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Showing posts from April, 2014

Quantum Mechanics – The Theoretical Minimum – Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman ***

I saw this book on the shelves in my local booksellers which are usually reserved for books which are new, interesting and likely to sell a lot of copies. They were right on two out of three, but they were in cloud cuckoo land on the ‘lot of copies’ part (unless we get a ‘Brief History of Time effect’ where lots buy it and don’t read it). This is a new and interesting book, and for the niche it is aimed at it is brilliant – but that is a narrow niche indeed. Usually there are two kinds of science books. Popular science explains what the discoveries and theories of science, with historical perspective, so that the general reader can get a feel for them – but reading a popular science book on, say, quantum mechanics would not leave you able to solve quantum mechanics problems. Textbooks, on the other hand, teach the actual science itself, usually with a lot more maths, so that you can indeed do the workings, but they don’t give you any context, and they are inaccessible (and, frankly, …

Wizards, Aliens and Starships – Charles L. Adler ***

Subtitled ‘physics and maths in fantasy and science fiction’, this is one for the hardcore science fan. In fact the best reader may well be a scientist who likes a bit of science fiction and wants to play around with how likely all the science in the stories really is. Strangely, the most readable part is the first section, where Charles Adler deals with the goings on of fantasy, rather than science fiction. I think this is because we don’t really expect the science to work in fantasy, and we can enjoy laughing at distortion of the conservation of energy, or the second law of thermodynamics, and thinking about the physics of dragons. But when the book starts to pull apart basics like space travel, it feels like something of a betrayal. Once we got onto science fiction, Adler shows us that practically every major theme of space-based science fiction from the basics of space travel being possible to constructing vast space stations and ring worlds and the like is all extremely unlikely …

A Rough Ride to the Future – James Lovelock ****

James Lovelock is unique, both as a scientist and as a writer. He may be most famous for his Gaia hypothesis that the Earth acts as if it were a self-regulating living entity, but has done so much more in a 94 year life to date. A Rough Ride (not to be confused with Jon Turney’s Rough Guide to the Future) is an important book, but it is also flawed, and I wanted to get those flaws out of the way, as I’ve awarded it four stars for the significance of its content, rather than its well-written nature. It is, frankly, distinctly irritating to read – meandering, highly repetitive and rather too full of admiration for Lovelock’s achievements. But I am not giving the book a top rating as a ‘well done for being so old’ award – far from it. Instead it’s because Lovelock has some very powerful things to say about climate change. I’ve been labelled a green heretic in the past, and there is no doubt that Lovelock deserves this accolade far more, as he tears into the naivety of much green thinking…