Friday, March 8, 2013

Local Author Interview Series : George Hrabovsky

For the second installment of our Local Author Series (you can see the first one with Vernon Barger here), we were able to get in contact with George Hrabovsky, the New York Times bestselling author, citizen scientist, and Madisonian.  
  • How did you get involved in writing this book?

I was watching the video lectures that Leonard Susskind has and thought, “This would make a wonderful book.” So I looked to see if it was a book. When I found that it wasn’t, I contacted Prof. Susskind, introduced myself, and suggested that I could write the book. we exchanged some emails and he gave me the go-ahead. We would base the book on his lectures, but we would also include basic calculus and linear algebra for those who did not have a lot of mathematical preparation—trying to make the book self-sufficient. I sent his the first four chapters, two lectures and two interludes on calculus, and we decided to go ahead. I wrote the first two drafts, he wrote the third, and we worked through the final draft together using DropBox and email.

  • Did you start by basically transcribing the lectures, or did Susskind do the initial writing?  

I started by transcribing the lectures. Of course, it wasn’t just copying the lectures. You know, every lecturer fumbles around from time-to-time, so I made sure those things were cleaned up. Also, if I thought there was a better way to say something, I changed it. We operated under the principle that for the first draft I was to, “Write it any way you want.”

  • Were there any difficulties coauthoring a book long distance?  How did the two of you communicate / coordinate writing?

Sure, any collaboration has rough spots, this was not any different. Working halfway across the country was at times frustrating; it can take a day or two to work out something that would take five minutes in an office.

  • The first print run of your book has sold out.  What do you think about that?  Did the reception of this book exceed your expectations?

To say the least! I have long held the belief that there is an untapped reservoir of people who want to physics as a hobby—not crackpots, but serious people who just don’t want to go to school. The fact that so many people bought the book makes me feel good on several levels. Sure, it is nice to sell so many books. But on a deeper level it says something that there are so many people out there who want to learn how theoretical physics is really done, not just popularizations. The fact that we were able to provide a tool for those people is a really awesome phenomena—and a responsibility.

  • We understand that a book on quantum mechanics will be coming out in the near future.  When can we look forward to seeing that?  And will there be more books in this series?

Yes, a quantum mechanics has been written—though I did not collaborate on that project, so I do not know when it is coming out. I will either be collaborating on the third book (special relativity and classical fields) or I will be writing one of my own (either on mathematical methods or astrophysics).
You're a big Mathematica fan.  Did you use Mathematica for the typesetting? 
Yes, I wrote and typeset the book in Mathematica 7, 8, and 9. I produced all of the drawings in it, too.

  • Who wrote the introductions to each chapter?

Lenny wrote most of them, I wrote a couple. It was funny how that came about; we were writing about Galilean transformations and he was using Alice and Bob. I suggested George and Leonard. He countered with George and Lenny from, “Of Mice and Men". I suggested we introduce each chapter with it. A lot of people like it.

  • What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?

How the book publishing industry works. I have been a writer for 36 years and have published a lot of articles, reports, and the like. This is the first book I published through someone else. It was an eye-opening experience.

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