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.