Book 147: Einstein’s Cosmos by Michio Kaku

Einstein's Cosmos

Einstein’s Cosmos by Michio Kaku

Finished reading on July 21st, 2014

Rating: 9/10

Kaku’s “Einstein’s Cosmos” fits Albert Einstein’s life and work into less than 200 pages of highly readable story that gives insight into Special and General Relativity and also his try to find a Unified Field Theory without going into too much detail about the physics nor about Einstein’s private life… although you can read about Einstein not wearing socks.

In general I found it enjoyable and more of a book that’s good as an introduction to Albert Einstein or for getting a historical context for better understanding his work and it ends with some of the more important examples where Einstein’s work had great influence and some of the solutions to Einstein’s equations such as time travel and black holes.

Although I’ve previously read some biographies/ books about Einstein’s life and work I still found this quite interesting, although most of it was repeating things I’d already read about, but the writing is just excellent.

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Book 144: Collider by Paul Halpern

Collider by Paul Halpern

Finished reading on June 23rd

Rating: 8/10

Halpern’s “Collider” tells the story of how scientists over the past century or so have discovered elementary particles, at the same time introducing the scientific methods and the people behind the discoveries.

It is an informative read, and definitely a good introduction to the topic.

It makes for interesting reading, as the book starts with Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and elementary particles and the hunt for the Higgs boson, but on the way to the end of the book one can also read about how and why research in high-energy physics is important for cosmologists and astrophysicists.

The book is written so that one doesn’t need a background in mathematics or physics to understand most of the text.

I quite liked how the chapters seemed almost to melt into one another, and Halpern doesn’t stop on one topic too long so the reader won’t get bored reading for example about only one particle’s discovery or one detector in the LHC.

In “Collider” you get an impression of the scale of the instruments that are needed for cutting-edge research, and the accelerators mentioned are a good example of something that costs a lot for the tax-payer, although it’s not quite evident how the general public will (if ever) benefit from the research similarly to astronomy and ever bigger telescopes.

In the end of the book Halpern also tackles the topic of some of the fears that people have had concerning LHC and the possibility of creating miniature black holes, strangelets and magnetic monopoles and whether or not they’d even have any effect on Earth.

It would be good additional reading when studying elementary particle physics, to get a better feeling for the background etc.

Book 135: The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios

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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:

 

Book 81: What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

Finished reading on October 27th, 2013

Rating: 8/10

“What Is Relativity?” will be out on March 4th, 2014. I was lucky to get access to it sooner through netgalley.com.

As the book’s title suggests it’s about relativity. Both special and general theories get explained and they’re explained well using a lot of thought experiments and nearly no mathematics whatsoever.

It goes a little bit further as well, showing  the implications rising from relativity – black holes, expansion of the universe etc.

It was surprisingly fun to read and it took me two evenings to do it and considering it’s a book about relativity then that’s saying something. It’s not too simplified though, you still have to think every though experiment through if you want to understand what’s going on with the time dilation and what happens in a black hole.

I think this book would be a good read even for younger readers, as “What Is Relativity”  explains relativity in an accessible way and there are no equations to scare you off.

And finally it was just interesting and fun to read.

Book 44: The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo

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The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo

Finished reading May 25, 2013

Rating 9/10

It seems as if I’ve had this book for ages and only now I’ve managed to read it. I got it at the height of my interest in 20th century physicists. For some reason I only got as far as about 100 pages on my first try and after that it was trapped next to one of my biggest fears in my bookcase – “American Prometheus” by K. Bird and M.J. Sherwin. It is literally the biggest with ca 600 pages about Robert J. Oppenheimer and ca 100 more with notes etc…

Back to the book at hand.

The Strangest Man probably got it’s title from something that the famous physicist Niels Bohr once said about Paul Dirac, whose biography this book is, namely that Dirac was the strangest man he knew.

Probably to most people the name Paul Dirac says very little. Not so with physicists – the Dirac equation is one of the things already undergraduate physics students have to wrestle with. In this book there’s all the background for it, and even more – it almost seems to chronicle the beginning of quantum mechanics, it’s not just about Dirac, you also get a glimpse into the lives of the other famous quantum physicists – Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, etc.

If the former wasn’t successful in scaring you away from reading that book, then good! Because it does have some physics, but no equations, and you can follow mostly everything without knowing anything about quantum physics beforehand, it’s more history of one man behind it.

But now to the exciting part – why would the Nobel laureate Bohr think Dirac so strange? Well there were many great examples for what might make Dirac seem strange: he was very quiet and shy (but that’s usual), very literally minded, wanted to refuse his Nobel prize in physics because he didn’t like publicity and attention, but was persuaded that his refusal would get him even more attention. And if you’re ever asked do you know of a physicist who bought a baby alligator and sent it to his colleague, then it was Dirac, who sent it to George Gamow (Gamow’s wife opened the package and got bitten).

Book 43: The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss

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The Physics of Star Trek By Lawrence M. Krauss

Finished (and started) reading May 16, 2013

Rating 8/10

As the title says, the book is about physics – what is possible, what could be possible and what is improbable in Star Trek, there are also some plain mistakes in portraying physics in the series and the films which are mentioned in this book.

In essence though you’d be reading about teleportation, interstellar travel, holography, antimatter, search for extraterrestrial life and basically modern physics and technology.

Even if you’ve never heard of Kirk or Picard or haven’t come in contact with any part of the series or movies, then this book would still be fun to read. At some point I actually forgot that it had anything to do with Star Trek.

Although it’s physics, it’s really easy to read and understand and one could possibly read it in one go over a few hours because it’s just so good.

Warning: If you’re “allergic” to physics or despise science fiction keep a safe distance from the book!

 

Book 41: How To Destroy The Universe by Paul Parsons

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How To Destroy The Universe by Paul Parsons

Finished reading on May 9th, 2013

Rating 7/10

This book I got solely because of the title.  The book contains 35 chapters that have titles all starting with “How To”, for example contact aliens, stop a hurricane, turn lead into gold etc.  It covers a rather wide area of physics, so it’s interesting enough without being too difficult (although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that anyone can understand the concepts the way they’re presented in the book – some chapters require more thought than others.)

All in all it’s fun if you happen to be interested in science, if not – even the title won’t save you, because the chapter that’s titled “How to destroy the universe” only gives you ways how the universe might come to an end – the heat death, the big rip etc, not however practical ways of going about doing that, if you’d ever have the wish to do so.

It’s entertainment, but not on the same level as cartoons or comicbooks – more like opera or classical music…

Book 28: The Man Who Changed Everything by Basil Mahon

 
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“The Man Who Changed Everything” by Basil Mahon

Finished reading on January 16, 2013

Rating 9/10

When I had just started studying physics at university level, I found reading scientists’ biographies motivational, even though I might not have understood any of the science to a good enough extent.

James Clerk Maxwell was for me one of those scientists, whose name being mentioned in a lecture made me want to turn invisible, because it almost always meant having to deal with Maxwell’s equations.

I wish I had read “The Man Who Changed Everything” before I acquired a habit of trying to avoid any topics that dealt with electromagnetism. Mahon’s writing is amazing. And the book is truly great.

I’d highly recommend reading this book to any physics student or science buff, but also to someone who might not be that well informed of physics or mathematics – you’ll hardly need it when reading.

James Clerk Maxwell is best known for his work in electromagnetism and statistical mechanics, but he also worked on the theory of colors and tried to explain how the rings of Saturn can be stable.  (one of the reasons I started reading the book was to find out what connection did Maxwell have to Saturn, as it’s on the cover..)

 

 

Book 26: Antimatter by Frank Close

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Antimatter by Frank Close

Finished reading 7.01.2013

Rating 8/10

So how about those antimatter engines? Bad luck if you read this book – you’ll realize it’s way beyond the Earth’s economy unless we find a natural source of antimatter in our Solar System’s vicinity.

It’s a rather good supplement to anyone interested in particle physics, and also for sci-fi fans in order to shatter your dreams of fast interstellar travel without wormholes 🙂

I personally liked it and didn’t find it too difficult (but then again particle physics is basically my second favorite branch of physics and I’m thus somewhat acquainted with it).

As a bonus it’s only around 150 pages and there’s barely any maths involved.

To quote Douglas Adams’ worlds Sirius Cybernetics Company’s Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser: “Share and enjoy!”

Book 25: The Joy of Physics by Arthur W. Wiggins

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The Joy of Physics by Arthur W. Wiggins

Finished reading on 6.01.2013

Rating 7/10

Having studied physics at the university level for 4 years might make it seem odd that I’d say it – but it’s rather difficult to see any joy in physics just by looking at it…

The book covers basically all of physics, making it thus a good place to start  when you’re even slightly interested in the subject. The Joy of Physics is great because it at least doesn’t diminish any interest one might already have, and rather adds some to it with really informative short biographies for some bigger names in physics.

The writing was clear and rather concise, there were equations and a lot of them, but it’s got cartoons!

The rather low rating is mostly caused by me being a snob and thinking that reading another book should give me more information that I didn’t know before. However I did like the four last chapters dealing with modern physics a lot.