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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.

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Review by Scotty_73

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