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Jacket Notes: Daryl Ilbury on his book Tim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick

Published in the Sunday Times

Tim Noakes: The Quiet MaverickTim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick
Daryl Ilbury (Penguin Random House)

He may be on the front cover, and his name in the title, but The Quiet Maverick is not just about Tim Noakes. Writing a book about South Africa’s most famous scientist would have been easy. He’s been a hot topic and a friend of the media for more than 40 years.

But I wanted this book to be as much about the readers as the man on the cover. I wanted it to be about their relationship with science, an increasingly disrupted media, and the food shaping their lives.

Noakes may have had the leading role, but this was a play with a cast of thousands, each one equally important. There was a bigger story to share than that of a tweet about weaning a baby.

However, merely delivering a sequence of points about science wouldn’t work. When you simply tell someone something, one of four things happens: they accept it, reject it, ignore it, or consider it. Three of those were no good to me. I wanted the reader to think about what they read. That was the challenge of this book: getting the reader to think about science.

The secret, I believed, lay in the narrative. If I could lay down the plot as the threads of a bigger story, and then encourage the reader to pick up those threads and weave them together, they should arrive at the same conclusion as I did, but because they were part of the crafting, that conclusion should hold firm in their mind.

But science isn’t a destination for most choosers of books, so how could I place my book at the front of a store? That was the other motivation to write about Noakes: the story of forces conspiring to ruin the career of the country’s leading researcher earned its place alongside the crime and politics normally reserved for the current affairs section of leading bookstores.

It is the story of society’s historical distrust of science, the fractious relationship between science and mainstream media, the intricacies of human nutrition, and the brutal fallout when a soft-spoken scientist with a taste for social media and a flair for challenging convention voiced his maverick opinion. Compelling enough? Read it.

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