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.
Also on Kindle:  
Review by Scotty_73


Popular posts from this blog

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 

An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

Artificial Intelligence - Yorick Wilks ****

Artificial intelligence is one of those topics where it's very easy to spin off into speculation, whether it's about machine conciousness or AI taking over the world (and don't get me onto the relatively rare connection to robots - cover designer please note). All the experience of AI to date has been that it has been made feasible far slower than originally predicted, and that it faces dramatic limitations. So, for example, self-driving cars may be okay in limited circumstances, but are nowhere near ready for the commute home. Similarly, despite all the moves forward in AI technology, computers are so-so at recognising objects after learning from thousands of examples - sometimes fooled by apparently trivial surface patterning - where humans can recognise items from a handful of examples.

Even so, we can't deny that AI is having an influence on our lives and Yorick Wilks, emeritus professor of AI at the University of Sheffield, is ideally placed to give us a picture …

Apollo 11 - David Whitehouse *****

The problem with doing a book about the Apollo programme is that it's hard to find something that hasn't been said before - but with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing just weeks away, the publication of this elegant book is extremely timely, and science-reporting veteran David Whitehouse manages to make the story feel fresh, even if you're one of the just 20 per cent of the world population who were alive on the remarkable day in 1969.

Although he has worked a lot with New Scientist, Whitehouse was for many years a TV journalist, and that comes through in his impressively engaging prose as he takes us back to the origins of the US/USSR space race that would lead to the moon landing. He passes through the wartime aspects relatively quickly, but once the two superpowers are flexing their space technology muscles, Whitehouse achieves a near perfect balance between the far less-heard USSR side of the story and the US. This is probably the best bit of the whole bo…