Skip to main content

The Physics of Superheroes – James Kakalios ****

Would Superman really be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound in the real world? Could Ant Man shrink to insect size whenever he needed to? And what do Spiderman’s battles with his archenemy Electro teach us about electricity?
By combining his passions for comic books and physics, James Kakalios succeeds in writing a lively, humorous and entertaining book. As he explains in his prologue he uses the physics of comic book situations with his students in order to give them a better understanding of concepts such as mechanics, energy, electromagnetism, etc. by placing the science into an approachable context.
The author’s knowledge of numerous superheroes antics is certainly comprehensive – however don’t be put off by this as Kakalios does an excellent job of explaining the scenario the heroic protagonists face, often illustrated with the appropriate pages from the comic book in question. He then uses this to explore the relevant physics in a clear and very accessible fashion. So if you have never read a superhero comic in your entire life, this won’t mar your enjoyment.
The scope of this book doesn’t allow for a tremendous amount of depth within the physics covered – but you will gain a good solid understanding of many of the central ideas discussed. The most joyous aspect of this book for me was that in many cases the comic book authors got their physics right (admittedly more by luck than judgment!)
This mix of admittedly two exceptionally ‘nerdy’ subjects is not everyone’s cup of tea, and as with any book of this type, exploring the physics of some aspect of pop culture, it will probably be of most appeal to existing comic book fans. If you’ve ever watched the exploits of superheroes at the cinema, or have thrilled to their adventures in print and wondered how likely it all is, then this is the book for you.
Paperback:  
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Logic - Eugenia Cheng ***

This is an important book, though I'm not sure Eugenia Cheng would agree with my logic in saying so. 

Going on the marketing, what we have here is a counter to fake news and dodgy argumentation in the form of mathematical logic. The back cover tells us 'Newspaper headlines and social media use emotions to warp the facts. Politicians and companies master rhetoric to mislead us. What one book could help us make sense of it all?' Admittedly they don't answer their rhetorical question, but I assume the answer is intended to be The Art of Logic. (Did the company behind this book realise it was using rhetoric, though presumably not to mislead us?) 

What we actually have is a combination of a lucid and interesting explanation of the basics of logic with the mathematical equivalent of those books such as Algorithms to Live By that were so popular a couple of years ago. They used the logic of algorithms (differently worded, and, to me, easier to understand), the heart of computer…

Quantum Economics - David Orrell ****

David Orrell's earlier title Economyths is one of my favourite popular science books of all time. Or, perhaps, I should say popular non-science, as Orrell shows just how devastatingly traditional economics uses the tools of science without having a scientific basis. I was, therefore, really looking forward to reading Orrell's new book - until I saw the title. As anyone involved with physics can tell you, there's nothing more irritating than the business of sticking the word 'quantum' onto something to give a pseudo-scientific boost to waffle and woo. Was Orrell doing the same thing? Thankfully, his introduction put my fears aside.

Orrell, a mathematician with a physics background quickly makes it clear that the way he is using quantum theory is not just employing magic words, but involves making use of strong parallels between the nature of quantum objects and concepts like money (more on money in a moment). Yes, this is to some extent a metaphorical use of quantum …

The Ashtray - Errol Morris *****

Wow. When someone suggested I read a book called The Ashtray, written by a documentary film-maker, it didn't strike me that it would be a book that gave deep insights into the history and philosophy of science - while also being a remarkable reading experience. In fact, I almost didn't bother with it, but I'm glad that I did.

The titular ashtray was thrown at the author when he was a grad student - thrown by one of the two best known names in the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn, he of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the concept of paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't like the young Errol Morris daring to challenge his ideas and reacted with what some would regard as a less than philosophical reply by hurling a heavy glass ashtray at him.

Part of the reason that reading The Ashtray is a remarkable experience is because it's a book that feels in some ways like watching a documentary. I have to confess I've never seen any of Morris's work, but he uses vis…