Saturday, October 23, 2010

E=MC Squared---Simply Physics by Jeff Stewart

Why Balloons Rise, Apples Fall, and Golf Balls Go Awry

I'm not great with anything too scientific.  I took high school physics and was pretty much laughed out of the class.  See, with English classes, you can bluff a bit...throw in some big words, use the phrases "poignant" and "intriguing" often, and you can pretty much wing it.  (I hear you saying my review process is similar!) Really, there are no wrong answers in English.  Of course, that approach didn't work out so well in physics, and chemistry was also a disaster.  I pretty much destroyed my GPA between those two subjects.

In any case, I felt a twinge of stupidity when I received E=MC2 to review...was it going to be too tough?  Would I have to resort to calling it poignant with intriguing explanations of the scientific method?  Actually, no.  Like the other books in the newest Reader's Digest series (I've reviewed two in the past and am hitting you today with two more), these are readable and the explanations make sense.  I hate to think that the subject has been dumbed down, but maybe that's the key.  For those of us who simply don't grasp things we can't really observe, this book is the way to go.  It takes scientific principles but explains them in real-life examples, like car crash statistics or golf ball trajectories. 

The book is broken into the different disciplines:  Forces, Momentum, Energy and Power, Heat and Matter, Waves, Relativity, and Quantum Physics are just some of the subsections.  My favorite was Waves because it explains both sound and light waves as well as the force of motion in oceanic waves.  It discusses the interference principle, but also the power of each wave in proportion to its height, and then goes forward to a real-life example of how exponentially stronger waves that come with hurricanes behave, and why they cause so much damage. 

It also explains the Doppler effect that you see on nightly weather forecasts and shows how that relates to what is known about the far edges of the universe.  Stewart uses examples from the movies The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to explain the principles behind momentum.

This certainly is the most complicated of the books in the series, so it's definitely geared to an adult with curiousity about the natural world and the laws of physics:  these laws don't change, and understanding how they work isn't just interesting, it's helpful in real life.  A teenager or brainy preteen might also enjoy the explanations.

Special thanks to Julie Harabedian of FSB Associates for the Review Copy.

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