This clearly written and compelling look at physics and physicists offers “thousands of new ways to see our daily world more richly” (Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach).
For many of us, physics has always been a thing of mystery and complexity. K. C. Cole, an award-winning science writer, specializes in making its wonders accessible to the everyday reader.
This book uses lively prose, metaphors, and anecdotes to allow us to comprehend the nuances of physics: gravity and light, color and shape, quarks and quasars, particles and stars, force and strength. It also shows us how the physical world is so deeply intertwined with the ways we think about culture, poetry, and philosophy, and explores the workings of such legendary scientific minds as Richard Feynman, Victor Weisskopf, brothers Frank Oppenheimer and J. Robert Oppenheimer, Philip Morrison, Vera Kistiakowsky, and Stephen Jay Gould.
“An exemplary science writer . . . For readers without scientific background, Cole gracefully introduces relativity, quantum theory, optics, astrophysics, and other significant disciplines, never getting bogged down in unnecessary explanation. Thus, you may not learn all about thermodynamics from reading her chapter on it, but you will learn enough to think seriously about the entropy in your own life. Cole sprinkles her text with comments from famous scientists—‘Space is blue, and birds fly in it,’ said Heisenberg, and Faraday said, ‘Nothing is too wonderful to be true’—that are not only delightful in themselves but perfectly suited to her own text. No review of Cole’s book could be too wonderful to be true.” —Booklist
Contemporary physicists believe in, and depend on, theories and objects that, according to Cole, are now and always will be "unseeable... untouchable, unmeasurable, and sometimes even unimaginable." How can they do so, and why do they have to? Cole's admirable, clear set of essays will help lay readers understand and appreciate the laws, methods and language of working physicists, and of scientists in general. Where many science explainers focus on particular theories and gee-whiz facts, this volume (a reworked and expanded version of Cole's Sympathetic Vibrations) grounds itself in everyday experience (Why is the sky blue?) and explores the territory philosophers and literary essayists share with experimental physicists. Drawing on previous thinkers and writers from Newton and Einstein to Annie Dillard (and in particular on physicist and writer Victor Weisskopf), Cole explains how science uses metaphors; why scientists use, and need, many "wrong" ideas; how physicists learn to "see" invisible particles; what makes a theory beautiful; and how to distinguish between a force field, a force and a pseudo-force. Later chapters take on such specific key concepts of physics as wave-particles, relativity, resonant frequencies and quantum theory. Cole (who did the same for math in her The Universe and the Teacup) to balance concrete explanation and literary appreciation. Demystifying her peers' complex theories, she shows at the same time how "even our view of strictly physical forces such as gravity can have a profound effect on the way we view ourselves."