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Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World Paperback – February 23, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231142811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231142816
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 1900-01-00)

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 1900-01-00)


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)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Brian Switek on January 4, 2008
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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 21, 2008
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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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on February 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is the third book that I've read recently on science as depicted in Hollywood movies; the other two being: "Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics" by Tom Rogers and "Don't Try This At Home" by Adam Weiner. Whereas these last two focus on specific movie scenes and analyze their plausibility (or impossibility) using mathematics and the application of sound scientific principles, this book is more general in its approach. First of all, movies are divided into two broad categories: those involving natural disasters and those involving disasters caused by humans. Then, movie story lines are recounted to varying degrees of detail; some movies are described in about a paragraph, while others are described over a few pages. After the descriptions, the science content is discussed in terms of whether it was well presented, possible, exaggerated, or complete nonsense. The social climate at the times when the movies were made is also discussed in an effort to understand the psychology of choosing the scientific subject matter that was presented. Finally, movie depictions of scientists are discussed and compared to scientists in the real world. The only shortcoming that this book may have is that some of the story lines that are presented are much too long and detailed for the purposes of this book; a person who has seen a given movie, possibly more than once, may be displeased at encountering a rather lengthy description of it. Otherwise, the book is quite engaging. The writing style is clear, friendly and accessible. This book can be enjoyed by anyone - math phobic or not; however, I suspect that it would likely appeal the most to science fiction movie buffs.
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