the guardian Sat 14 February 2009
It's a good idea for a pop-science book: to focus on a baker's dozen of "anomalies", things that don't quite fit into current scientific theories and so are provoking imaginative research at the cutting edge. They include the cosmological observations that provoked the positing of "dark energy" and "dark matter" (or, as one waggish sceptic has named it, "magical space blancmange"), the trajectory of a Pioneer probe that might mandate rewriting the laws of gravity, and a surprisingly well-formed radio signal from space. Such odd data-clusters are crime scenes, over which Brooks combs with the reassuring casualness of an expert (he has a doctorate in physics), interviewing witnesses along the way, to provide riveting cliffhangers of scientific detection.
The book is a bit less satisfying when it addresses more fuzzily defined "anomalies" in biology, such as the existence in terrestrial organisms of sexual reproduction, or senescence and death. As the last puzzle, meanwhile, Brooks includes homeopathy, with a rather admirable chutzpah. Surely homeopathy is unscientific rubbish? But Brooks talks to some reputable scientists who want to know more, and points out that we don't know enough about liquids to be sure either way. I looked askance at my glass of water, which seemed to be vibrating suspiciously.