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How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary 1st Edition

20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471748175
ISBN-10: 047174817X
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Editorial Reviews


Books on how things work often adopt a format that gives equal space to each device described. So the flush toilet, say, might get the same number of words devoted to it as the internal-combustion engine, even though the latter is far more complicated. In How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary, Louis Bloomfield avoids that trap by taking just as long as he needs to explain things. And that's exactly what he does, explain things, his chapters having such titles as "Things That Involve Light," "Things That Move With Fluids, "Things That Involve Chemical Physics" and so forth. The result is something of a cross between those familiar (and often less-than-satisfying) how-it-works guides and a full-blown physics textbook.

Although Bloomfield demonstrates considerable knowledge about the history of science and technology, his aim is clearly to explain how things work rather than how they were developed. Thus his treatment of the transistor very appropriately jumps straight to the field-effect transistor, which is fairly easy to understand, without first explaining its more complex predecessor, the bipolar transistor.

Bloomfield also shows excellent judgment about how far to dive in. (One exception here is his cursory treatment of magnetic resonance imaging, a technology that is admittedly very difficult to explain in anything other than a superficial manner.) His section on the microwave oven, for example, helped me finally to understand how a cavity magnetron works. Bloomfield also straightened me out on the difference between a turbojet engine (above, right) and a turbofan engine (left), a distinction I hadn't at all appreciated. And he even clued me in on why the front fork of a child's bike isn't curved forward. All but the most hard-core technophile should find many similar moments of enlightenment in this delightfully informative book.—David Schneider

From the Inside Flap

Key in two minutes on your microwave, and your popcorn mysteriously cooks. Press a button on your iPod, and you suddenly hear music. Turn a dial on your air conditioner and your sweltering bedroom becomes habitable.

When you stop to think, the ordinary technologies and natural phenomena all around us can seem quite extraordinary. Today’s cars, computers, copy machines and other technologies may appear to operate according to some dark, unseen magic. But the truth is, fundamental physics principles can explain how every technology works––no matter how jaw dropping or complex.

Now with Louis Bloomfield’s How Everything Works, you can get inside the seemingly inexplicable gizmos and gadgets that are part of the fabric of your everyday life, and understand the physics that makes them work. An acknowledged expert on physics as it applies to everyday life, Bloomfield uses fascinating and fun examples, along with a unique ability to explain challenging concepts, to bring the subject of physics to life.

As How Everything Works examines everything from roller coasters to radio, and knuckleballs to nuclear weapons, it provides the answers to such questions as why the sky is blue, why metal is a problem in microwave ovens, and why some clothes require dry cleaning.

Filled with intriguing insights, How Everything Works is nothing short of a user’s manual for our everyday world. Even if you’re not the kind of person who typically likes to take things apart to see what makes them work, you soon will be.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047174817X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471748175
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 1.2 x 10.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #756,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Louis A. Bloomfield is Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia and author of How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary (Wiley, 2007).

Bloomfield received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1983 and was a postdoctoral fellow at AT&T Bell Laboratories before arriving at the University of Virginia in 1985. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his research in atomic, condensed matter, and optical physics, including the Apker Award of the American Physical Society, a Presidential Young Investigator Award of the National Science Foundation, a Young Investigator Award of the Office of Naval Research, and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and he is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Bloomfield has also been widely recognized for his teaching of physics and science to thousands of non-science students at the University of Virginia and is the recipient of a 1998 State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award and the 2001 Pegram Medal of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society. He is the author of almost 100 publications in the fields of atomic clusters, autoionizing states, high-resolution laser spectroscopy, nonlinear optics, computer science, and general science literacy, and of a recent introductory textbook entitled How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life, 3rd Edition (Wiley, New York, 2006).

Bloomfield also works extensively with professional societies and the media to explain physics to the general public. He frequently serves as a physics consultant and as an expert witness on legal matters that require a broad understanding of physics and scientific issues.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Steve P. Chasey on May 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've read a number of science books over the years, some under duress, and others for the pleasurable bending of the brain that it provokes. This book ranks right alongside Hawkings' Brief History of time in terms of perspective-altering clout. Bloomfield's style is clear and concise, never lost me in the mumbo-jumbo, and is radiating with his own voice, a voice that is clearly ecstatic over the physics of microwaving metals, the curveball, and every other type of everyday physics you can imagine. He even made P-N junctions hilarious, if you dont know what that is, just look for the section about theatre patrons being hurled around by gorillas...

For days after reading this book I found myself wondering about the physics of things going on around me, and often able to come up with some realistic, (at least to my mind!) explanations for them based on the principles in How Eevrything Works.

If I'm sounding a bit like a big cheerleader for this book, that's good, I would encourage anyone to pick it up and read it through, if for no other reason than a few trippy days afterwards, staring at elevators and water pipes in awe.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Romulus on June 19, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
[Update 09/07/2015: This book, like physics itself, stands the test of time. Since writing this review in 2008, I was lucky enough to find 2 other excellent books that should be on every reader's bookshelf. See the end of this review for details and links.]


I have bought hundreds of things from Amazon, books and otherwise, and have never felt the need to leave a review. This book is so phenomenal in its clarity, depth, and topic range that I simply feel obligated to rave.

Although I'm a grad student in CS my knowledge of physics is very weak, and there was a time when I dreaded physics in college. So when I ordered this book I was expecting something along the lines of an idiots guide. When it arrived, the textbook-like layout almost scared me off from reading, but when I started I couldn't put it down.

Almost every big question I've asked myself about the physics of the world I live in is answered clearly in this book, given our current state of knowledge. The planets and their relationship to calendars and cycles, eclipses and tides. Electricity. Light. Electromagnetics. Semiconductors. Airplanes. Buoyancy. Nuclear reactors. Power production, and on and on and on. So much, and described so well, that I've decided to put several weeks aside to enjoy this book.

For instance, in answering a question about electricity the author will take you on a seamless journey from Edison's initial ideas to modern distribution systems, to resistance, to types of current, to transformers, to voltage, to generators and motors, down to individual components like capacitors and semiconductors.

And the detail and flow is just beautiful.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By An Amazonian on February 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
Many of the popular physics books that have sold well since I started reading them about 20 years ago deal either with the incredibly small (quantum physics) or with the incredibly large/fast (relativity). These fields are where the action has been recently, so that's understandable. But the physics that operates in machines and things we see around us every day is largely classical physics, and I wish I'd focused more on that. That's one reason I love this book.

It is incredibly interesting and almost always easy to understand. It explains all sorts of technology - there are sections on automobiles, woodstoves, musical instruments, air conditioners, et cetera. It uses very little math, but it is written for serious reading - it's about 700 pages long, and I've been working at it for months, on and off, and am about a third of the way through.

I love it. (By the way, much modern technology does involve quantum effects, so I'm sure there is some coverage of them in this book. But it's still true that the book focuses on things we use and can hold in our hands.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Bristow on June 16, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Lou is an outstanding teacher and his lessons come alive in his books. THIS IS NOT THE CURRENT EDITION. I knew that when I bought it because, as an educator, I was interested in the concepts and the physics did not change between editions. This book (this edition or newer ones) would be a benefit to science teachers, home schoolers, science students (probably middle school to lower part of high school), and anyone interested in understanding the physics around everyday life. Science in HS was boring to many -- Lou brings it alive and makes it easy to understand. And without lots of math :)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rico on July 20, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I ordered this book on a suggestion of Discover Magazine, and I was not let down. I am the type of guy who enjoys learning how things work, and this book was a true masterpiece. I really like the way Bloomfield structured the book into easy to read sections. It is also easy to either read all the technical stuff, or to just read the general information and see the diagrams.

If you are wanting a true "heavy science" technical book about Physics, this is not it. However if you would just like to "know" how certain things work, this book is the best I have seen. I think this book would be great for teenagers, and I have to admit, it's nice to know exactly how those elevators work, why planes can fly, and a ton of other common devices and contraptions as well. If you have any interest at all in how things work, you will really enjoy this book.
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