogue than science

"I see no great benefit to shipping Cox to dozens of exotic locations to deliver a few sentences which could be done in voiceover from a nice warm UK studio."

My memories of one of Cox's earlier efforts:

* To explain eclipses, fly to India.

* To explain the rainfall cycle, fly to the Amazon.

I assume that overseas sales of the "product" are improved by such jetsetting.

The topics he covers are important. The programs are, in some ways, beautifully made (assuming they've turned down the background muzak). Regardless, I don't watch him any more. But I would watch a proper Horizon, if they existed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More travelogue than science

On the other hand, I recently watched the 30m "wonder of animals/penguins", narrated by Chris Packhan and it was packed full of non-stop interesting penguinfo. I can only assume that for other markets they put the burble back in and stretch it out to an hour.

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Re: More travelogue than science

But this is how television is made. With a political story a news program will fairly needlessly send a reporter to stand outside a building where something happened: nothing that couldn't be conveyed by same reporting in studio. It's the background that matters, in that it's an attempt to make it interesting visually.

With Wonders... and now Human Planet same thing applies. Could you everything with a blackboard and chalk but it's television first, education second.

And, to be fair, to an extent the science literate aren't really the audience. This is, trying to, popularise science. It's trying to make "Cosmo" now, and that means with today's TV techniques.

That's not to suggest I think they're beyond criticism: I'd like more detail and an equation or two...

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Silver badge

Re: More travelogue than science

The scene of an event is always worth seeing, even if it's an anonymous looking building, the human mind can observe and correctly infer a lot of background information from the site event.

Not that most of us need any of that extra information. For most news stories, the headline alone can tall us everything that we actually need, and in most cases even that will make zero difference to our life and we could live on unaffected if we didn't know that a nominal celebrity is upset that someone faked a naked picture of them.

In the end, I think the cost of a film crew and presenter in South America, or Asia etc fits well within the overall budget allowed for documentary making, the greater costs by far being in post production and actual airtime.

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Neil Young recorded a song about a Trans Am

'nuff said

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Infinite Monkey Cage

If you've never listened to it - worth a listen. podcasts available too.

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Re: Infinite Monkey Cage

... and a mention for The Life Scientific too: more about scientists than science but a good complement.

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Coat

Brian Cox

He's a jolly clever chap and all, I'm sure. But he inevitably reminds me, with his endless enthusiasm and his accent, and the rapid changes of location, of the "Fast Show" character: "I'n't milk *brilliant*?!"

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