Physics fun!

March 3rd, 2006

Yes indeed, do I have a lot of things to tell you about my stay here at the Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. But that’s going to wait until I get home, because I want to show you some of the pictures I’ve taken along with the narrative. :-) In case you were worried, I’ve completed two of my three presentations, experienced one of the very bizarrest coincidences of my entire adult life, and suffered from a debilitating migraine my entire time here. BUT, the people are lovely and I’ve enjoyed myself immensely so far. One more lecture to go and I am free from being an “expert” for a while. (Can I express the irony with which I say this in text? I am surrounded by people who are genuine scholars while I am no more than an amateur. Every time I speak here I am desperately hoping to not make a fool of myself.  ^_^)

In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you the book I have been reading whilst I travel. My friend Jennifer Ouellette has been a physics writer for many years. She has recently published a book – Black Bodies and Quantum Cats – which discusses in completely understandable down-to-earth terms and concepts some of the most major breakthroughs in physics over the centuries. I cannot recommend this book enough – and not just ’cause Jen is one of the few people on this planet I am absolutely postive can snap me like a stick.  (She and I met because we both do Martial Arts.)

The book draws on pop cultures references and examples to make plain many of the most important concepts of physics. Reading this book is very much like sitting with Jen and chatting in an amiable way about physics history. From thermodynamics to nanotechnology, from photographs to foam, and from the Addams Family to Reddi-WhipTM, Jen’s book is a genuinely delightful romp through the concepts that quite literally make up our existence.

The narrative is casual, and does not pretend to be more knoweldgable than thou. Jen does not hesitate to insert the occasional caustic opinion or wry comment, and I think that adds rather than detracts from the text. I enjoy a book in which I feel that the expert is talking to me, rather than lecturing. The people profiled in the book are, as to be expected a little heavy on the DWM (Dead White Males), but she does not forget non-European/American contributions, and she dedicates a chapter to several early female physics pioneers. Nor does she refrain from pointing out that those women’s contributions and lives were adversely affected by many of the men around them being tedious. Why should she? The truth is, men worked REALLY hard to keep women out of the math/science loop, and it would be absurd to act like they didn’t. (I’m a little vehement about this, because one review I read of the book – by a man, naturally – complained about this chapter, saying that it was tiresome of Jen to make such comments. So, we shouldn’t be aware that some of the women had to overcome not just the usual sexism of the time, but also extra added adversities like being denied heat and light so they could not study and yest they found ways of reading anyway and excelleed in their field. That would be bad to know…why?)

I’ve always been fascinated by physics, (especially astronomy,) so I found this book to be pretty much just the ticket for me. Any lack of understanding I have about the concepts discussed are entirely my own – the fault definitely does not lie with the author. I am not a physicist for a reason. ^_^

I was quite surprised to find that Jen mentions me in the endnote – I was genuinely touched at that. But don’t think I’m just reviewing her book because of that. I am reviewing it, because it’s a damn good book and if you have any curiosity at all about the world around you, you should read it.


Overall – 8

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2 Responses

  1. Serge says:

    I thought it was “Physics is phun!” ;)

    This sounds like an awesome book, the last science book I read was about string theory, which was pretty accessible, but there was some things I didn’t completely grasp.

    I’m definitely getting this.

  2. I thouhgt you might – this review was really for you. :-)

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