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What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions Paperback – March 7, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Robert L. Wolke's What Einstein Didn't Know:

"Wolke is a glib and entertaining writer....This is the book for anyone who claims to be overwhelmed by the science of everyday things....It's a fun read."
--The San Diego Tribune

"Fascinating....Will provide hours of fun and knowledge for kids of any age (and we mean up to 90) and offer helpful tips and satisfy the curiosity of the average householder."
--Baton Rouge Advocate

From the Inside Flap

What makes ice cubes cloudy? How do shark attacks make airplanes safer? Can a person traveling in a car at the speed of sound still hear the radio? Moreover, would they want to...?

Do you often find yourself pondering life's little conundrums? Have you ever wondered why the ocean is blue? Or why birds don't get electrocuted when perching on high-voltage power lines? Robert L. Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and acclaimed author of What Einstein Didn't Know, understands the need to...well, understand. Now he provides more amusing explanations of such everyday phenomena as gravity (If you're in a falling elevator, will jumping at the last instant save your life?) and acoustics (Why does a whip make such a loud cracking noise?), along with amazing facts, belly-up-to-the-bar bets, and mind-blowing reality bites all with his trademark wit and wisdom.

If you shoot a bullet into the air, can it kill somebody when it comes down?

You can find out about all this and more in an astonishing compendium of the proverbial mind-boggling mysteries of the physical world we inhabit.

Arranged in a question-and-answer format and grouped by subject for browsing ease, WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS BARBER is for anyone who ever pondered such things as why colors fade in sunlight, what happens to the rubber from worn-out tires, what makes red-hot objects glow red, and other scientific curiosities. Perfect for fans of Newton's Apple, Jeopardy!, and The Discovery Channel, WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS BARBER also includes a glossary of important scientific buzz words and a comprehensive index. -->


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Dell; First Paperback Edition edition (March 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440508797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440508793
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #534,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

READ Robert L. Wolke's blog at

Robert L. Wolke received his B.S. in Chemistry from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now Polytechnic Institute of N.Y.U.) and his Ph.D. in Nuclear Chemistry from Cornell University. He has taught chemistry(in Spanish)at the University of Puerto Rico and the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela, and is now professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
His books include Impact: Science on Society; Chemistry Explained; What Einstein Didn't Know; What Einstein Told His Barber; What Einstein Told His cook (nominated for both the James Beard Foundation's and the IACP's awards for best technical or reference book), and What Einstein Told His Cook 2 (also James Beard and IACP nominees). Further Adventures in Kitchen Science. His four "Einstein" books have been translated into more than 20 languages.
From1998 to 2007 he wrote a food science column (Food 101) for the Washington Post. His journalism awards include the James Beard Foundation's award for best newspaper column, the IACP's Bert Greene Award for best newspaper food writing, plus several awards from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. In 2005 he won the American Chemical Society's Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public.
His extracurricular activities have included stand-up comic monologues and consulting for UNESCO in Bangladesh.
He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Marlene Parrish, a food journalist,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

214 of 250 people found the following review helpful By George Blondin on June 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
What Einstein Told His Barber
by Robert L. Wolke
This book is imaginative and entertaining. It explains in simple terms the hows and whys
of many things we observe often but really don't understand.
His editor has done a fine job with spelling and punctuation, but he needs
someone to check his math:
p13 "In one experiment, out of 500 .30-caliber machine-gun bullets fired
straight upward, only four landed within 10 square feet
(3 square meters) of the gun".
While 10 feet is about 3 meters, 10 square feet is about 1 square meter and would
lie within 22 inches of the gun - not a very safe place to wait.

p26-27 "There is a certain speed called the ESCAPE VELOCITY, 25000 mph,
that an object must achieve to circle the Earth in stable orbit and
not fall down."

Actually the speed needed for circular orbit is less by a factor of
the square root of two, about 18000 mph. On p.121 the author has
astronauts orbiting at the proper speed.
Escape velocity launches an object into a parabolic trajectory which
Escapes (imagine that) the earths gravity and never returns.
p33 (and p.64) Speed of light 186,000 miles per second (3 million kilometers per second)
Oops! That should be 300,000 kilometers per second.
p81 Author computes 621 degrees Fahrenheit to be twice the absolute
temperature of 80F.
This should be 519.7F; but it is only because of sloppy conversion
from Fahrenheit to Celsius and back.
p103 (and p120) "Earth is sailing around the Sun at more than 10,000 mph
(10600 mph on p120)
It is actually about 66,675 mph - higher by a factor of 2 Pi (6.28...).
Read more ›
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'll bet nobody ever fell asleep in Professor Wolke's chemistry class! With his informal, humorous and chatty style, he truly makes science not only fun but also genuinely easy to understand for even the most scientifically challenged of us. His new book covers the whole universe--literally! Professor Wolke takes you on a vicarious trip to the bottom of our oceans, to the depths of outer space and to many familiar and unfamiliar places in between. On the way you will be amazed (the frigid tile floor and the cozy mat in your bathroom are the same temperature!), entertained (Why are oceans salty?), and educated (it is NOT more humid in the summer time because warm air holds more moisture). And just because this is a fun, "bedside" book, do not for an instant assume that it is somehow not serious or useful because it is both! Here you will learn some very practical applications of science. For example, how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, and vice versa, without complicated formulas; how to eliminate wrinkles from your clothing; how to instantly defog your car's windshield and rear window! This is a book that you will be unable to put down (don't worry--it's not a long read), but one that you won't have to since you'll carry around its unforgettable lessons forever!
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mad Track on February 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
As the title saids, this book is about answering real life conundrums. There is a lot of "what if" questions that are readily answer. A reader with some background in high school or college physics will enjoy this book. As a student getting a science PhD, I find this book very entertaining to read. It answers questions in understandable English.
Certain things I think can be explained a little better, like why the atmosphere is thinner at higher altitude. Or the difference between static friction and rolling friction. But these are just nicky-picky little things.
Overall, this book is a joy to read. If you are curious about how things in life work or scenarios that you take for granted(like why birds don't get electrocuted standing on wires), you should pick up this book. You'll undoubtebly learn a lot.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
Robert Wolke has come up with a hugely entertaining book in What Einstein Told His Barber. Now, obviously, there's no shortage of "science oddity" books ... which set out to explain the basics of science by taking a lighthearted approach and using the everyday questions we all have (Why is the sky blue? How cold is it in space?) to demonstrate the basics of everything from biology to physics. What sets Wolke's book aside is partially his tone. He approaches the subject with a perfect blend of fact and fancy, filled with funny asides and even a few practical applications for what he's teaching (ranging from "try this at home" experiments to scientific bar bets you can use to win free beers). He's at his best when he's approaching questions that seem blindingly simple (What would the temperature be if it were twice as hot in the room? How much more UV light does an SPF 30 sunscreen block than an SPF 15?) and then explaining why the simple answer just isn't true. Without ever really descending into hand-waving, he explains a wide variety of phenomena in a really enjoyable way. Even though a lot of the questions are ones I knew the answers to (why does a whip crack? If you jump in a falling elevator just before it hits the ground, will you survive?) they were still entertaining and educational. Wolke manages to dig up intriguing little anecdotes and bits of information that I've never encountered in other, similar books. Wolke is a professor emeritus of chemistry, and I suppose all those years of teaching first-year chemistry courses are what give him such an accessible style. And refreshingly, Wolke isn't afraid to say when he doesn't know an answer ... like the never-ending debate over why your shower curtain is pulled in when you turn on the water.Read more ›
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