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The physics of superheroes

by James Kakalios

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The Physics of Superheroes   (2011-03-30)

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by wppalmer

The Physics of Superheroes (2006) by James Kakalios, published by Gotham Books (New York)
Reviewer: W. P. Palmer.

The fact that `The Physics of Superheroes' should be published by Gotham Books (a subsidiary of Penguin Books) is very appropriate. The foreword by Lawrence Krauss gives a good introduction as does the author's preface.

The question arises `Who is the book aimed at? What is its purpose?' One audience is the enthusiasts for Marvel Comics (and other comic series) who are as adept as the author in the knowledge of which superhero rescued whom and when and in what circumstances. I am not sure that this audience is numerous- in fact I suspect it is now fairly minimal. There may also be an audience of scientists or science teachers who find the analysis of the science behind science fiction fascinating. Again, this is a small audience. The audience that is needed is the ordinary person who enjoys the occasional `Spiderman' or `Superman' movie and enjoys these movies because they are novel and exciting. This is the audience that I fear this book won't reach, but it is a good try!!

I liked some portions of the book- like the curate's egg, it is good in parts. I suspect that it is almost better considered as a reference work, which can be dipped into a chapter or two at a time. As a chemist, I liked the explanation of why miniaturization is not possible, as in Asmov's `Fantastic Voyage', which was one I had not considered before (the fixed size of the atom). Sometimes from a physics point of view a few lines of equations is simpler than several pages of text explaining the same thing, which is a problem for any book trying to explain physics in words.

For those teaching physics in schools, if used judiciously, a few examples selected from this book could increase the fun which science provides in the understanding of physics.


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