13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time

A couple of years ago, in the pages of New Scientist magazine, journalist Michael Brooks penned an essay bearing the same title as this new book. He identified a baker’s dozen of scientific enigmas whose unriddlings, if ever found, would portend major and consequential paradigm shifts in our understanding of various aspects of creation. Sensing the theme’s larger potential, Brooks added and discarded topics, undertook some firsthand investigations, and has now produced a volume that provides a fascinating and humbling perspective on humanity’s vaunted scientific wisdom. The book’s chapters are arranged with beautiful logic on a continuum of topics that begins with physics and cosmology, proceeds through biology, and ends, more or less, in consciousness studies. Concise historical backstory and vivid portraits of researchers offer a true sense of the Great Work of science and the still-murky dark corners of its realm. All 13 bafflers strike me as worthy of the attention — save for the final chapter’s mystery of homeopathy. The likely fallout from solving the conundrum of that practice’s reputed effectiveness simply doesn’t attain the magnitude of the other items. Brooks indulges in a vigorously polemical freethinker’s stance at times, as in his criticism of scientists for not pushing the search for ET life on Mars, but he generally hews to an agnostic journalistic tone well suited for such controversial topics. To paraphrase Dryden, Brooks illustrates that “Scientific dogma is sure to heresy near allied / And thin partitions do their bounds divide.”