Recently I read Frank Swain’s popular science book How to Make a Zombie (2013). It’s pretty good, and a fine example of its type. However, Swain’s book does not tell its readers how to make a zombie. There’s an obvious reason for this, and excellent grounds for not admitting it up front – the two words ‘you can’t’ won’t fill 250 pages, no matter how large the type used. So instead, Swain takes us on a Cook’s Tour of the myriad aspects of his topic, sprinkling interesting facts all around him. He knows a lot about biochemistry, physics, biology and psychology, and he lays these subjects before the reader with a lively style and without ever using an equation or an indigestible piece of nomenclature.
Swain’s book is a recent example of the kind of popular science books that have come to dominate factual publishing over the last decade or so. You know the kind of thing: a main title (a chemical element; a technology advance; an aspect of genetics), to which is appended a