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Two good books, but who will want to read both?
on July 11, 2011
This is a well-written book to whet your appetite for physics, if you know nothing at all about physics yet have a burning desire to learn about X-ray astronomy. I would think that narrows the audience a bit.
Physics was my favorite subject in college, and I have continued to read books for the layperson (Hawking, Greene, Kaku, etc.). Those authors have a way of explaining new leading developments in modern physics in a way that speaks to the non-scientist. Lewin has a way of explaining basic, established Newtonian physics that is easy to understand but won't appeal to many of us who have had a college course or two in general physics, or even a really good high school physics course. The best audience might be high school students who are about to take their first physics course.
This first part of the book takes on a conversational tone, talking down a bit, taking pains to reach us on our own level, almost like Mister Rogers if he had taught physics. ("See how revealing good measurements can be?")
The first two-thirds of the book covers a range of interesting topics, although I think that one of the author's favorite topics is himself and his wonderful teaching style. He has received countless accolades for his classroom presentation, and cares about teaching a lot more than many physics professors who phone in their lectures while focused on research, so he deserves credit. But he really wants us to know that he is able to get his students to roar with laughter, or shriek in delight--"The students' eyes widen....As you may imagine, it's really very dramatic and my students are always quite shocked."
The oddest thing about this book is the bulk of it talks about fundamental physics, but then he launches into a long section on his own research into X-ray astronomy, his various misadventures in launching and tracking observational balloons, and his important discoveries. This second section takes on a completely different tone, with more advanced subject matter, and seems aimed a different audience than the first part.
This is a very accessible book for general audiences but depending on your interests and background you will probably just skim over one half or the other.