From Publishers Weekly
Sg/jsAn English major turned science writer, Ouellette describes physics, that most mathematically demanding science, using books, TV shows, movies and other pop culture mainstays, and the result is remarkably fresh and immensely readable. Starting with Da Vinci, Ouellette uses-what else?-The Da Vinci Code to explain the divine proportion before taking the reader on an anecdotal tour of the blacksmiths, shopkeepers' sons and royalty who tinkered with their curiosities, cumulatively advancing a science from Copernicus' looking at the sky, through Einstein's theory of special relativity (explained in terms of Back to the Future and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen), until today's subatomic string theory. All major theories and breakthroughs, along with the personalities that brought them to life (including a particularly ruthless Thomas Edison and a resourceful patent clerk named Chester Carlson, who built the first photocopier in his Astoria, New York, kitchen), are presented clearly by the reader's pop-culture escort. It is a credit to Ouellette that, as the reader progresses into more complex theories, the TV and movie references aren't nearly as interesting as the science.
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Although she is a self-described "physics phobe," literature major Ouellette writes a monthly column for the American Physical Society's magazine. And she's good at it. Readers of these 50 pieces will feel her companionship as a fellow layperson sharing her interest in physics history. Hooking the audience with some movie or sf novel, Ouellette delves into the real physics behind a literary device. For example, her article about special relativity plays off Marty McFly's time trip in Back to the Future; Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon prefaces the tale of Robert Goddard's rocket. Several pages in length, each article stands alone, and the funny slang titles compete for attention: what will one read first, "That Darn Cat" (about Schrodinger's famous cat) or "Copy That" (about Chester Carlson, inventor of the photocopier)? Arranged chronologically from Leonardo da Vinci (tied to The Da Vinci Code) to the top quark (introduced via My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Ouellette's entertaining explications of physics encourage generalists to give physics a try. Gilbert Taylor
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