Book 135: The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios


The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios

Finished reading on April 21st, 2014

Rating: 9/10

How to make physics less threatening and more relevant for everyday life? You add superheroes!

Well maybe it won’t really be everyday physics and considering all of the villains mentioned in the book, it might make one even too scared to go outside in a comic-book world.

In Kakalios’ “The Physics of Superheroes”, as the name suggests, you find out about the physical laws behind some of the abilities that superheroes have – jumping up high buildings, walking through walls, flying, shrinking themselves, etc. The physics ranges from simple classical mechanics and thermodynamics to electricity, magnetism, relativity and quantum mechanics. the mathematics necessary for understanding are however kept at low level – you can succeed in understanding everything if you’ve passed high-school algebra.

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for almost a year, the sheer size of it is more than some of the other “Science of …” or “Physics of …” books, and also I didn’t feel like I knew superheroes well enough to read it just yet. Now, after having watched all of the Superman and Batman movies (though not the animations or series), X-Men and Avengers etc. I felt I probably knew some of them. Alas, there were still superheroes and villains I hadn’t heard of, but it didn’t make much difference in the end, as there are some of the comic strips of the important scenes, so you get  the story.

I liked how it is fun to read this book – it’s not just this superhero can do this – x is the equation or law governing his power – he can/ can’t do that really. Rather you get to read the side of the comic book writers and real science and there are only rare equations, when they’re really necessary.

It’s not a textbook, so not every physics law is presented, but the content is fun, so I’d really recommend reading it, although if you’re going to be using the physics knowledge gained from this book while watching a superhero movie with friends they might not be too happy unless they also like to point out scientific inaccuracies.

It’s a great book! (And it  might make you want to find out more about superheroes.) Also  I don’t think that knowing about the scientific possibilities or improbabilities would take anything away from watching a movie or reading a comic-book, if for you it does, then maybe this book is not for you…

It reminded me of a lot of scenes from The Big Bang Theory series. Like this one:


I also did a short video review of it:


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