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Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World Hardcover – December 11, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


An entertaining, maybe indispensable guide for film buffs everywhere.


"A grand roundup of technical movie masterpieces... praising scientific accuracy (A Beautiful Mind) and exposing turkeys (Volcano).

(Los Angeles Magazine)

An engaging and fun read.

(Claude Lalumière Locus)

Hollywood Science is great fun... I give it two thumbs up!

(David Schneider American Scientist)

A fascinating read that will have you heading to your local DVD store.

(Physics World)

This is a terrific book... Essential.


Hollywood Science is a treat for anyone who looks from their television set to the Moon.

(John Findura Fortean Times)

An exceptionally accessible book, Hollywood Science provides a very good catalog of the ways Hollywood has used and abused science.

(Neil Easterbrook SFRA Review)


The approach taken by Sidney Perkowitz is ideal and can accommodate science subfields such as cosmology, genetic engineering, volcanology, and robotics. I believe this book will be very valuable to bridging the gap between scientists, general readers, and non-science students. The book has great appeal for general readers and, in my opinion, will be a useful course book for college level courses in science and film. For the most part, the book is highly readable, provocative, and will be just plain fun to read for both general readers and college students.

(Brian Schwartz, Vice President for Research and Sponsored Programs, director of the NSF-supported Science and the Arts Program, and professor of physics at Brooklyn College)

Sidney Perkowitz's rollicking account of the encounter of science and the movies is just fun, from beginning to end. All of the ways Hollywood has dreamed up for your and my destruction, all of the alien, bug-eyed-monsters you want (and some you didn't even know existed) are contained in this marvelous romp through Hollywood's weird science.

(Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, author of Same and Not the Same)

In this engaging tour of science in the movies, Sidney Perkowitz disentangles fact from fantasy, explores stereotypes of the eccentric or evil scientist, and shows how sci-fi movies express our deepest hopes and fears about where technology is taking us. Essential reading for any movie buff.

(Evan Hadingham, senior science editor, NOVA)

There are many good books on the science fiction film but hardly any on the science of science fiction films. When a distinguished scientist like Sidney Perkowitz decides to write one, we had better pay attention.

(David A. Cook, author of A History of Narrative Film, Fourth Edition)

An engaging appreciation of both the delightful and the dubious in one of our favorite pastimes, the science fiction film.

(Greg Bear, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author)

Sidney Perkowitz provides us with an interesting and very useful study of movies that have a science thrust. Public science literacy in this age of climate peril and terrorism is the road to sanity and, as Perkowitz shows, the magic of the screen can do so much better.

(Leon M. Lederman, Nobel Laureate in Physics)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (December 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231142803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231142809
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,492,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
While they are often not the sort of films to win Oscars, science fiction movies have been around for nearly as long as there have been moving pictures, and Hollywood continues to pump out tales about time-traveling cyborgs, alien encounters, and man-made disasters. Sidney Perkowitz's new book, Hollywood Science, takes a look at a number of popular films that not only feature extensions of science but also a look at scientists themselves, what appears on the silver screen often being a reflection of our own attitudes and worries in a changing world. Movie scientists struggle with personal problems, become heroes, descend into villainy, push the boundaries of what is known, and sometimes acquire a taste for world domination, but how much of any of that is real?

Throughout the book, Perkowitz follows a predicable (and often repetitive format); a subject such as "encounters with aliens" is picked, a few well-known movies that fit the topic are summarized in the first half of the chapter, and the latter half is spent quickly confirming or debunking prominent situations in the films. For someone who isn't familiar with Terminator, Gattaca, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, or any of the other films mentioned this might be a fair approach, but for well-versed fans of science fiction this approach can be a little tedious. Even the discussions about the real science behind Tinseltown premises are a bit shallow and dry, and a more integrated approach, mixing discussions of the films with science instead of segregating them to opposite ends of the chapter, would have been more engaging.
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Format: Hardcover
"Hollywood Science" would seem to be a contradiction in terms. The Blob? Mothra? The Giant Mantis? Science fiction movies are a Hollywood staple, and they are also are disproportionately represented among the worst movies ever made. So how can Sidney Perkowitz, who is a research physicist and a professor of physics, take them seriously? Well, he doesn't take all of them seriously, but many he does, and even the ones that are turkeys have something to teach us. In _Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, & the End of the World_ (Columbia University Press), Perkowitz convincingly describes what is good and what is bad about science in the movies, and how sometimes even the bad is good. Movies are, after all, not reality, but the good ones have something to tell us about reality; and the ones that depict scientists or scientific efforts or disasters can prompt useful discussion, even in academic settings.

Perkowitz goes through sci-fi movies starting with the grandfather of them all, Méliès's _Le Voyage Dans la Lune_ (in which moon voyagers within a gigantic projectile are shot by cannon to the Moon). One of the movies he finds scientifically sound is _Twister_ (1996) which shows tornado-chasers trying to get research tracking gadgets sucked up into a huge tornado, so they can get more information on how tornadoes form. Another weather-themed movie is _The Day After Tomorrow_ (2004) which showed the things that might happen due to global warming. As Perkowitz points out, the rapid disasters in the film are pretty bad science, but still pretty good: the movie was very popular, and people who saw it came out with demonstrably higher concerns about climate change. Genes are a good topic for the movies.
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Format: Hardcover
The table of contents tells 99% of the story. Part I: "Dangers from Nature." Part II: "Dangers from Ourselves." So does Sidney Perkowitz, physics professor at Emory University, begin his tour of science's portrayal in the movies in his book, "Hollywood Science."

Why is this topic important? Well, as Perkowitz point out, "only about one in 300 Americans is a scientist." So your chances of running into one, as opposed to a Dr. Brackish Okun-like stereotype, are pretty slim. Couple that with the fact that "nearly one-third of American adults believe that astrology and fortune telling are 'very scientific' or 'sort of scientific,'" and we quickly see why movies are doing a better job of framing science than highschools.

All of which is to say (and Perkowitz says it best) "When new, little-understood possibilities and threats appear, science fiction films can inform, predict, and warn."
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