I don’t usually talk about physics, but today I’m bringing you two non-fiction physics book reviews! I understand very little physics. In fact, I barely scraped by with a C in my high school physics course. (That horrible class kept me from being valedictorian, but it’s fine. It’s fine! I might still be bitter ten years later, but it’s fine.) Coincidentally, I started dating a boy just after high school who was very interested in physics. Ten years later, he’s got a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Princeton. I still understand very little of it.
My uncle (who is also rather into physics) sent me a copy of The Quantum Labyrinth several months ago in hopes that I would gain more of an understanding of the field. Or maybe, if not the field, a little bit of what makes some people so interested in physics. I was also eagerly anticipating Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, so what better than to combine the two into one post?
I often think that I should read more academic-type books. You know, books that actually teach me something rather than just being fun. The Quantum Labyrinth definitely fits the bill. It’s well-written (though it can be a little dense at times) and the references to familiar places, names, and theories helped me slog through the more technical sections.
Going into this book, I knew next to nothing about John Wheeler, Richard Feynman’s friend and advisor during his years at Princeton. I have read a bit about Feynman himself since I read What Do You Care What Other People Think? a number of years ago. (Pre-blog and even pre-Goodreads account, it seems.) It surprised me to learn how interconnected the physics world was back in the 1940s. Imagine just popping over to Einstein’s house (coincidentally right down the street from where I used to live) or inviting Niels Bohr over for tea!
I don’t know that I’d recommend this for the average reader (it’s certainly not something that I would have picked up on my own) but it’s a good read for anybody interested in physics.
#mm18: read locally
So, as I said, astrophysics really isn’t my forte. Words are more my thing. I’m also pretty decent at explaining anything that can happen to your skin, since I have, after all, worked in dermatology for six years. But astrophysics? That whooshing noise you just heard is all of it going straight over my head. You should have seen me at an astrophysics conference in Scotland in 2015. I tagged along because, hello, extraordinarily discounted trip to Scotland?!? But yeah, I was a deer in the headlights the entire time. Good thing some of the other guys brought their wives and children. I might have died otherwise.
I figured that Neil deGrasse Tyson might be a good person to explain astrophysics to me. He seems like a good guy in interviews. But… I don’t know, I feel like this book might be a little too basic? It’s easy to understand and it’s well-written, but I don’t think I learned a single thing that I hadn’t already picked up from my horrible high school physics course and all of the million meals I’ve been forced to consume with large groups of physicists. I don’t consider myself well-versed in the topic — like, at all — but I didn’t really get anything new out of this.
I’d recommend it as a very basic intro to the field, but not necessarily for someone who already knows what astrophysics is and is looking to learn more.
Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge: into the great wide open
Have you read either of these books? How do you feel about physics?
Let’s talk in the comments!