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by James Kakalios

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2005
ISBN: 1-592-40146-5
Publisher: Gotham Books

How do you teach someone physics? Relate it to the life of a superhero.

Kakalios (Physics/Univ. of Minnesota) uses comic books in the classroom to illustrate the principles of physics. He notes early on in this approachable primer that the most common question from physics students is, “When am I ever going to use this stuff in real life?” He adds that when he incorporates superhero comics into lessons, students “never wonder when they will use this information in ‘real life.’ ” Kakalios draws examples from the so-called “Silver Age” of comics, which ran from approximately 1956 to 1973. He sticks for the most part to the better known heroes like The Flash, the X-Men, Spider-Man and, of course, Superman. The scientific scenarios are often complex, though the author does his best to break them down for the layman, discussing, for example, how much energy The Flash needs to run, and calculating how many cheeseburgers would be required to keep him moving. One of the book’s better sections deals with what actually happened in one of comics’ most-discussed tragedies: the death of Spider-Man’s love, Gwen Stacy, dropped from a great height by the Green Goblin and saved from impact by Spidey, who finds that “the fall” had already killed her. Kakalios shows that it wasn’t the fall that did it but velocity (stopping someone abruptly with a web would probably break his neck). With passion, genial affability and a penchant for bad (truly bad) jokes, Kakalios ably relates the most baffling of theorems. If only he had done more with Batman.

A book that mixes pop culture and science without drawing lines between the two.