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Very Small Introductions

    Philosophy of Science - Reviewer John Ewing

    Drugs - Reviewer Gill Ewing

    Terrorism- Reviewer Sep Meyer

Teacher Leadership and Behaviour Management - Reviewer Mark Edwards

An introduction to the Very Small Introductions

We have received further volumes from the Oxford University Press's Very Small Introduction series.  To remind those of you who read the reviews in our last issue, and to inform those of you who did not . . . 

"Very Short Introductions offer stimulating, accessible introductions to a wide variety of subjects, demonstrating the finest contemporary thinking about their central problems and issues. 

We like the fact that this series of books is designed to nurture potential for further study of each of the subjects to which they are introductions, and will continue to offer reviews of them as they are received.  

Philosphy of Science, A very short introduction, by Samir Okasha, OUP, 144pp,  6.99 ISBN 0-19-280283-6
I came to this book hoping to find out one thing.  In spite of having taken a degree in Physics back in the Stone Age and kept an eye on the scientific world in general ever since even though I worked exclusively in computers, I have never come across a good definition of what science is.   My main perception was that science is very like consciousness: we can discern quite easily what unconsciousness is, but no workable definition of the opposite state has ever been produced.  I was therefore delighted to be asked to review a book that offered a short and painless introduction to the mtier that might well provide that definition.

You have to pay attention when you read this book.  With many other books you can make up for momentary distraction by simply reading on and fitting the missing bits in retrospectively: but if the dog starts chewing the Chippendale while you're reading this one you will have to go back and re-read the bit you were at when the splintering started.  Nor will you be able to dip in and out and glean very much from it: it ain't built that way.  Rather, it is a clear logical presentation of the evolution of thought about science, and each step builds on the previous one.

This is great fun, of course.  Following a short grounding in the history of science in the first chapter, Okasha introduces you painlessly to the ways in which scientists (and other people, come to that) think.  You will be startled to know that you have been proceeding by induction, deduction and inference to the best explanation all your life (not all the time, I grant you, but we're none of us perfect).  Not only that, but you will be shown how to distinguish between them, and how to recognize when a chain of apparently solid reasoning contains a fallacy.

But this is just a beginning, and following on it the great names of science and philosophy come thick and fast.  You discover Karl Popper's enticing thesis that a scientific theory can never be proven, only disproven, which remains uncontested even though his conclusion, that that which cannot be disproven is not science, has been discounted. You discover why Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions had such an impact on thoughts about science.  You even discover where the phrase paradigm shift came from, and why most people who use it don't know what they're talking about.

But as I said, you have to pay attention.  Be not dismayed, though, for the book is extremely readable and, I was delighted to discover, extremely sensible.

Only one thing is lacking, however, but this is no fault of the author's.  After so many centuries of head-scratching as to the nature of scientific thought, all that has come out of it is a collection of descriptions of how scientists think.  But a description, while undoubtedly useful, is not a definition, so in the end my hopes were disappointed, and I came away with the strong impression that maybe science is not amenable to definition.  Which is where I began.

But I wouldn't have missed the trip for all the tea in Harrods.

John Ewing


Drugs, A Very Short Introduction, by Leslie Iversen.  OUP, Price: 5.99 (Paperback) [140pp, photographs and diagrams. 5.99 0-19-285431-3] 

If  you've ever wondered exactly what happens in your body when you take drug treatment prescribed by your doctor or would like to know more about how these drugs are developed, what were the origins of drug taking for both medicinal and recreational uses, then this little book may be just what you are looking for. 

Iversen begins with a short history of drugs, going back to Imhotep, the Egyptian god of medicine and traditional Chinese treatments, based on plant extracts for the most part. He traces drug development up through the centuries, lingering on the 19th century when drug development and use expanded considerably and into the 20th century, when, as well as the improvement in technology, which led to increasingly sophisticated means of extraction and isolation of substances, as well as their synthesis in many cases, recreational drugs also began to develop much faster, with tobacco and alcohol leading the way. 

Leaving behind the rather sinister pictures of opium dens or our great-grandmothers secretly tippling from the laudanum bottle, the 20th century saw a boom in the development of a vast pharmaceutical industry, with an underground trade in recreational drugs such as cocaine, heroine or LSD expanding along with it. 

Later chapters deal with how drugs work in your body, the different routes of administration and all the whys and wherefores of drug action the educated layman will find fascinating and reassuring for the most part. A chapter on recreational drugs pinpoints the dangers of overdosing and how what may have started life as a medicinal product to be taken on prescription only has been refined for often illegal use to produce mind-altering experiences so often linked to addiction and eventually death by overdose. 

The history of aspirin is here with simple molecular diagrams to illustrate how it works and there are quite extensive chapters on the tobacco industry and the effects of the noxious weed on our health. Modernization of the pharmaceutical industry is covered and the market in illegal drugs as well as how much is spent by the general public on prescription drugs in the US each year. 

Finally a word about the falling effectiveness of antibiotics and the dramatic resurgence of killer diseases such as TB, once thought to have been conquered but back with a vengeance in the wake of the global AIDS epidemic. The two ends (medicinal and recreational) of the drug industry are finally brought together with the call for legalization of cannabis, a powerful drug for pain control as well as a mild consciousness enhancing drug, currently outlawed amongst the illegal recreational drugs. 

Here then, is a vade-mecum of drugs of all kinds, bursting with facts presented succinctly in a user-friendly style that will make it a favourite reference for many people not otherwise versed in the sciences. Highly recommended.

Gill Ewing


Terrorism, A Very Short Introduction, by Charles Townshend.  OUP, 158 pp including 16 illustrations. 6.99 ISBN 0-19-280168-6 

It is, perhaps, inevitable that the very mention of terrorism nowadays conjures up a picture of the toppling twin World Trade Center towers in New York.  Further enquiry might produce additional references to the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Chechnya and the occupation (and subsequent massacre) at a Moscow theatre, the death toll in Bali, and so on.

True, I am referring here to organisations and events of recent memory, but I venture to suggest that these are the situations that will spring to most people's minds in these troublous times.

Townshend's book goes a bit further back and, although one might have wished for a more detailed examination of the history of terrorism, I guess this would not be possible in such a small work.  Nevertheless the book is thorough enough in its background to terrorism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with some reference to the French revolutionaries, the Ku Klux Klan of the United States, the Hitler and Stalinist regimes of Germany and the USSR, and the Baader-Meinhoff Gang (or Red Army Faction).

And it is useful to read a book, small enough for speedy digestion, yet thorough enough to give a real grasp of the background to modern international terrorism. helping to put the more recent events into some sort of historical perspective.  A book, furthermore, that will nurture the reader's potential for exploration of the other literature "out there" on this subject, and Townshend's little book has a very useful bibliographical appendix.

What I found most fascinating about the book was the way Townshend catalogues the terrorist acts of the past 200 years and examines their causes and outcomes giving (certainly this reader) a totally new perspective on many events he had previously taken for granted.  assassinations, hostage-taking, hijackings, bombings.  After all, we are these days subjected to vast and sensationalised media exposure of these examples of extreme political action, all of which may be better appreciated and comprehended via this study of terrorism. 

Terrorism is the offspring of prejudice, and only knowledge can dispel prejudice.  Townshend's book is a useful tool for providing part of that knowledge.

Sep Meyer




Teacher Leadership and Behaviour Management, Edited by Bill Rogers,  Published by Paul Chapman Publishing, June 2002.   160 pages,
ISBN: 076194020.     16.99 (paperback); 50.00 (hard cover) 

For many teachers, there are three key issues in teaching : behaviour, behaviour and behaviour. Those of us who are at the chalkface, (or rather whiteboard marker face) of education know that managing a class of lively children, some of whom will have behavioural difficulties, can be a challenging task. 


For some reason,  at least in this country (UK), behaviour management has been something that has kept (or been kept at) a low profile. Either you could do it, or you couldnt, it seemed, and if you couldnt, then bad luck - you didnt have what it takes. 


This is arrant nonsense - as Professor Bill Rogers and other leading educationalists in the field have shown us.  There are certain techniques of human communication which have certain effects and many of them can be learnt and used in the classroom. Rogers outlines some of them in his introductory essay in a book which contains a selection of writings by a variety  of experts in the field. But as he himself says, this book is not the place to go into them in much detail; this is because it is not a how to book aimed at the practising teacher who is frantically worrying about her year 7 bottom maths set. Rather it is an academic exploration of the subject, well referenced and solidly grounded in research.   It is a balanced book in that each chapter describes a different aspect of the subject, albeit within a humanistic approach. Each contribution makes it clear that the skills needed for successful classroom behaviour management are highly refined.


There is a delightfully titled chapter on working with EBD children which compares the experience to opening a box of frogs, and I liked John Robertsons Boss/Manager/Leader role definitions. This makes clear the distinction between the three and also underlines the importance of putting oneself into Boss mode when the occasion demands. If, like me, you are an NLP enthusiast, you should be well-practised at such role-changing!


There is an interesting  chapter by Glenn Parsons on how ICT is changing the way classrooms and therefore pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil interactions work. And no book on behaviour management would be complete without reference to ADHD, which, at the risk of sounding cynical, was virtually unheard of when I was a Head ten years ago. It is a useful introduction to a complex subject.


But it is the final chapter which to me is possibly the most important. I have worked in very many schools with many children with varying degrees of challenging behaviours. What has been most telling about the behaviour management of a school is not its policy document, but the degree to which teachers support each other in the job. This means cultural change at a fundamental level, but as Bill Rogers suggests, unless there exists a school climate conducive to humanistic behaviour management on every level, then  the interpersonal skills used at classroom level will, in the longer term, be rendered ineffectual. It was heartening to see reference made to the Elton Report of 1989 which, as an in-depth study of discipline in schools, remains the definitive work on the subject, and this book presents an equally humanitarian and thought-provoking overview, fourteen years down the line.


Mark Edwards


John Ewing is a Systems Engineer who has worked in various domains ranging from implantable cardiac devices to the measurement of low-intensity radioactive emissions.  He currently runs his own company in Alsace, France.

Gill Ewing, is a technical and scientific translator with a profound interest in natural/earth/environmental/life sciences.  She resides and works in Alsace, France. 

Sep Meyer is a graduate of the London School of Economics and, since his retirement from a commercial life, has been devoting his time to a totally non-commercial activity, writing poetry and drama. 

Mark Edwards is a freelance teacher, trainer and writer.