“It was the secrets of heaven and Earth that I desired to learn.” Doctor Frankenstein’s desire may have led to tragedy but Shelley’s words sum up the credo of a geek well. The quest for knowledge has taken us to the Moon, given us visions of other worlds and the ability to communicate instantaneously around our own, but have geeks solved the really important questions such as “how to cure a hangover,” and “is social media good for you?”
Authors Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and writer for The Guardian, New Scientist, BBC Focus and ESA, and Mun Keat Looi, Commissioning Editor for the Wellcome Trust’s Mosaic and co-author of Big Questions in Science: The Quest to Solve the Great Unknowns, believe life’s important mysteries have been solved, and have pored through countless research papers to bring readers science backed solutions to everyday problems, from how to win at darts to how to succeed on Tinder.
“Being alive today is a tricky business particularly when there isn’t an instruction manual for being a human. Until now that is. This is your manual. We’ve scoured the scientific literature so you don’t have to… There is no self-improvement drivel here, just peer-reviewed or maths-backed research on the tips and tricks you need to get ahead.”
From a Tetris inspired cover to the copious artwork throughout, The Geek Guide to Life is a beautifully designed coffee table book made to appeal to the geek in all of us, but can the authors’ claims of science backed solutions to life’s problems live up to the hype? Gathered into sections covering different aspects of the daily struggle, the trials and tribulations of human existence are categorised into Health and Body, Work and Career, Love and Relationships, At Home, Leisure and Sport, Travel, Money and Technology, the individual chapters are fun and interesting and cover a wide range of subjects from “How to boil the perfect egg” to “How much sex should you be having?”
Concluding with a handy set of “cut out and keep” cheat sheets highlighting the tips from the various sections, there’s also a useful cheatsheet for Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock for those who have not yet mastered Sheldon’s monologue from the Big Bang Theory, and the great retro graphics hark backs to the great days of gaming, but while a pleasure to read, the chapters perhaps do not go quite as far as the book promises.
Similar to a collection of life hacker articles, though undeniably more well sourced and referenced, the research cited varies quite widely in scale with some of the studies involving sample groups as small as twelve male participants and others covering much wider studies such as a group of 400,000 people over eight years, the result being an uneven feel to the quality of claims across the chapters.
Some of the answers provide rich food for thought: “How much exercise do you really need?” Pleasingly, “Just fifteen minutes of exercise a day could be enough to increase your life expectancy by three years.” Others are less helpful, the findings of the query “Should you walk or run in the rain?” being “Thinner people should match the speed of a sideways wind,” while elsewhere the the revelation that “having a double espresso three hours before sleeping can interfere with sleep” is somewhat obvious, and at times it feels as though the authors are trying to balance between useful information against eye-catching titles.
Sadly for some, the attention grabbing sections such as “How to cure a hangover” have disappointing answers in that there isn’t a cure for a hangover. With the best advice being not to drink which surely counts as prevention, considering the book is aimed at geeks who have a justifiable reputation for being pedantic, this may not sit well, however it is the duty of science to be honest, not pleasing.
Important health questions such as “How much sleep you really need?” are too big for a simple equation so instead the answer is presented as a graph depending on the age range and the individual. This means for an adult of 26 – 64 years the target amount of rest may be as low as six hours, but for others it could be much as ten with seven to nine being the average. While interesting the wide ranges are not that helpful a guide for those trying to get the perfect night’s sleep.
More useful is the investigation into “Why you shouldn’t lie-in at the weekend” which highlights a University of Pittsburgh study involving 490 people. Aside from this being damaging to maintaining a regular sleep routine, those who had the biggest shifts in their sleeping pattern also demonstrated higher risk factors for obesity, diabetes and heart disease. An enjoyable collection of enquiries which should be taken for what they are, The Geek Guide to Life is a fun, interesting and well illustrated collection of articles but not the answer to life the authors may promise.
The Geek Guide to Life is available now from Andre Deutsch