Physics for Future Presidents Physics for Future Presidents by Richard A. Muller
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Year: 2008
Pages: 384

I consider myself relatively well-informed when it comes to contemporary topics in politics and world affairs; this is especially true in topics of science, which tend to interest me. It becomes difficult to keep all the relevant facts organized, however, especially as the amount of knowledge necessary to cope with the news has grown.

Space exploration; nuclear energy; bioterrorism; global warming: these are only a few of the sensitive topics that a potential future president will have to deal with. This is exactly the hypothetical audience that Muller has written for: you, as reader, are a commander-in-chief-to-be, and are reading this as a primer to cut through the bullshit about the delicate decisions you will need to make.

I’d never heard of Muller before picking up this book, but he appears to be a widely published professor; as well, he received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, which aren’t given to just anybody1.

Muller begins with an explicit discussion of September 11th, and the oft-quoted physics behind the effective burning and collapse of the World Trade Center towers; this topic of terrorism becomes a springboard for the other potential sources of terrorist violence, which Muller then analyzes for their relative risk and likelihood. Gasoline, he tells us, is a remarkably efficient source of energy. Plain old fossil fuels such as gasoline or natural gas are in fact much more dangerous in the hands of terrorists than anthrax or even a dirty bomb.

Nuclear power may surprise you the most; Muller, clearly, is on the side of those who believe that nuclear power is safe and effective, sneering at some of the fearmongering which greatly overstates the danger from radiation. The author isn’t what you could brand as a leftist, I don’t think, or an environmentalist; I was actually surprised at the vehemence with which he support nuclear power, given his usually careful stance.

Climate change, too, is significantly more understated than I would have expected. Muller doesn’t deny human-caused climate change, though he quibbles about its extent, and even delivers a few politely nasty blows to Al Gore (“propagandist”).

For better or worse, Muller’s approach is effective, even with the surfeit of “output per unit” phrases. A lot of the science will surprise you; it’s an excellent primer on these very relevant issues, and I would recommend it even for people who don’t normally follow much science.

  1. Admittedly, so did George Saunders, and I don’t think much of him as a writer.[]
§4519 · October 2, 2009 · Tags: , , , , , ·

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