physics

Relativity by Antonia Hayes

 

I received a free ARC of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Ethan is a 12-year old boy who has a special knack for astronomy and physics. He doesn’t remember his father – he was raised by his mother and until recently, he never really felt that his life was lacking in the parental department. As he goes through changes, he starts to wonder more and more who is father is and why he isn’t around.

Mark Hall has been separated from his family for the last 12 years, but now he’s forced to come back to town. While he’s there, will he finally be able to face his past and what that tore his family apart?

Clearly, we all knew what drew me to this book – SCIENCE! I love books about characters that are hyper-intelligent and into physics. It’s even more fun when that character is just a child, and man is Ethan smart. In fact, it seems that he’s not just smart – he might even be a savant. He seems to actually see physics, with his eyes; the kinetic energy of a bouncing ball, or the sound waves coming from radio speakers. It’s normal to him since he grew up that way, but then he learns that something may have triggered this ability in him and the story gets a little more interesting.

So, I liked the first half of Relativity a lot. The chapters alternated between Ethan, his mother Claire, and his absent father Mark. Early in the book, the focus is on Ethan; his struggles in school, fights with friends, his changing body – normal boy stuff. He talks about how he’s read Stephen Hawking’s book five times, he watches for meteor showers, he muses on space-time. Later on in the book, the focus shifts a little bit to Claire and Mark and their ruined relationship, and even that was interesting. But by the last quarter or so, the focus was so much on the family’s past rather than Ethan’s present, and that’s where it lost me a bit. It became a little dramatic, and by the end I was wishing that the story had gone in a different direction.

That being said, I love love love the science talk. And if family relationships and dramas are in your wheelhouse, then this is probably a fantastic book for you. I’m just an oddball – I’m really in it for the nerdy stuff. Keep an eye out for it – this will be released on May 3rd.

~Sarah

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“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

“Later on I told this story at college to my fraternity brothers and they said, “Nonsense! You can’t do that!” (I often had this problem of demonstrating to these fellas something that they didn’t believe – like the time we got into an argument as to whether urine just ran out of you by gravity, and I had to demonstrate that this wasn’t the case by showing them that you can pee standing on your head.)”

You guys, this is the third Feynman book I’ve read this year! And I’m running out of way to say that he seemed like such a cool person, and you should check him out. This book is similar to The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, in that it’s really a collection of reflections by Feynman, except that this is more reflections on his life in general. I’ll be honest – even though I read and understood most of Six Easy Pieces by him, his physics and science talk still kind of intimidates me. He was smart on a level I can’t even understand. But what’s really cool in these memoir-ish books of his is that you can see how weirdly his mind worked, and what a crazy kind of person he was. The dude lived in Brazil, travelled to Mexico and Japan, hung out with Las Vegas show girls, studied hallucinations, worked on the atomic bomb, was annoyed that he won that Nobel Prize, excelled at things like playing drums and learning how to draw… he just had so much INTEREST in everything, and then totally went for it. He kind of wanted to learn how to draw because he didn’t really “get” art – he ended up actually selling his drawings and being successful at it. He started screwing around with drums because he was bored, and he ended up playing them for people in plays and in recordings for dancers. It’s NUTS, but so awesome.

Another thing I kind of realize – he was a bit of an ass. I mean really, he was a bit cocky, he seemed a bit loose in his relations with women, he took a stand on weird things (like being annoyed that he had to show receipts to get his travel expenses paid), etc. BUT he was also so weirdly cool and actually had a lot of integrity, and he just seemed like a fascinating person because HE was fascinated by a lot of things. There aren’t a lot of dead famous people that I would want to meet, but I think Feynman would be one of them. Anyways, this is a good classic memoir by a physicist, you don’t have to be science-y smart to read and enjoy it, and it’s especially perfect for reading a chapter or two at a time and then coming back to. And now I leave you with some more random quotes that I highlighted:

“It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”

“I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion….. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s a feeling of awe – of scientific awe – which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who also had this emotion. It could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.”

Sarah Says: 5 stars

The Gates by John Connolly

The Gates by John Connolly

My second John Connolly book! And I’m happy to say that I really enjoyed it, possibly even more than I enjoyed The Book of Lost Things.

The Gates is the beginning of a series – the third book just came out recently, but I have no idea if any more are planned after that. One day shortly before Halloween, Sam and his dog happen to peek into the basement of 666 Crowley Road and see a portal with a strange blue glow open and replace his neighbors with creepy demon look-alikes. It’s up to Sam with be brave enough to stop Hell from spilling into our world.

What I LOVE about this book is that the reasoning behind the portal opening has to do with the theory of the Multiverse, of which I’m fan. John Connolly started talking about the Big Bang and quantum mechanics and the Large Hadron Collider and I was literally grinning in delight.

 

Paranormal quirkyness mixed with particle physics is not a combo that’s done often in novels, so I was super excited about that. Sam is a funny kid and has a great cast of characters trying to help him. Even the demons were amusing. And there were hilarious, sometimes snarky little footnotes at the bottom that I liked a lot.

The Gates was a fun, quick little treat and I’m really looking forward to reading the next two books. Also, it’s a PERFECT Halloween read, even though I read it the week after Halloween. So keep that in mind for your Fall TBR’s next year.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman

 

Six Easy Pieces, Feynman

 

Yay, I’ve read my second Feynman book! And I have to thank Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl because she sent this to me when I won a challenge at her blog, and I’m super excited that I finally got to read it!

I have been wanting to read Six Easy Pieces for a LONG time. Basically, this is a collection of six excerpts from The Feynman Lectures on Physics (of which there are three massive volumes, and which I totally intend to get and slowly read, someday). These are deemed the “easier” bits, the intro-to-physics basics that aren’t deemed too technical for a general audience.

The first three chapters are pretty basic – Atoms in Motion, Basic Physics, and The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences. I found that third chapter particularly entertaining, even though it’s not a chapter you would learn a lot from. It was more of a “this is why physics is the most important and everything is connected” kind of thing. The fourth chapter, Conservation of Energy, was interesting but harder to understand, I think. I imagine that listening to Feynman explain these things out loud in a classroom setting while he’s working on a chalkboard or something helped a lot. The fifth and sixth chapters, The Theory of Gravitation and Quantum Behavior, were really enjoyable and enlightening, although there were more equations than I’m comfortable with in that last chapter. That has more to do with my horrendous math skills than with the book though – I’m sure that if you’re comfortable with that kind of math, it was probably a breeze.

If you’re not interested at all in science or physics, this is probably not the book for you. But I will say that if you’re even the tiniest bit curious, read Feynman. Most of the chapters in this book are informative, easy to understand, and filled with a sense of Feynman’s passion and wonder at the universe. I just really like the way that he looked at the world, and I can’t wait to read more books by him.

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

 

My Brief History by Stephen Hawking

My Brief History by Stephen Hawking

“I was born on January 8, 1942, exactly three hundred years after the death of Galileo. I estimate, however, that about two hundred thousand other babies were also born that day. I don’t know whether any of them was later interested in astronomy.”

Alright you guys, nerd confession: I haven’t read any Stephen Hawking book. (Correction: I’ve read one of the fiction books he’s co-written for children, and it was awesome, by the way. So I haven’t read any of his adult books.) I had only the vaguest idea of what his important contributions to science and physics were. I mean, you’d think that since I’ve been on such a science and physics kick for the last year that I’d have read A Brief History of Time by now, it’s a freaking classic, but I’ve been kind of intimidated by it. Anyways, I was browsing around the library and saw this little 126-page autobiography on the shelf for new non-fiction, and I grabbed it. It was PERFECT readathon reading.

This book is tiny, obviously, but it’s a fantastic intro to Hawking and his life. He quickly describes his childhood and schooling, his diagnosis of ALS, his work in physics and cosmology, up until present day. It’s hard to write an autobiography without coming off as an egotistical jerk, I think, but Hawking does it pretty well. He’s not self-pitying, and he doesn’t glorify himself. I got the impression that he’s more in awe of how fortunate he’s been, despite his hardships.

The shortness of this book has three advantages – you can read it in an hour or two, you get a lot of information about Hawking and his work, and it’s not tedious and bogged down with a million little stories and anecdotes (one of the things that steers me away from biographies, sometimes). And I guess I never really thought about it, but Hawking describes his decision to write A Brief History of Time and why he wanted to write a book for the population that was easy to understand, and I realize that my intimidation of reading it is SILLY. He purposely wrote it for the common reader to comprehend! So clearly I need to buy my own copy and read it really soon. In fact, I’m really looking forward to acquiring and reading all of his books.

I’m going to buy my own copy of this, because I really liked it and want it for my collection. I think my nephew will have fun reading it when he’s a bit older, too. Looking for a short, enjoyable autobiography about a fascinating person? Here you go!

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Edge of the Universe by Paul Halpern

Edge of the Universe review

Science pick-of-the-month fail.

Basically, Edge of the Universe is a non-fiction book tackling some of the biggest questions of the universe, those solved and those we’re still working on. That’s quite a hefty aim for a book – it discusses everything from the big bang to how the universe might end, and all of the stuff in between – dark matter, parallel universes, string theory, black holes, inflation, and a whole lot more. You guys know the science kick I’ve been on – this book should have been right up my alley.

Sadly, it was not. All of these topics were thrown together in a bit of haphazard way, and the author’s tone wasn’t consistent throughout. In parts, his writing was fun, whimsical, and excitable. In many other parts, it was dry, technical, and read like a textbook. Sometimes his analogies were great, sometimes they were more confusing than if he hadn’t used an analogy at all. It varied from chapter to chapter, and honestly even with taking notes, it was kind of hard to follow the author’s train of thought.

To be fair, some of the parts that bored me were on topics I’ve already read about a couple times – such as how we know that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old. So maybe the problem here was more mine – since I already have a bit of a background on a lot of these topics, it seemed redundant sometimes. And the author tended to give a lot of background and history with each topic – he even talked about Erwin Schrödinger’s tendency to cheat on his wife, which while interesting I suppose, was definitely unnecessary and besides the point. I was expecting a bit more of a focus on the science.

Overall… It wasn’t for me. I think that the scope was too broad, and he didn’t have a consistent approach. It just wasn’t what I was looking for, I guess. Paul Halpern does have another book called Collider: The Search for the World’s Smallest Particles that I might try. I have a feeling he might do a better job with a more narrow topic, and I haven’t read a whole book just about the Large Hadron Collider yet (although it will be a bit dated, since it was written in 2010 and the Higgs boson was tentatively confirmed to exist earlier this year).

Sarah Says: 3 stars

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Myrick

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TOLD YOU I was gonna read another Feynman book right away!

This is a bit of a biography about Richard Feynman, but it’s a graphic novel! How fun is that?! Pretty fun… (If you get the show I’m quoting there, you win at life.)

As far as content goes, I thought this did a good job. There were a lot of the same anecdotes that I read about in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, but there were a ton that I didn’t know yet PLUS some really brilliant pages dedicated to Feynman trying to explain his QED (quantum electrodynamics) work, and that was awesome. The authors clearly have a lot of love and admiration for Feynman. Even their bibliography at the end was fantastic – it went through a ton of the books and works that they used and gave a little detail for each one – what it was like, how it compared to other books, if it’s well-written, etc.

 

The art of the book wasn’t my favorite – it’s just not my style. But sometimes the art was cool, and below were some of my favorite pages because of the unique ways that the art added to the story. In the top left square, it shows Feynman’s thoughts about his wife and different calculations as he’s going about his day. In the top right square, the art is helpful in displaying Feynman’s explanations of QED. I liked how the people outlines are filled with numbers in the bottom left corner, and the bottom right corner is a flashback from his childhood, when his dad was reading to him about dinosaurs. Things like this are what make graphic novels really awesome, especially when it’s graphic novel NON-FICTION. (Which I guess isn’t a “novel”… but I don’t know a word for graphic novel non-fic, so there.)

 

 

Richard Feynman

Click to embiggen.

 

 

So basically, this was a pretty kick-ass book! Definitely going to by a copy for my own collection. And I can’t wait to read and learn more about Feynman. I’m enjoying the books about him, but I’m thinking that next I’m going to pick something written BY him – either Six Easy Pieces (physics) or Surely You’re Joking, My Feynman! (book of stories about his life, by him).

 

Sarah Says: 4 stars

 

 

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman

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“There is the value of the worldview created by science. There is the beauty and the wonder of the world that is discovered through the results of these new experiences. That is to say, the wonders of the content which I just reminded you of; that things move because the sun is shining, which is a deep idea, very strange and wonderful.”

How did I go so long without reading any Feynman? Actually, I know why – it’s because I wanted to read some of his books on physics, but I was also a little intimidated by him. I knew Richard Feynman was a really important physicist, and what I heard of him kind of painted this picture of a strange, hippie-ish man who used lots of out-of-the-box thinking to explain things. I finally ended up reading this book, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman because a friend gave me his copy (thanks Tom!)

This is something I think everybody could enjoy reading, and as it’s a mix of his talks, interviews, essays, and more it’s also the perfect book for reading a chapter or two, setting aide, and then picking it back up later. I personally read it mostly in two days, but that’s because I was totally loving it.

There are a lot of personal reflections spread throughout the book – about his father teaching him to look at the world in a different way, about being a part of the Manhattan project, about how he earned his reputation as a lock-picker, etc. There’s one chapter that I just skimmed, and that was his report on the space shuttle Challenger inquiry. There were a lot of really enjoyable chapters about science and it’s place in society, the relations between religion and science, how to teach science, and so on. One chapter is even a talk that he gave in 1959 about the future of miniaturization – about nanotechnology, essentially. Pretty amazing, considering we’re just now really putting nanotechnology to use and getting better at it.

Basically, this book gave a pretty good picture of Feynman, or at least I think so. You can practically see him standing up on a stage or in front of students giving some of these speeches. (I bet he’d be awesome on audiobooks, I think his physics lectures are on audio.) He seemed to have a brilliant way of looking at things and at the world, and I love that his passion for science and physics practically oozed out of the pages. You can DEFINITELY expect more Feynman-related reviews in the future – I already put some more books about him and by him on hold at the library.

“Is nobody inspired by our present picture of the universe? The value of science remains unsung by singers, so you are reduced to hearing – not a song or a poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.”

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

 

 

Paradox by Jim Al-Khalili

Jim Al-Khalili

Well what a little treat this book turned out to be!

Back in February when the honeyman took me birthday book shopping, I saw Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics on one of the displays and thought that it sounded interesting, so I grabbed it. And it was! So interesting, in fact, that I was reading the first chapter in the bath and didn’t notice the tub was overflowing. I finished the chapter and then noticed how high the water was, and then that it was halfway across the floor… yeah. Apparently I find brain teasers (which is really what the first chapter is about – The Riddle of the Missing Dollar, the Monty Hall Paradox, etc) REALLY engrossing.

The first chapter is some of the common brain puzzles (some would call them paradoxes) that people often try to figure out, and he solves them using either logic or some probability math. The rest of the book focuses on some of the most interesting and debated paradoxes in the scientific world. The author, Jim Al-Khalili, shows that these aren’t actually paradoxes at all – they can be explained using science and physics, and he patiently introduces and explains each one. You can read this without any background knowledge because he does take the time to give you the information you need to understand the solutions. Since I’ve been reading about physics for a little over a year now, I was proud that I already knew and understood four out of the nine he discusses. (And actually, the ninth is not paradoxical in the slightest, which kind of bothered me. It was more an idle musing, but still interesting to hear him discuss none the less, since it had to do with life elsewhere in the universe.)

So, if you’re wondering how a time traveller could go back in time to murder his own grandfather (Grandfather Paradox), how a cat could be both dead AND alive (Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox) or how a pole moving at a high speed could be shorter than if it were stationary (Pole in the Barn Paradox), you’ll enjoy reading through this. All of them are definitely possible and real, and it’s so fascinating.

The author did a really good job – he wrote in a way that speaks directly to the reader and has a sense of fun, whimsy, and passion for science that made reading this book really, really enjoyable. He wasn’t afraid to joke around, which made all of the difference. I’m looking forward to reading his other books.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy & Stephen Hawking

 

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Weeeeeeeee this book was so fun! Like, I’m really excited to buy it for myself AND for my nephew Josh. I kind of stumbled across this book on accident. I was at the library looking in the kid’s section for the A Series of Unfortunate Events books and this one caught my eye on the shelf. It’s about the universe, and it’s a kid’s story, and it’s written by Stephen Hawking and his daughter! Obviously I had to check it out.

George’s Secret Key to the Universe is about George, a young kid who is fascinated by the stars in the sky and wants nothing more than a computer, which his technology-resistant parents refuse to buy him. One day chasing his pet pig, he discovers that the long-abandoned house next door has people living in it! A young girl with a penchant for playing dress-up named Annie lives there with her dad Eric, who is a scientist, have moved in. Eric and Annie let George in on a secret and show him their super-special computer, Cosmos. Cosmos is the most advanced computer there is and can show them the wonders of the universe – literally. George has plenty of adventures travelling in space ahead of him – but someone else has more evil plans for Cosmos, and it’s up to George to save the day.

Okay so even without the super-nerdy stuff that I enjoyed, like explanations of how stars are born, what asteroids are made out of, and so on – this is a really fun kids book. There was a creepy, maniacal bad guy and bullies and a science contest and a growing friendship between George and Annie and a wonder computer and it was actually really exciting and action-packed! PLUS there are cool little inserts throughout the book that explain some of the science terms and there are several sections of color photos!

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A peak inside the book…

 

After finishing the book, I was really happy and realized that I definitely have to buy this for my nephew – he’s 8 and really into space, and I think that this will be a interesting book for him; some of it might be a little over his head, but plenty of Amazon reviewers said their 9-year olds enjoyed it, so it should be fine. He’ll enjoy the story, even if he can’t wrap his head around the idea of a black hole just yet.

I was thinking “Man, I hope that the Hawkings write a sequel…”  Well, it turns out there are two sequels already! I’m planning to buy all three books for myself to read and keep, and I think I’m going to buy the first book for my nephew for next Christmas 🙂 Too bad his birthday just passed! And I’m hoping that when my other niece and nephew get older, they’ll enjoy these books too.

Anyways, this is a really cute, fun story that has the added bonus of sneaking some learning in. I HIGHLY recommend it! Seriously, if you have kids around 9-12 who like to read, get this for them even if you think that they aren’t into space. They just might be after they travel around the universe with George for a bit.

Sarah Says: 5 stars