The Physics of Superheroes The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios
Publisher: Gotham
Year: 2005
Pages: 384

I’m by no means a comic book fan. That’s a title better left to my brother (who, admittedly, doesn’t really even read them anymore), and even he was too young to appreciate Golden Age superheroes. I picked this book up more for the physics than for the caped crusaders, because I am first and foremost a nerd.

The Physics of Superheroes is a maddening mix of things: sometimes, I was horribly frustrated because I was being lectured about extremely simple concepts like F=ma; other times, I was frustrated because his explanations for more complicated concepts were going over my head. Kakalios doesn’t have Stephen Hawking’s aversion to formulas, and this book is full of them, as well as long explanations of said formulas, and an annoying tendency to verbally solve the numerical problem, which is not only efficient, but confusing as well.

What surprised me was the strange mix of implausibility and good science that permeated Golden Age comics. One would expect this book to completely destroy the comics, but more often than not Kakalios comes to the conclusion that the “science” is at least somewhat accurate; or, more likely, the science is accurate if you suspend your disbelief at the ridiculous origin or impossible nature of the superhero’s powers. Electro’s powers, for instance, are scientifically plausible once you forget that he supposedly got them after being struck by lightning (an event which, rather than giving one the power to store charges and control potential electrical differences, would burn his/her body to a crisp, or at least fry his/her brain)

It is a little dry at parts, despite Kakalios constant stream of witticisms. The book doesn’t suffer from a dearth of good science, or from bad writing; rather, it’s difficult because it’s a damnable mix of levels. It’s neither for beginners nor for experts: either one will find parts of the book good and others not. For those of you that like physics, you might want to skip ahead a bit.

§924 · January 3, 2006 · Tags: ·

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