Book Review: For the Love of Physics

Physics coverThis book is a great introduction to physics for both new college students and anyone interested in learning the way things work. The authors “present physics as a way of seeing our world, revealing territories that would otherwise be hidden to us…”

The principle author Walter Lewin is an astrophysicist who teaches core physics courses at M.I.T. His co-author is Warren Goldstein, chair of the history department at the University of Hartford. In the introduction, Goldstein writes that Lewin “gives a hint of Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown in the movie “Back to the Future,” the intense, otherworldly, slightly mad scientist-inventor.”

The book covers, in an understandable way, everything from Newton’s laws of motion, gravity, atmospheric pressure, electricity, magnetism, the physics of rainbows, and the strange world of black holes. Each of the 15 chapters gives a narrative of principles of physics and some practical examples along with some history of how the principles were developed. They describe experiments you can do (and experiments you shouldn’t do) and provide weblinks to videos of many of the experiments and classroom lectures.

Within the larger story are some interesting tidbits. For instance, Lewin notes that his grandmother told him that we are shorter standing up than lying down. Lewin tests this and finds that gravity tends to compress our bodies to make us short in the vertical position. Apparently NASA was ignorant of this fact. In the early days of space flight, the astronauts complained that their spacesuits were too tight. In the weightlessness of space, a 6-foot astronaut would be 2 inches taller, thus making his suit too small.

I found the explanation of rainbows quite interesting and will now look at them for some special features Lewin points out.

Reading this book made me think of some of those “home video” TV programs that show people falling, getting hit, or crashing into things. They are learning physics the hard way. Make it easier on yourself by reading the book.

I also learned that M.I.T. provides free courses online: http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

You can view videos of Lewin’s lectures and experiments here.

The book is published by Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster. You can find the book at Amazon.

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2 comments

  1. ………..This one of those very rare books books that make you truly smarter and more knowledgeable than when you started. First of all the history of theoretical particle physics and the search for a theory that unifies classical physics and quantum theory. Third the culture of the physics community and how it influences the first two..Its also one of those books that just stops you in your tracks every once in a while.

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