Skip to main content

Physics for Future Presidents – Richard A. Muller *****

Sometimes I see a book title that is so brilliant that I can’t help feel (as a writer) ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’ This is just such a title. It’s a brilliant concept – the physics any decent US president really ought to know to be able to make the decisions that face him or her.
What’s more, the contents live up to the title. Physics professor Richard A. Muller delivers some real surprises, separating what many of us think we know from reality. In five sections, handling terrorism, energy, ‘nukes’, space and global warming he delivers some devastating truths, putting across information that it’s hard to believe any president has really grasped – yet it’s so important that they do.
I don’t want to go into too much detail – read the book – but, for example, in the terrorism section he points out that petrol (and aviation fuel) has more energy per tonne than TNT. This was why the Twin Towers came down on 9/11 – not because of the impact of the planes, but the energy released by the burning fuel. Each section uses the main theme as a starting point, but then pulls in other ideas. So, for example, while the space theme has plenty about the fact that manned spaceflight is not undertaken for scientific reasons (he argues strongly against it, encouraging much more unmanned space work), he also covers the use of gravity for remote detection, and the use of non-visible light (infra-red, radar etc.) in intelligence gathering.
One small gripe and one big one. The small gripe is that it’s a shame there isn’t a European edition of the book. Muller has used US units throughout, rather than scientific units (Fahrenheit temperatures instead of Celsius, for instance), which is ideal for the target audience of would-be US presidents, but less helpful over here. The big one is I think there is one big section missing – pure physics. It doesn’t really come through that there’s any need to do physics without an immediate application. In the past this has meant passing the crown for nuclear physics from the US, with the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, to Europe with the Large Hadron Collider (due to go live days after this review was written) – future presidents should understand the implications of not putting money into such valuable research.
All in all, without doubt, both the best concept I’ve seen in ages and an excellent fulfilment of the promise of the title.

Hardback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

The Lost Planets - John Wenz **

Reading the first few lines of the introduction to this book caused a raised eyebrow. In 1600, it tells us, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake 'for his radical views - that not only was the Sun just one of many stars, but those stars likely had planets around them as well.' Unfortunately, this bends the truth. Bruno was burned at the stake for holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith - for conventional heretical beliefs amongst which his ideas on cosmology were trivial. This was an unfortunate start.

What John Wenz gives us is a people-driven story of the apparent early discovery of a number of planets orbiting other stars, made by Peter van de Kamp and his colleagues at Swarthmore College in America, most notably connected to a relatively obscure star called Barnard's star. Wenz is at his best dealing with personal conflict. The book really comes alive in a middle section where van de Kamp's discoveries are starting to be challenged. This chapter works wel…

Bone Silence (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

Of all the best modern SF writers, Alastair Reynolds is arguably the supreme successor to the writers of the golden age. He gives us wide-ranging vision, clever concepts and rollicking adventure - never more so than with his concluding book of the Ness sisters trilogy.

Neatly, after the first title, Revenger was written from the viewpoint of one sister, Arafura and the second, Shadow Captain, had the other sister Adrana as narrator, this book is in the third person. It neatly ties up many of the loose ends from the previous books, but also leaves vast scope for revelations to cover in the future if Reynolds decides to revisit this world (he comments in his acknowledgements 'I am, for the time being, done with the Ness sisters. Whether they are done with me remains to be seen.')

As with the previous books, the feel here is in some ways reminiscent of the excellent TV series Firefly, but with pirates rather than cowboys transported into a space setting. Set millions of years in…