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on May 3, 2011
If physics has rock stars, Walter Lewin is one. If physicist rock stars can have groupies, I confess to being one.

As I read the publisher's text about the book, I felt a little blush. Could that refer to me?! Truly, Walter Lewin's online lectures changed MY life. Sounds silly? Well it's true. Not only did I get very interested in a subject I thought out of my grasp, but I continued my education in physics. I "discovered" a lot of application of physics to my business practice. To shorten the story, I use physics in my business and my clients have benefited greatly and my career has blasted off.

Now, the book is like listening to Dr. Lewin talk. For a fan, what could be better? The videos of his lectures might be better but they are very math intense. The book is light on the math. That's good.

I do wish the book had more than than the too brief picture collection about 2/3'ds through. I would like some illustrations to go with the topical discussions. Still, overall, I love the book but that's because I see Dr. Lewin as a sort of virtual mentor. I could never afford MIT or qualify to get in to MIT. Dr. Lein's lectures opened MIT to me.

So a physics fan, and especially a Walter Lewin fan, will love the book. I hope every one of his students will buy two copies (I did)---cherish one and give the other away. Your gift may inspire the next Einstein (male or female).

The only negative? That beautiful Dutch accent, which lends itself to physics, doesn't come through in print.

Great read.
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on June 1, 2011
I have very little doubt that any university freshman who has had Professor Lewin for any physics courses will never forget the experience. Why? The book's cover says it all. In the first 69% or so of the book, Professor Lewin discusses basic physics - touching upon various topics such as Newton's Laws, gravity, optics, sound, electricity, etc. The physics is very elementary such that a science buff is not likely to learn anything new here. But the highlight of these discussions is the joy of discovery that they impart to the reader. The author's enthusiasm and amazement for his subject matter is truly exceptional. Throughout, he describes various demonstrations that he's done in class in order to illustrate some particular points - and relishes his students' reactions. He goes out of his way to ensure that the students have fun and will remember what they've seen. Also located in the earlier part of the book is a bit of autobiographical information: mainly Professors Lewin's childhood in his native Holland during World War II and how difficult and horribly tragic life was at that time.

In the next few chapters, comprising about 27% of the book, Professor Lewin discusses his professional life and achievements in x-ray astronomy. This was a treat for me because, once again, his enthusiasm does not cease to grace every page and the details that he provides were mostly new to me. Finally, in the last chapter, he discusses mainly his love for modern art.

Written in clear, very friendly and lively prose, this book should be of particular interest as much to high school students and university freshmen for the clear information that it contains as to the seasoned science buff for the way it is expressed and for the information on the discovery and evolution of x-ray astronomy. If all science classes were taught like Professor Lewin teaches his physics classes, there would probably be more scientists in the world.
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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.
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on May 30, 2011
What a marvelous book. Dr. Lewin presents physics in an enlightening and entertaining way that is a joy to read. No heavy math, just physics principles.

But (side note and not to discourage you from reading this marvelous book), if you want to truly see physics in all its glory go to the MIT website and search for "8.01 Physics I: Classical Mechanics" a video on-line course that Dr. Lewin taught in 1999. In the video course Dr. Lewin shows how physics is supposed to be taught. Do you remember high school physics or maybe an entry level college physics course and all the dry mathematical formulas that were presented with no rhyme or reason. Dr. Lewin develops the formulas and actually shows that they do what they purport to do. Warning: The course is calculus based and heavy on the math, but still a joy to watch.
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on June 21, 2011
This is a wonderful book. It takes the reader on a journey through classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves and Professor Lewin's area of long term research, X-ray astronomy. Although this outline mirrors to some extent the three MIT courses (now available to all, see the post Ellipses), this is more than a cut down version of these lectures.

Professor Lewin takes us on this journey with passion, with humor and with enthusiasm. On every page are connections to experiences in everyday life. These connections are not dry explanations of common phenomena but encouragements to the reader to test these ideas. I found myself having the almost uncontrollable desire to turn on a hose with the sun at my back and spin around to generate my own rainbow. I was also saddened that my shower and sun configuration prevents my own personal grasp on these rainbows. These small experiments are not solely qualitative but quantitative exercises. This powerful explanatory and predictive nature of physics is bed rock in the book. At every opportunity, Professor Lewin helps us to understand the enormous numbers (mass, energy, power, etc) of the quantum and astronomical scale by comparisons with values of these properties on objects and states on our human scale.

As testimony to the Professor's connection with the reader (we are another wave of students) there are repeated references to internet resources that amplify his words. I have provided some of these in previous posts.

The chapters on X-ray astronomy take us on the journey of a an active experimental research physicist. There is agony and ecstasy. This revelation of the invisible, distant and historical amazing view of the cosmos is "mind-blowing".

The book not only reveals the fundamental importance of physics in understanding the universe but weaves seamlessly the insightful views of a grand master physicist on issues of global importance: the energy crisis, human obesity, the safety of nuclear power, the Large Hadron Collider.

Finally, Professor Lewin gives us instructive glimpses of the formative influences of his life: family, the Nazi occupation and Holocuast (an ever-present shadow), Lady Luck (the visit to MIT, the opportune meetings with friends and colleagues) and the transformative powers of education and Art. It is also clear that "fortune favours the prepared mind".

May we all learn to enrich our connections with the world through education, reason and art. If the intelligence, enthusiasm and wonder that Professor Lewin conveys transforms us even a little, then bonus intra melior exi, i.e we enter good but leave better. What greater honour to a bestow on a brilliant teacher?
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on June 8, 2012
I am a great admirer of Prof. Lewin's teaching, and I suspect this book reflects problems due to the editor, literary agent, and non-physicist co-author. The book seems to be a hastily put together mash-up of three different ideas: 1) Insights into what is behind the on line lectures; 2) A first-person account of the early days of X-ray astronomy; and 3) A pre-college level "science is fun" book.

Some parts give wonderful insights into a master teacher and researcher, and will be of great interest to anyone who has watched his video lectures. The influences of WWII in Europe on his childhood, the breakdown of his first marriage while he was emphasizing his research, and the extent that he rehearses the lectures all present a human side to this professor.

However, most of the book is written at a level that is demeaning to anyone who has even taken high school level physics. Numerous very basic topics are brushed off with "this is too complicated to explain here." If the intended audience is even freshman college-level then things like Coulomb's Law and the decibel scale can be handled by the reader. I especially note that it should not be necessary to explain that the superscript 2 beside the letter r means radius squared!

On the other hand, if the goal is to encourage high school students to study physics, then presenting the main concepts with a comment that "understanding the details of how I got this result is a reason for learning calculus" would have been a better approach. Pre-college students need to see that science is something they can master if they study. Accounts of fundamental X-ray physics measurements and marital relationships are beyond this audience.

Numerous web links in the book are to images and further information located on non-archival sites, and I doubt if most of the links will still work after a few years. A better solution would have been a publisher-maintained web page so that web links could be updated as needed.
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on May 10, 2011
If you have not yet read For The Love Of Physics, I highly recomend that you do so. Please do not miss out on such an opertunity as to own and read this book written by the legendary Walter Lewin.

The book is so wonderfully written, Walter captured my attention from the very firs word and right straight through each chaper and to the end of the book. I loved it so much.

What a fabulous experience and oppertunity to see the world in a new way, and see all the beauty of the Physics behind it. Walter Lewin has proven that Physics does work and makes reading about it so enjoyable.

I have been a fan for several years now,and have seen all his lectures, and I will personally treasure this book, I love it. Walter Lewin really excells in this book, showing his love for Physics and Art, it is a real eye-opener.

I know that you all will enjoy reading For The Love Of Physics, I know I did.

Anne M. Bacchiocchi
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on October 13, 2011
This book is a quick read, most of it at a fairly low level technically (to an engineer). The first part of the book is 'science is cool' kind of stuff (rainbows, straws, magnets, etc), but Dr. Lewin, drawing from his long experience lecturing at MIT, does it with some flare and more depth than you normally would see. I took beginning physics at MIT before Dr. Lewin and remember some of the same experiments he describes, like the swinging ball to the chin, being done. I don't remember my physic professor riding a pendulum ball (cover picture), but interesting physics demonstrations have long been a feature of freshman physics at MIT.

The latter part of the book I think is the more interesting. Here he tells us about his professional work and interests outside the classroom. Dr Lewin was a pioneer and expert in the field of x-ray astronomy. He gives us an insider's view of how x-ray astronomy developed, tells personal stories about the launching huge helium balloons, we lean a little about how x-ray telescopes work. (I wish there had been more detail here, maybe an appendix on x-ray telescopes.) Near the end of the book we learn Dr. Lewin has another side as he tells us of his long and intense interest in art, that he owns far more art books than physics books, and has been a technical consultant to artists over the years.

I don't want to be unkind about the structure of this book, but it is pretty loose, a collection of unrelated topics. In the middle of a 'science is cool' chapter we suddenly find ourselves in remembrances of Dr. Lewin's childhood in Nazi occupied Holland. A factor may be Dr. Lewin's health, he tells us he recently spent a long time in the hospital. It is unclear how much of this book was written by Dr. Lewin, and how much was 'told to' a non-technical ("my immersion in a foreign world") writer his literary agent got to help him.
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on June 18, 2011
Would you like to remember all you once learned about how the universe works? Or learn all that you missed the first time round? Then this is the book for you: a clear and lively introduction to the wonders of the physical world, by a masterful teacher who knows how to explain even the most complex events of our material environmentFor the Love of Physics: From the End of the Rainbow to the Edge Of Time - A Journey Through the Wonders of Physics - and enlivens his narrative with autobiographical snippets from his quite extraordinary life. This long-time, world-renowned teacher and scientist from MIT was a witness to some of the darkest moments of 20th century history; he overcame these memories to demonstrate, to all his students and his readers, the enduring power of the human spirit. Read this book!
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on January 19, 2013
When people decide they should learn about physics they typically do one of two things, if they are trying to teach themselves they go to a book by someone like Stephen Hawking or Brian Greene or if they are in a class they go to a book like Serway's introductory physics text. Both are a mistake. In the case of Steven Hawking or Brian Greene they will spend too much time trying to puzzle out the meaning of physics new enough it will likely be proven wrong anyways. They are likely to leave understanding little about physics but the fact that it is complicated. In the case of Serway they are likely to spend too much time doing math that while important, is likely to chase them away from physics before they have any real understanding.

This book should come before any of those. Explanations of common every day events like rainbows or pendulums with only minimal math. The only reason I say it is the second book on physics you should read is that Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman is a better place to start. It gives little real explanation of physics but does a better job of changing your perception of physics. That book will give you enough excitement about learning physics to push you through the more complicated parts of this book then maybe even some of the more advanced texts on the subject.
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