New book: A User’s Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty, by Dave Goldberg *00 and Jeff Blomquist (Wiley)
The author: A physicist who is interested in the interface between science and pop culture, Goldberg has contributed to Slate.com and appeared on WNYC’s Studio 360 to discuss time travel. An associate professor of physics who studies theoretical and observational cosmology at Drexel University and earned a doctorate in astrophysical sciences at Princeton, Goldberg believes — contrary to its popular reputation — that physics can be fun.
The book: Goldberg and Blomquist, an engineer at Boeing Aerospace, gives nonphysicists an overview of popular physics topics in this accessible, irreverent, and humorous book. They answer questions such as “Are black holes real, or are they just made up by bored physicists?” “How empty is space?” “Where do atoms come from?” and “Is it possible to build a Star Trek-type transporter or a working time machine?”
There is no math or equations (save one: E=mc2); instead each chapter begins with a cartoon illustration by Blomquist that features an “inexcusably terrible pun” and a “question about how the universe works.” The chapter then provides the answer. “Our aim,” the authors write, “is to find some middle ground between those who appreciate the underlying majesty of the physics foundation and those who would rather gag themselves with a spoon than be caught dead within a hundred yards of a protractor.”
Opening lines: “The life of a physicist can be a lonely one. Imagine this: You sit down in an airplane, and the person next to you asks you what you do for a living. You reply that you’re a physicist. From here, the conversation can go one of two ways. Nine times out of ten, the first thing out of his or her mouth is something along these lines: ‘Physics? I hated that class!’”
(Photo courtesy of Wiley. Synopsis by Katherine Federici Greenwood)