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Science Books

October 21, 2005

A Briefer History of Time
Stephen Hawking (2005)
ISBN: 0553804367

Hawking became somewhat of a science celebrity when he released his A Brief History of Time, in a field of science where celebrities are rare. He is likely to spark popular interest in physics yet again, as A Briefer History of Time continues to tackle the big questions. Seventeen years later and it seems that the big questions are still more or less the same: How did the universe begin and what is its future? While the questions may be the same, the theories to explain them have evolved, and Hawking has been one of the central scientific figures that has contributed to new knowledge about the universe we inhabit. Drawing on a lifetime of scientific discovery, Hawking lucidly explains in detail some of the more recent and perplexing characteristics of the universe. Hawking's superior knowledge and grasp of string theory and dark matter place him in a superior position to explain these complex topics to a general reader. Unlike A Brief History of Time, this account of space and time has been written in a much more accessible format. The name of the book is somewhat misleading, however. Rather than being an abbreviated version of his previous book, Hawking actually expands and elaborates on past theories in his usual playful and lucid style. A Briefer History of Time will also bend and twist your mind more than his previous work, as Hawking expands somewhat on the philosophy of space and time. At some points he might ask such abstract questions as why the universe exists at all. The new title's accessibility has successfully matched the popularity of the first book, and is sure to increase scientific knowledge and inquiry among non-scientists everywhere.

The Physics of Superheroes
James Kakalios (2005)
ISBN: 1592401465

James Kakalios, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, has probably spent just as much time reading comic books as he has studying to become a physicist. This is probably what led him to combine his two passions and write a book about the seemingly impossible physical feats performed by his favorite comic book superheroes. This is an excellent book, and you would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable way of getting to grips with physics. Kakalios draws his examples from all your favorite comic book characters, such as the Atom, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Ant-Man and the Hulk, to name but a few. He uses the characters to demonstrate basic physics by showing you what is and isn't plausible in the universe that we are familiar with. Did you know that Spiderman did not actually save his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, after she fell off the George Washington Bridge? Instead, Spidy killed her when he used his web to break her fall, because, according to Kakalios, Spidy's webbing stopped her fall too suddenly. Or perhaps you may not realize that gravity on Krypton is 15 times greater than it is here on Earth. Other characters like Magneto and Electro will teach you the finer points of electricity in a way that is a little less painful than the lessons their opponents are subjected to. Probably the most surprising thing about The Physics of Superheroes is how accurate and consistent with reality many of the comic book scenarios actually are, despite their apparent implausibility. After reading so many comic books, Kakalios is a bit of a comic himself, and he makes this a thoroughly entertaining read. Why can't all physics professors be like this? Highly recommended!

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