50 Physics Ideas you Really Need to Know – Joanne Baker ***
I am not sure exactly what audience this book is intended for, as it isn’t quite a coffee table book and yet neither is it a reference work, indeed it falls somewhere between the two.
The title is an accurate description of the book’s content (although it could be argued if anyone really does need know these ideas or not!) – the author describes within the space of two or three pages each, 50 diverse concepts in physics such as Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, the EPR paradox, chaos theory, the photoelectric effect, Hooke’s law, etc. Baker does a fairly good job of describing the relevant physics behind each idea, however there are some silly errors here and there that distract from the text. In places it would appear that tighter editing would have improved things no end. However, the range of physics covered is admirable and all the big physics ideas that you would expect to find in such a book are all present, and by and large correct.
Along with each idea covered there is a timeline along the bottom that shows how the idea originated and was developed. There are also the occasional box outs which contain interesting little snippets about the physicists involved in discovering each idea, or showing how one idea is connected to the others covered in the book. Accompanying most ideas covered are nice, straightforward black and white diagrams that help clarify the physics.
One aspect of this title which I found soon became mildly irritating was the one or two word ‘condensed idea’ summary at the end of each concept’s description. Rather than being a punchy or memorable way of summarising things, this actually comes across as rather glib and flippant – undermining what the book sets out to do.
If you approach this book as a physics dictionary – albeit with lengthy definitions – then you will get the most out of it. It is not a title that is really designed to be picked up and read in a single sitting, it is the sort of book that you dip in to now and then to refresh your memory and as such would be a useful addition to a school library as a revision aid. However because it is written in a very accessible style it may well be of interest to the general reader who wishes to learn a bit more about the fundamental laws and concepts of physics.