The Canon is exactly what its subtitle says: a tour of the basics of science. Natalie Angier is a science writer; that is, a writer who is a knowledgeable observer of science and who is able to get scientists to explain things in terms the rest of us might understand. Her writing style is very light, loaded with enthusiasm, and a bit chatty at times. At first I found the chattiness to be slightly offputting, but when I got to the chapters on material that I didn’t know much about (molecular biology and chemistry), the light-hearted distractions were actually helpful in keeping me focused on the main points.
There are chapters on scientific method, the scale of things, basic physics, chemistry, molecular biology, geology, and astronomy. I found that the less I knew about a subject the more I enjoyed the material. So the chemistry and molecular biology chapters really stood out. I had not really learned anything new about cellular biology since high school (except for inferred ‘facts’ from reading newspaper and magazine articles about new drugs or new viruses). So I found the chapter on molecular biology especially interesting. She devotes many pages to the busy activity inside every cell, ranging from protein synthesis to cell division to communication with other cells. This is really interesting stuff.