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The Physics of Superheroes: Spectacular Second Edition Paperback – November 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James Kakalios is a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1988, and where his class "Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books" is a popular freshman seminar. He received his Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of Chicago, and has been reading comic books for much longer.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; 2 Original edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592405088
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592405084
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,241 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

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Craig MACKINNON on June 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
"Back-of-the-envelope" calculations are near and dear to scientists' - and physicists' in particular - hearts. These are arithmatically simple estimations to give a feel for the right answer. James Kakalios takes this idea to a whole new level in this book, using simplifications and estimations to determine such widely diverse phenomena as the density of the planet Krypton (Superman's home world) to the strength of Spider-man's webbing. There is, of course, a healthy dose of physics, but it's very palatable, and not at all required for understanding the points made or conclusions drawn. In fact, this book derives from a course at the University of Minnesota that uses superheroes to demonstrate physics, rather than a course to verify (or vilify) the physical realities/possibilities of the characters in the comic books.

This distinction is important - Kakalios obviously has a great affection for both comics and physics, and refuses to automatically denigrate the efforts of the comic book writers. His modus operandi is to grant each hero a "one-time miracle exception" to the laws of physics, which is generally used to account for the superhero's powers. For example, it's granted that Superman can fly, or that Sue Richards (of the Fantastic 4) can turn herself invisible. Given the miracle of the superpowers, Kakalios then delves into the details or consequences of the power. What force of lift does Superman require to get himself into the air? Could Sue Richards see while invisible? (Answer: not in the visible region of the spectrum, but perhaps her eyes change to see in the UV or IR regions of the spectrum.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By P. Radcliffe on December 5, 2010
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I have searched for a book that would help me and my ten year old son learn about physics - and thisbook certainly hits the mark. The author's lighthearted approach and his linking the principles to comic book heroes makes for a brilliant read. Okay, so my boy might not get the whole picture first off - neither does his dad - but the examples Kakalios uses help to visualise the concepts and therefore help you to understand sometimes quite difficult concepts. Also makes for some interesting "mind-bending" musings 'twixt boy and man :)

Well Done Mr. Kakalios!

By the way - all the equations are in an appendix for those that need 'em
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Wes on May 8, 2011
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I've been absolutely addicted to this book. I love physics! This book makes learning about physics fun and entertaining. It also gives real-life examples of physics principles which makes it easy to understand, and even makes for conversation material!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sailor Barsoom on August 21, 2013
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Physics concepts that I'd given up on finally started to make sense. Some them I think I need to go over again, and of course the math would be beyond me. But this book manages to keep the math to a minimum, or at least the minimum it can while still getting the points across. There's no polyvariable calculus in here, though we are briefly shown the Schrödinger Equation, just to marvel at it.
But of course the very cool thing is learning the answers to questions like:
Just how strong was Krypton's gravity?
Does the Flash vibrating through a wall make any sense? and how about Kitty Pride?
Just how many girlfriends did Schrödinger have, anyway?
Was The Uncanny X-Men really a rip-off of The Doom Patrol?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paulbo on September 3, 2012
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This is exactly the book I expected. It will be very useful in grabbing the attention of those hard to grab students. I'm still reading and working out a classroom curriculum that will make my class more interesting and fun for more of my students. Thanks Amazon for the speedy delivery of this product.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bob on July 2, 2011
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Physics for Superheroes is hilarious and funny. It puts the abuses and uses of Physics of super heroes in context. I assigned this to my Physics class and they loved it.

It is an easy read and will leave you smiling.
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My name is Igor Gamow and I am the son of George Gamow, who was professor of Physics at the University of Colorado and passed away in 1968. He made significant contributions to physics, to cosmology, to quantum mechanics and even biology. He also created, in 1937, the delightful fictitious character C.G.H. Tompkins. Mr. Tompkins, a bank clerk, after listening to popular physics lectures goes home and that night dreams that he is with the scientist, like Einstein, who was the topic of the popular lecture he had attended. In 2008, a few years after retiring, I was inspired to recreate father's famous personage in a more modern world. I have now published, in graphic form, a series of Mr. Tomkins episodes in which he not only meets Albert Einstein but also Aristotle and Rachel Carson to name a few. I have now completed 10 episodes and I have another 10 to go. All these past years I was not aware of Professor Kakalios's The Physics of Super Heroes. Perhaps it was good that I had not known about his book or I might not have started my Tompkins series? That would have been sad because I have so much enjoyed writing my series. My biggest regret is that I did not have his book when I was an undergraduate student studying physics. His book is simply marvelous and I would recommend it to students of all ages.
R. Igor Gamow
Professor University of Colorado, retired.
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