Review | The Importance of Being Interested – Robin Ince

The Importance of Being Interested went on my book wishlist as soon as I saw its back cover description and its promises of exploration and wonder. It aims to be a book of science communication rather than a book of science facts, where author Robin Ince tries to convey why he finds science wonderful and inspiring rather than clinical and cynical. Spoiler alert: he does this really well.

Each chapter focuses on a topic – including time, the universe, conspiracy theories, and religion – and features answers and discussions from scientists who work in areas related to that topic as well as people from other fields who have interesting perspectives to offer, from astronauts to authors to paranormal investigators. These chapters and their discussions will probably introduce you to areas of science that you didn’t know existed. For me, this book was my first introduction to the idea of space archaeology, and Ince’s brief explanation of the field demonstrated both the sheer coolness of that title and the meaningful value of the field. (He also gets bonus points for not following up any of the odder-sounding aspects of the book with the usual tired jokes about research funding!).

The input from the experts also feels “just right”:  Ince gives each expert space to explore ideas rather than being forced into simplified soundbite answers, but without just parroting their words. Some experts reappear across multiple topics and chapters in a way that feels natural and contributes to the book feeling like a larger conversation rather than a linear list of topics.

“Black holes are the reason spaghetti needed to be transformed into a verb”

Ince’s writing is often comic, and often witty, but never dismissive or pointed. There are plenty of clever, quotable sentences and references, but also contemplative and hopeful ones, and these two facets never feel in competition with each other.  Throughout the book, Ince places a strong emphasis on the value of curiosity and doubt, and on being comfortable with – or even enjoying – being “the dumbest person in the room”. This goes heavily against the stereotype of science and science fans being pedantic and dogmatic, which is lovely to see.

“That the universe should be so big and empty and yet with at least one planet that is so rich in variety and full of questions, may make us think how fortunate we are. It is cold out there, but here there is warmth and a world full of possibilities.”

But beyond the information, and the humour, the most impressive part of this book for me was its tone. Inside this book is a calm and friendly place to be. Ince greets everything with cheer and care, mixed with a pinch of self-deprecation that’s endearingly grounded rather than annoying.

“I have grown to understand that the best I will ever manage is a very shallow understanding of the laws of nature and of the physics beyond it. I do not take that as a surrender – I’ll keep working at it, but I face the reality that I can have fun imagining and playing with scientific ideas and I will be able to colour in some of the universe in my head…”

Overall, The Importance of Being Interested completely delivers upon its aims, and I absolutely love the style Ince chose when creating this book. His focus on compassion, understanding and building bridges makes this book a relaxing and comfortable read even when it touches on complex or painful topics. I strongly recommend reading this book, especially if you relate to Ince’s story of being made to feel like science wasn’t an option for you due to how it was taught. If you’re an existing science fan, like me, you’ll still enjoy the variety of topics and perspectives on offer here.

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