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The Physics of Superheroes Hardcover – September 29, 2005

30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This terrific book demonstrates a number of important points. First, a subject that everyone "knows" is difficult and boring can, in the hands of a master teacher, be both exciting and fun. Second, it's a myth that only people particularly adept at mathematics can understand and enjoy physics. Third, superhero comic books have socially redeeming qualities. By combining his love for physics with his love of comic books, University of Minnesota physicist Kakalios has written a book for the general reader covering all of the basic points in a first-level college physics course and is difficult to put down. Among many other things, Kakalios uses the basic laws of physics to "prove" that gravity must have been 15 times greater on Krypton than on Earth; that Spiderman's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, died because his webbing stopped her too abruptly after she plunged from the George Washington Bridge; and that when the Flash runs, he's surrounded by a pocket of air that enables him to breathe. Kakalios draws on the Atom, Iron Man, X-Men, the Ant-Man and the Hulk, among many others, to cover topics as diverse as electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, string theory and thermodynamics. That all of this is accomplished with enough humor to make you laugh aloud is an added bonus. B&w illus.
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"'Kakalios has written a book for the general reader... [that] is difficult to put down... [that all this] is accomplished with enough humour to make you laugh aloud is an added bonus' Publishers Weekly" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition, First Printing edition (September 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592401465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592401468
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Kakalios is the Taylor Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has been teaching since 1988. His research projects in experimental solid state physics range from the nano to the neuro. In 2001 he created a Freshman Seminar course at the University of Minnesota entitled "Everything I Know About Science I Learned from Reading Comic Books." When the first Spider-Man film was released in May 2002, media attention about this class inspired him to write The Physics of Superheroes - now in its Spectacular Second Edition. He was the science consultant for the Warner Bros. film Watchmen. In Feb. 2009 he filmed a video on The Science of Watchmen for the University of Minnesota's youtube page which, to date, has been viewed over 1.6 million times, and in Sept. 2009 won a regional Emmy award and in 2010 was nominated for a Webby. His latest book - The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics - explains the basic quantum physics principles behind the laser, transistors, light emitting diodes, computer hard drives and magnetic resonance imaging. He has been reading comic books longer than he has been studying physics.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Kataryniak on August 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
This really could be a textbook to teach physics by. It is very well written and flows so smoothly, you won't realize how much you've learned. It covers every aspect of physics starting with simple forces and progressing to Quantum Mechanics all the while using superheroes as examples. I can only imagine that the author must be a great professor. I've been out of college for 15 years and I would go take his class. He finds the right combination of logic, humor, & scientific information to make this a great read. You could even skim over the more technical parts concering equations if you're not into the mathematics and still get a great understanding of the point he is trying to make.

I actually thought this would be more of a compilation of superhero examples from a comicbook point of view. I had envisioned a rough analysis of many superheroes involving each of their attributes & discussing what was & what was not correct about them in the comic book world. The book is actually very different from that focusing on really only a few main figures such as Superman, Spiderman, The Atom, & Ironman. The book is structured more or less as a physics outline as I mentioned above & it works out very well this way. Almost everyone is familiar with Superman & Spiderman in some respects and the beginning of the book focuses primarily on these two figures. By then, if you're still reading, it won't matter if you really know the rest of the superheroes by then anyway. The author provides enough of a storyline background (to satisfy comic book fans) and to tell you everything you need to know concering the physics aspect.

I don't think you really need a background in physics or comicbooks to appreciate this book, maybe at least an interest in one or the other.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Justin Bramley on January 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Although I no longer collect comic books and I no longer take physics classes, I still have an interest in both. As such, it was with great pleasure that I recently read Kakalios's book. A marvelous interweaving of easy-to-grasp physics with an amusing look into comic books (and groan-worthy humor from the author). As a lover of math, I would have enjoyed seeing more math to get from one point to another, but I was more than happy to keep a pad of paper by my side to see if I could derive formulas on my own. The book is written in a very easy to understand manner, and although there are parts that get a little hairy (or maybe I was just a little tired), the overall feel of the book is one of a nice summer reader. Not so easy that you'll have to get out of the hammock in an hour or so, but not so hard that you'll throw the book across the lawn and take a nap instead.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Vizcarra on August 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
I am a middle school teacher in Crockett CA. I have taught science, language arts, reading and history over the past five years. Science has always been my favorite subject, and my passion, and this book is part of that passion for learning and understanding. Now I am an 8th grade science teacher, and have found this book the most valuable in my teaching collection.

Not only is it informative, but it's an attention grabber that can't be put down. Cover to cover, Jim Kalalios writes in a style that is mater a fact, with simple explanation of the most complex formulas.

I use his text, as will as others and superheroes as a device to stimulate my students in all areas of learning, but in science, this book is the back bone of my curriculum. Jim's explanations of "matter", "energy", "the dead cat theory", and "the string theory" are clearly and thoughtfully exposed using superheroes and their super powers. How is it possible for Superman to jump tall buildings, and Flash to runs at such speeds? The "principle of conservation of energy" along with the formula for "work", and "kinetic energy" are explained in fascinating detail. All students can understand this! I can't think of teaching without this powerful and enlighten book.

If you teach science, from K-12 or college, this book is a must! I also can't express my sear joy to have met him at ComicCon 2008, and get his signature in my dog eared book. Thanks Jim!!!

As a foot note, my daughter is attending UC Irvine where a teacher offers course called "The science of superheroes" base solely on Jim's book. Check it out!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on August 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
If you've been waiting to be bitten by a radioactive arachnid, struck by lightning while bathed in strange chemicals or be showered by a heavy dose of cosmic or gamma rays all in hopes of getting some cool superpowers, you're apt to be disappointed. Actually, you're apt to be dead, but even if you somehow survive the experience, it's unlike you'll be climbing walls, lifting cars or running past Mach One anytime soon. Forget the luck that would be required from a biological standpoint: the physics would make these and most other superhero powers impossible (and you're similarly in trouble if supervillainy is your goal).

James Kakalios's The Physics of Superheroes discusses the unlikelihood of various superpowers. He doesn't do so in an effort to debunk comics - in fact it's obvious he is a huge fan of superhero comics - but rather as a starting point to educate readers about physics. As a physics professor, he has seen that in introductory courses, students often relate to the subject more if it he puts in a context they can relate to. One can discuss gravity, for example, while discussing falling balls and the like, but it's more entertaining when Superman is brought into the equation.

And this book is definitely entertaining. Kakalios gives us a nice general overview of the world of physics for the layperson. The laws of motion and thermodynamics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and other topics are illustrated through specific comic book examples. For example, what would really happen if you could shrink like Ant Man, run like the Flash or manipulate magnetism like Magneto. Sometimes the science is bad, but sometimes the powers are actually plausible if unlikely.
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