Great Lakes Geek Book Review

The Physics of Superheroes
By James Kakalios

The Physics of Superheroes

I first read this book when it came out in 2005 and recently stumbled upon it again.

It's fitting that the Foreword for this book was written by Case's Lawrence Krauss. As author of The Physics of Star Trek, Krauss is uniquely familiar with weighing pop culture against scientific principles.

Kakalios, a professor at the University of Minnesota, coupled his love of comic books and science into a popular freshman seminar he teaches called "Everything I needed to know about Physics I learned from reading comic books."

It's a fun book and covers a surprising amount of Physics. Like all Physics classes, it begins with mechanics - forces and motion. By tackling the Superman story, the author gives a nice practical intro to Newton's Three Laws of Motion.

He asks if Superman really could "leap tall buildings in a single bound" and discovers that it is possible (given his birth on Krypton.) He leads us through a calculation that determines that the gravity on Krypton must be 15 times greater than on Earth.

Most of the examples he chooses (from Superman, Spiderman, the Fantastic Four and so on) actually prove to be scientifically possible, if not probable.

We then learn about impulse and momentum while looking at Spiderman swinging on his web threads, Friction and Sound with The Flash, Properties of Matter with Ant-Man, the laws of Thermodynamics with the Atom, E&M with Electro and Magneto, up through modern (Quantum Mechanics and Solid State) physics.

Each section has enough interesting background and tidbits about the comic book heroes that the science is digested fairly easily. The last two sections are fun - super hero bloopers and the most frequently asked questions.

The FAQ includes who is faster: Superman or the Flash? Answer - The Flash. Who is the most realistic (Batman) superhero and most unrealistic (Superman)?

And finally, what we've all wondered - what's the deal with the Hulk's pants? Why do they stay on and fit while his other clothes are ripped? Could it be fabric made from unstable molecules? Gamma rays?

Tune in next review, same time, same channel.

Great Lakes Geek Rating:4 out of 5 pocket protectors.

Reviewed by Entreprenerd Dan Hanson, the Great Lakes Geek

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