Cool Physics by Sarah Hutton

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Cool Physics by Sarah Hutton

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: This is a book that brightens your knowledge of the jigsaw pieces that make up the modern world of physics, but still leaves you to put them all in the right place.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Pavilion Children's Books
ISBN: 9781843653240

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If you aren't entirely sure about a phrase such as Christiaan Huygens states his principle of wavefront sources, don't worry – it was only in 1678 that it happened, so you're not too far behind in physics. Brownian motion, and the gravitational constant being measured both date from before the Victorian era, and all of these three things are on the introductory timeline in this book, which I think might well be proof enough that a primer in the world of physics is very much needed.

I did take issue with this being deemed for kids of all ages, however. It's certainly more GCSE than primary school, but then the phrase can often mean the childish adult. And that's where this book will get just as much mileage, from the mature person like me, who didn't get on with physics at school, can just about grasp it when Horizon or the RI Christmas Lectures feature it but finds it going in one ear and out the other. And certainly this book taught me things, and right from the off. I knew about Archimedes and his bath, of course, but didn't realise the discovery had an immediate end aim. I had always thought it was a thought experiment just for all our benefit, but no – his mind was set on proving the metallic content of a golden crown. At the other end of the scale, I don't think I was aware pulsars had to be in binary systems. And all that was before page 16…

The book is clearly designed to be suited to the young student. It's in full-colour, albeit of a mature, non-garish kind, despite the cartoonish illustrative style; it has box-outs to reaffirm things by pointing out how obvious these ideas are when seen in the real world (the tides being an example of gravity, etc); and things we can do for ourselves in our home labs – such as making toys with flashing lights, and our own cloud chambers, of a kind. But it's not at all afraid of delving in to the nitty-gritty, the leptons and entropy and so on. And, actually, I think that may be evidence of how this book won't serve everyone.

It's built of small double-paged essays, rather than the trivial little bits of writing you might expect of a book for schoolchildren – certainly it goes a long way further than just being the fantastic facts that the cover blurb promises. But in stepping away from the factoids I think you need some firmer structure. This doesn't haven't the feel of a graspable narrative with it, whether it be all of mass and gravity, and then the astrophysics, then something else etc, or whether it be chronological. And surely the electromagnetic spectrum should come earlier than it does, as so much before it needs the basics of it. The essays, as good as they are, seem to come at you a little higgledy-piggledy, and as we've seen this is a subject where a heck of a lot of care needs to be used to drum it into our boggling noggins.

That said, there is a wealth of information here, and a lot of it is clear, certainly if not on the first pass then on the second reading. It's a very educational volume, and many are the kinds of student or reader who will benefit. But be prepared to turn elsewhere for further edification.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The LIGO results are here, and are explained more fully in The Ascent of Gravity by Marcus Chown. First Science Encyclopedia by Dorling Kindersley is a perfect reference for all natures of science in the home.

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