It’s ironic that the editor of this website, Brian Clegg, has occasionally said he can’t see the point of books with a series of short articles on a subject… only to end up editing just such a book here. I usually review children’s books and this format is very familiar to me – the two page spread, with text on one page and a large illustration on the other – but I do accept it’s more uncommon in adult non-fiction.
For me this particular example works well. If I’m honest, though, the cover made me nervous. With a combination of an ungrammatical title and a picture of E=mc2 crossed out (something that never features inside) it seems as if it may be verging on pseudo-science, but actually the topics (written by a collection of highly respectable authors, including Jim Al-Khalili on the foreword) are the bits of physics that were once or are still challenging and that take people by surprise. In other words, the interesting bits.
The book is divided into seven sections – quantum physics, relativity and time travel, particle physics, cosmology, astrophysics, classical physics and technology. (Ok, that last isn’t really physics, but it’s technology that is physics related.) Each section also has a ‘historical’ entry that was once a little risqué but is now fairly straightforward, like Galilean relativity or the (not) flat Earth. It actually all works surprisingly well. There’s enough text to get a meaty little bit of information, plus a couple of bonus factoids, and some of the illustrations are rather fun.
It’s hard to pick out favourites among the 50 or so topics, but they range from the likes of ‘What if Schrödinger lost his cat?’ to ‘What if Maxwell had a demon?’ You get the feel, I think. Overall entertaining bite-sized physics that would make a good present or just something to read here and there.
Review by Jo Reed
Please note, this title is edited by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.