A British physicist and science presenter for the BBC joins the growing genre of popular authors who assure readers that science is fun.
For two decades, a simple Google search has answered our questions about why the sky is blue, how popcorn pops, and the reason you have to whack the bottle in order to make ketchup flow, but this hasn’t yet stemmed two centuries of traditional books that explain science to readers who don’t know any or may have forgotten it. In her debut book, Czerski (Physics/Univ. Coll. London) accompanies her entertaining, somewhat scattershot material with personal stories, jokes, and cute footnotes. She loves weird facts (a duck can stand on ice without freezing its feet) and extremes (the deep water of the Atlantic is moving south at one inch per year), but she is also a thoughtful educator who has done her homework. Each of nine long, anecdote-filled sections revolves around a basic element of physics. Thus, the energy in the universe remains constant; it can’t be created or destroyed but only changed from one form to another. Humans interrupt an energetic process—e.g., falling water with a dam, solar radiation by a silicon panel, decaying ancient plants in a coal furnace—and then allow it to proceed in ways that benefit us. Staying alive requires continual extraction of energy from the environment, and the chemical reactions inside our bodies that sustain life must keep matters far from equilibrium. Although many healing philosophies teach that perfect health requires balance in all internal processes, living creatures achieve equilibrium only in death. Throughout, the author’s voice is enthusiastic, and most readers—physicists excluded—will learn something about physics.
Light but genuinely informative writing for readers who have forgotten their high school science.