REVIEW: Physics in Minutes

Physics in Minutes feature


As with many other sciences, advances in physics tend to proceed in fits and starts. Banner years come in serial fashion, as one high-profile discovery leads to another, leaving out of date textbooks within their wake, while the more fundamental problems can take ages to resolve. If we freeze the frame in January 2016, some of the latest secrets the universe has revealed to us include the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in 2012 (confirmed on 14 March 2013), CERN’S observation of two new baryon particles which may be key to our understanding of the interactions of quarks, and the rumored confirmation of gravitational wave detections which caught fire just this past week (emphasis on the rumored). Meanwhile, dark matter, thought to make up 85% of the universe’s mass, was first theorized in the 1930s, yet we hardly know more about its properties today than we did back then.

Physics in Minutes, by contrast, is a snapshot of the state of physics circa the tail end of 2013. So the tentative confirmation of the short-lived, massive, and massively unstable Higgs particle is given its due, while the discovery of pentaquarks (a vital prediction of quantum chromodynamics), other instantiations of hitherto unobserved baryonic matter, and LIGO’s potential detection of actual gravitational waves (as opposed to imprints of primordial waves in the CMB vis-à-vis the BICEP2 debacle of 2014) don’t make the cut. On occasion, science moves quickly, but not quickly enough to overturn any of the foundational concepts described in this splendid primer.

As a shortcut to conversational competence, this 400-page cheat sheet of sorts delivers exactly what it promises. Key concepts throughout the various realms of physics—from the macroscopic scales of black holes and the universe writ large down to the subatomic world of nuclei and electrons—are unspooled with the right mix of jargon and everyday wordage. You won’t be giving lectures any time soon, but there’s enough on board to keep you afloat at the next cocktail party.

Perfect for lavatories and coffee tables, Physics in Minutes offers up accessible descriptions of the physical principles which govern the Universe and everything within it. Use it to refresh forgotten knowledge, revise common misconceptions or spark far-ranging conversations about existence. Just add thinking.

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Note: This review is mirrored over at Goodreads and at Amazon.