Friday, June 22, 2012

Physics and Science Fiction

Science fiction is a very popular genre among many groups.  For physicists and other scientists the genre can be fascinating, exploring plausible possibilities based on current scientific understanding.  Other times it can seem so loosely based in reality that the joy of the story can be overtaken by complete absurdity.   No one expects works fiction to be totally accurate and possible with every law of physics known.  Sometimes authors can alter the rules and imagine future technology in a way that makes sense.

Insultingly Stupid Physics: Hollywood's Biggest Mistakes, Goof, and Flat-Out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe

So what are some of the best science fiction works based on sound science?

Have you read any science fiction books that really nailed the scientific plausibility?  Or maybe one that was based on ridiculous pseudoscience?  Let us know in the comments, or better yet, submit a review to the blog!

Sources and Links:

Physics Today Bookends

Are you interested in discovering new books about physics recommended by those in your field and reading author interviews? If you're here, it's safe to assume so.  After you've read all our posts, there are other resources to explore.

For example, Physics Today's Bookends is an awesome section of the magazine's website that features a monthly interview with one of the authors reviewed in the magazine, links to their book reviews, and other lists and articles.  This month the interview is with Spencer Weart, author of The Rise of Nuclear Fear (which is currently available in the Physics Library stacks!).

Also don't forget to check out the new display in the Physics Library of a few of the books recently reviewed in Physics today magazine.  We'd love to hear your opinion too - submit your own review to this blog!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: Drift : the Unmooring of American Military Power

Maddow, R. (2012). Drift : the unmooring of the American military power. New York: Crown.

A great book!! Almost finished reading. Discusses how the lack of congressional backbone and the diminution of public attention has changed the way we go to war.

Copies of this book in the UW system

Submitted by Ugo Camerini

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin : an American Life

Isaacson, W. (2003). Benjamin Franklin : an American life. New York: Simon & Schuster. Benjamin Franklin cover

An easy read. Describes the life of that lascivious scoundrel and his many scientific accomplishments. Almost finished reading.


Submitted by Ugo Camerini

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

May New Book Feature, Part III

Here it is, folks, the final installment of the May New Books Features (Part I and Part II are already up).  I know you all are enjoying the wonderful weather we've been having, but perhaps you should visit the Physics Library where you can pick up a riveting new book to read by the pool.



Steane, A. M. (2011). The wonderful world of relativity : a precise guide for the general reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This book is an excellent introduction to relativity for physics and mathematics novices.  The author uses many illustrations, charts, and simple equations to expand the reader's understanding and appreciation of the topic without being overwhelming.





Everett, A., & Roman, T. (2012). Time travel and warp drives: a scientific guide to shortcuts through time and space. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Like The Wonderful World of Relativity, Time Travel and Warp Drives explains the theory of relativity, but takes it one step further.  Although we cannot yet travel through time, the authors present possibilities for the future that are scientifically plausible under our current understanding of physics.

Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Slow reading, the book explains that wo systems drive the way we think.  System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.  Not finished reading.

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries

Submitted by Ugo Camerini

May New Book Feature, Part II

Here's Part II of the May New Book Features.  If you missed Part I, check it out here.  Remember, if any of these books sound interesting to you, please stop by the library to check it out (and remember to review them on this blog once you're finished)!

Randall, L. (2011). Knocking on heaven's door : how physics and scientific thinking illuminate the universe and the modern world. New York: Ecco.

Lisa Randall sets before the reader a broadly sweeping explanation of physics and the contemporary scientific process.  She not only manages to explain the current state of both particle physics and cosmology to the non-scientist, but she also describes the contemporary process of science, illuminating how scientists decide which topics to study as well as how they answer them and why it's important.



Weinberg, S. (2009). Lake views : this world and the universe. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Lake Views consists of a series of well-written essays by Steven Weinberg, organized in chronological, order reflecting on physics, religion, politics, and more.  Many of these essays have previously appeared as book reviews or articles in various publications and are preceded by a short introduction in this collection.  The binding quality of these essays is that they were all written at the author's home along the shore of Lake Austin in Texas.




Bojowald, M. (2011). Once before time : a whole story of the universe. 1st Vintage books ed. New York: Vintage Books.

Once Before Time is an account of how the universe was created and functions using loop quantum cosmology (LQC), a new theory devised by the author that marries Einstein's theory of gravity with quantum mechanics.  Most interestingly, Bojowald explains the advent of the universe using LQC and, unlike Einstein, can account for the big bang (or alternatively, the big bounce) theory.


Friday, June 1, 2012

May New Book Feature, Part I

The May New Books are an interesting bunch!  Here's a taste of two of the standouts.  Come down to the Physics Library to browse these books and many more.  

Boisot, M. (2011). Collisions and collaboration : the organization of learning in the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
Collisions and Collaborations Cover
This book describes the nature and process of "Big Science" using the ATLAS collaboration as a case study while attempting to answer the question of whether the cost of practicing Big Science is too large and the results too uncertain.  In the end, Boisot endeavors to use the ATLAS experiment to predict where Big Science is headed in the future.









Schlosshauer, M. A. (2011). Elegance and enigma : the quantum interviews. Heilelberg: Springer Verlag.

Elegance and Enigma CoverThis book is part of The Frontiers Collection and is a compilation of responses to Schlosshauer's questions to seventeen leading physicists and philosophers about quantum mechanics.  Schlosshauer gets fascinating answers to questions such as: what is quantum mechanics about? what is it telling us about nature? what is the experiment of your dreams? what is the role of philosophy in our understanding of quantum mechanics?

Thanks to anecdotes and stories sprinkled throughout the responses anyone can enjoy this book, from experts to students and the average layperson.

The participants include: Guido Bacciagaluppi, Caslav Brukner, Jeffrey Bub, Arthur Fine, Christopher Fuchs, GianCarlo Ghirardi, Shelly Goldstein, Daniel Greenberger, Lucien Hardy, Anthony Leggett, Tim Maudlin, David Mermin, Lee Smolin, Antony Valentini, David Wallace, Anton Zeilinger, and Wojciech Zurek.

Don't forget to check back - we'll be featuring more new books next week.

May New Books

Summer book image
Photo credit: MJaqueline
The May new books have hit the shelf!

Now that summer has begun, perhaps it's time to start your summer reading - and where better to begin than at the Physics Library?  You can check out the list on our May New Books page and stay tuned to the blog through next week - we'll be highlighting some of the most interesting books added to our collection this month.