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Mrs. Perkins's Electric Quilt: And Other Intriguing Stories of Mathematical Physics Hardcover – September 6, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0691135403 ISBN-10: 0691135401

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691135401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691135403
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Mrs. Perkins's Electric Quilt is a great book for anyone interested in the connections between mathematics and physics. Along the way, Nahin, author of many popular math books, shares many historical anecdotes about the problems and the people who studied them. . . . A teacher of general physics or introductory calculus will find many interesting discussions that can be included in an introductory course."--Choice

"Overall, this book is a really fun read. The combination of mathematics applied to real physics problems and the historical fabric within which they are woven proved a winner for me. I could write more about this volume, but I think I'll quit here--I want to get to work on some of the challenge problems."--Barry R. Holstein, American Journal of Physics

"This book shows mathematics and physics at their very best, united to explore fascinating phenomena with astonishing results."--Linda Kallam, Mathematics Teacher

From the Inside Flap

"If you like mathematics, you will love this book. If you like physics, you will love it even more. A treasure trove for students of any age, and a marvelous resource for teachers."--Kenneth W. Ford, author of The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone

"I greatly enjoyed this delightful book, which nicely mixes elegant mathematics, intriguing physics, interesting history and personalities, and useful numerical simulation. The book applies these in order to examine a wide range of fascinating and fun phenomena, from trajectory motion to electrical networks to random walks, in new and different ways."--Lawrence Weinstein, coauthor of Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin

"This is an excellent piece of work, well up to Nahin's very high standards. It contains a wealth of interesting examples, simple but clever ideas, and surprising conclusions. The book demonstrates why basic calculus is fascinating, beautiful, and relevant to the world around us--and why it is infinitely more accurate and powerful than intuition when it comes to explaining nature. Another fine addition to the Nahin canon."--Desmond Higham, University of Strathclyde

More About the Author

Paul Nahin was born in California, and did all his schooling there (Brea-Olinda High 1958, Stanford BS 1962, Caltech MS 1963, and - as a Howard Hughes Staff Doctoral Fellow - UC/Irvine PhD 1972, with all degrees in electrical engineering). He worked as a digital logic designer and radar systems engineer in the Southern California aerospace industry until 1971, when he started his academic career. He has taught at Harvey Mudd College, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Universities of New Hampshire (where he is now emeritus professor of electrical engineering) and Virginia. In between and here-and-there he spent a post-doctoral year at the Naval Research Laboratory, and a summer and a year at the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Defense Analyses as a weapon systems analyst, all in Washington, DC. He has published a couple dozen short science fiction stories in ANALOG, OMNI, and TWILIGHT ZONE magazines, and has written 16 books on mathematics and physics, published by IEEE Press, Springer, and the university presses of Johns Hopkins and Princeton. His most recent book, INSIDE INTERESTING INTEGRALS, discussing numerous techniques for doing definite integrals (up through and including contour integration in the complex plane) that commonly occur in physics, engineering, and mathematics, was published by Springer in September 2014. His next book, IN PRAISE OF SIMPLE PHYSICS, on the application in everyday life situations of elementary mathematics (up to and including freshman calculus) and the fundamental physical laws, is under contract with Princeton University Press and will appear in early 2016. He has given invited talks on mathematics at Bowdoin College, the Claremont Graduate School, the University of Tennessee, and Caltech, has appeared on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" show (discussing time travel) as well as on New Hampshire Public Radio's "The Front Porch" show (discussing imaginary numbers), and advised Boston's WGBH Public Television's "Nova" program on the script for their time travel episode. He gave the invited Sampson Lectures for 2011 in Mathematics at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine). When he isn't writing he is battling evil-doers on his Xbox360S and, now and then, he even wins.

FINALLY - numerous readers have written over the years asking about the solutions manual to my Springer book, THE SCIENCE OF RADIO. Springer has kindly made it available in pdf format (3 MB), and if you write to me I'll send you a copy.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By GrzMky on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have now read six of Paul Nahin's books and enjoyed them all. The one difference with this book is perhaps that it dosn't have a single underlying theme other then being a collection of very interesting problems in basic physics. They were all good but the first chapter hooked me: what is the position after five seconds of a particle with an applied force of kx**2? Sound trivial? It sure surprised me. In solving these problems he provides a perfect mix of math, physics, history, and anecdotes. As for prerequisites, a familiarity but not expertise with calculus and high school physics should be sufficient. By the way, another author very similar in style (except more towards theoretical than applied math) is John Derbyshire. Both gentlemen remind me of that one professor who could make any lecture so interesting that you were sad when the class ended.
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Format: Hardcover
The mathematics largely dominates the physics in this book, the problems vary in the level of their physics difficulty but the math level stays pretty constant. In nearly all cases, understanding integrals, some of which are complex, is necessary if you are to understand the solution. Generally speaking, the physics problems are understandable by anyone that has a fundamental understanding of the principles of physics. A strong course in high school physics would be adequate preparation.
Many of the problems have a tone of the absurd to them, yet that what makes them appealing. For example, section 10.3 describes how much energy it would take to blow up a planet, as the dreaded Death Star did in the first "Star Wars" movie. Another set of problems is based on the hollow Earth absurdity and Jules Verne's classic story "Journey to the Center of the Earth." The problem from which the title is derived is based on the tiling of a square region using only square pieces, which could be used to construct a quilt. It is transformed into a problem in electricity by making the quilt a plate of pieces of metal through which electricity will flow.
This book would be an ideal resource for a course in mathematical physics or engineering that is more informal. The problems are the type that students would truly have fun with and they are sufficiently challenging so that they are worthy of advanced students. Mathematics instructors with a physics background could also incorporate some of the problems into applied math courses. I know my students would have loved to see the problem of blowing up a planet worked out.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John W. Fuqua on January 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have, or a student has, any interest in mathematics in itself or related to other areas, read anything Paul Nahin writes. I have found each of his books full of wonderful surprises. He almost always fills in all the detail a reader needs but also makes you think about it [meaning and solution] instead of just laying out the final answers. He makes you think, not only about what the particular 'case' is but how similar problems can be attached and even how to "know what to do when you don't know what to do"---which is the best definition of genius that I've heard.

I think the only writer I can think of who has his skill, in the last 20 years, was Ian Stewart.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful By DANIEL BURKE on June 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have purchased several books by the author but have
always purchased paper versions. I thought I'd try this one on Kindle 3.
Big mistake! The equations are blurry and petty much illegible.
The equations must be images and when enlarged become more unreadable!
I guess I'll go back to paper books for readability.
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