This is improbable: a book review

This is it, the penultimate book of my non-resolution Christmas book pile, This is Improbable by Marc Abrahams. As I mentioned last week, I avoided reading the blurb for this book but unlike previous guesses at the book contents I was spot on this time around, this book is all about science.

The final book choice from my selection is The Greeks, an comprehensive three and a half thousand year history of the Greek people and civilisation. I love reading overarching histories, last year it was the turn of China, the year before Rome, now it is the turn of Greece.

Before that, I need to give you me thoughts of the world of improbable research.

This is Improbable

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

You have probably heard about the rather illustrious prizes in physics and chemistry (amongst other disciplines) known as the Nobel Prize. It is probably (improbably…?!) less likely you have heard of the Ig Nobel Prize. Founded in the early 90s, the Ig Nobel Prize recognises research which “first makes you laugh, then makes you think”.

The founder of the Ig Noble Prize is Marc Abrahams, the author (or should that be curator) of This is Improbable. Set over twelve loosely related chapters, Improbable is an exploration of some of the research which has won the award over the years, and other research which did not quite make the cut but still makes you think.

From sky lizards to exploding meat, the research covered in this book is the epitome of eclectic, and clearly demonstrates Abrahams’ varied research interests. While the research, for the most part, is deadly serious, the book is oozing with wit and humour, and is an easy read for the sun lounger this summer.

What I really liked

  1. The eclectic science is the point and the real highlight of this book. No matter your interests, you will find something in these pages to pique your interest and get you thinking.
  2. Abrahams’ style and humour makes this an easy read which I found myself breezing through in a couple of sittings. As I said above this would be a great holiday read which you can probably get through in a week on the beach.

The less good bits

  1. There’s only really one downside but it is quite a big one, I’m not sure what the point of the book is. Abrahams goes into depth describe the studies which he has picked and cracking the odd joke along the way, before moving to the next study without really reaching any conclusions or providing any analysis or commentary. While I am not expecting an in-depth literature review of each study, some attempt at drawing a conclusion would not go amiss.


This is Improbable is an interesting, humorous and easy read which is lacking just a little bit of depth and analysis.

Who should read this book? Anyone interested in the quirkier side of science should definitely give this a look.

Have you read This is Improbable or got it on the TBR pile? What did you think of the book? Did you enjoy the research descriptions? What did you think of the lack of analysis or commentary? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “This is improbable: a book review

  1. Jamie — this is Marc, who wrote the book. Thanks! You’re dead on in what you write here. The absence of deep analysis or judgment is intentional. I meant the book to be an entering into dozens of rabbit holes. As the introduction says: “The research, events, people, and pages in this book defy any quick attempt at judgement (bad-or-good? worthless-or-valuable? trivial-or-important?). But don’t let that stop you from trying. Surprises await you, should you choose to follow those leads.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marc. Thanks for commenting. You certainly achieve your aims in that regard, and on the whole I found the book entertaining! I hear there is a sequel as well so might need to add it to my tbr pile


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