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Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines Paperback – September 21, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A marvelously readable and level-headed explanation of basic science and how it relates to the issues. (John Tierney - New York Times)

A triumph. (Steve Weinberg - Boston Globe)

An outstanding example of public communication of science. (Kenneth R. Foster - Science)

About the Author

Richard A. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the best-selling author of Physics for Future Presidents and The Instant Physicist. He and his wife live in Berkeley, California.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337112
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard A. Muller is professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a past winner of the MacArthur Fellowship. His book "Physics for Future Presidents" is based on his renowned course for non-science students. His book "The Instant Physicist" uses humor and paradox, but has true content lurking behind the wonderful art of Joey Manfre. He and his daughter Elizabeth founded the "Berkeley Earth" project to evaluate the science and evidence for global warming.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 111 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on September 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What drew me to this book was not so much its title, although it is quite intriguing, but its author. I had read a couple of Professor Muller's books in the past and found them to be very engaging as well as models of clarity. This book is no exception. Using logical scientific reasoning, the author addresses various topics that a future president would likely need to deal with. The topics are: terrorism, energy, nuclear matters, outer space and global warming. Removing any mythology and misinformation that may be associated with these issues, the author carefully analyzes them from a physics perspective; this is to help any future presidents in making solid well-informed decisions. The contentious matter of global warming is dealt with particularly well; in fact, it is one of the fairest and most level-headed discussions of this matter that I have read thus far. A set of notes at the end of the book contain a few simple calculations that complement some of the statements in the main text. However, a reader who is math-phobic need to not worry since the notes are not essential to fully appreciate the book's content. The writing style is very clear, accessible, authoritative, friendly and quite engaging. This informative book can be enjoyed by anyone, especially those interested in the use of a logical scientific approach to address important world issues.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Paul W. Keaton on November 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is not for the casual reader, but it is a must-read for those who pride themselves on being well informed in any one of the five important issues discussed in this book: Terrorism, Energy, Nukes, Space, and Global Warming. The author has ordered the subject matter according to what he believes are the most pressing issues that will confront the new President. While passionate about the subject material, the author is refreshingly detached in reaching his conclusions, as a physicist should be.

When I recommend this book to my better-informed friends, the most frequent question I get back is, "What does he say about Global Warming?" Those who are looking for pithy sound bites will be disappointed. Those who fear a boring professorial-type lecture will be pleasantly surprised. Dr. Muller presents well thought-out rationales for each section, and his delivery has been refined in the classroom by teaching non-physics students at the University of California, Berkley.

I appreciate Dr. Muller's respect for his readers (and future Presidents.) He does not try to impose a hidden agenda upon us. Dr. Muller clearly states his premises and the physics of his findings flows nicely from them

Here is a sketch of my views, as a physicist, on what the reader can expect.

Terrorism: Dr. Muller discusses the high energy content in the jet fuel carried by each hijacked airplane that hit the towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He later describes the likely limitations of a terrorist's dirty bomb. He reminds us that Jose Padilla, an American with extensive al-Qaeda training, proposed to build a dirty bomb. Padilla was directed instead to blow up two apartment buildings using natural gas.

Energy: Dr.
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80 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on July 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
We don't expect our presidents to be literal rocket scientists (though it would be nice if one of them every so often was at least a metaphorical one), but we ought to expect them to know enough about science to surround themselves with the very best advisors. The troubling truth of the matter is that presidents, like most Americans, know little about science, even though public policy is increasingly dependent on scientific expertise. So author Richard Muller, who teaches science to nonscience majors at UC-Berkeley, has written his Physics for Future Presidents not only for future presidents but also current citizens.

The book isn't an easy read, and there are enough graphs and equations to set aflutter the hearts of even the most intrepid of nonscientists. But Muller recognizes this possibility, and recommends that nonscientific readers go for the big picture, not allowing themselves to get bogged down with details that might be too complicated on a first run-through. And the big picture--or rather big pictures--he wants us to understand are the science behind bombs and biological weapons likely to be used by terrorists (chapters 1-4), the fossil fuel crisis (chapters 5-7), nuclear energy and nuclear weapons (chapters 8-14), space technology, including space weapons (chapters 15-19), and global warming (chapters 19-25). Especially helpful are the "Presidential Summaries" in which Muller offers convenient wrap-ups of each of the five topics he discusses and some quick public policy recommendations.

My guess is that many readers will find his section on global warming the most interesting and contentious. Muller concludes that global warming is a reality, but one which has been exaggerated in certain ways.
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73 of 94 people found the following review helpful By A. Friedman on March 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The 5 star and 1 star reviews are both credible. It's easy, interesting science reading, but his policy conclusions sometimes steamed me. If you can read it with an open mind and healthy skepticism, then it's 5 stars--enjoy it! If you will gullibly swallow everything he says, then it's a toxic 1 star for you. I give it 3.5.

On the positive side, it's fascinating to learn that a chocolate chip cookie has half the energy of the equivalent weight of gasoline and much more energy than the equivalent weight of either TNT or bullets. Nor did I know that Bush's "nukular" pronunciation is common at some of our weapons labs nor that global warming is likely to increase, not decrease, antarctic ice.

Learn how stealth technology avoids radar, how infrared is used to spot marijuana growing in an attic, or how x-ray backscatter spots illegal immigrants in a truckload of bananas. Such unusual facts abound, and make this eminently worthy of reading--albeit with some skepticism.

On the negative side, it sometimes seems that he segues between science and politics such that policy recommendations falsely appear to have been proven by hard science. It sometimes (not always) smells a bit like conservative politics masquerading as pure science--exactly what I hoped this book intended to expose.

His discussion of nuclear waste is an example. Even if you buy his calculations (I don't), he begins with the premise that we already have it and must put it somewhere, argues for the benefits of putting it in Yucca Mountain, and then subtly leaves the reader with the impression that he has therefore dismissed valid objections to this aspect of nuclear power.
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