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The Physics of Superheroes

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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The Physics of Superheroes

The cover of The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios

Penguin Group

The Bottom Line

For the comic book fan, this book does an excellent job of using fundamental concepts from the worlds of the classic Marvel & DC comic universes to outline the fundamental concepts of real-world physics. From Spiderman's web-slinging to the density of Krypton, this book can be used to not just explain the physics involved, but could be used as a companion volume to a physics textbook to actually teach the subject!
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Pros

  • A wide diversity of physics concepts addressed.
  • References involve most major comic book heroes from DC & Marvel settings.
  • Author clearly explains the physics concepts and how they relate to the superhero situations.

Cons

  • References are typically to classic, pre-1980s comic books.
  • Sometimes discussions seem to lose a bit of focus.

Description

  • 24 chapters, Q&A section, recommended reading, key equations, notes, and index.
  • Written by professor of physics at University of Minnesota.
  • Foreword by popular physicist Lawrence M. Krauss.

Guide Review - The Physics of Superheroes

In The Physics of Superheroes, physics professor James Kakalios takes the lessons he has learned from using classic comic books as examples in his courses and writes a book which passes those lessons on to all of us. Specifically, the following are the superheroes that he primarily focuses on:
  • Spiderman
  • The Flash
  • Superman
  • Hank Pym (Ant-Man, Giant-Man)
  • The Atom
  • Iron Man
Three of these heroes - Hank Pym, The Atom, & Iron Man - are scientists and engineers and Peter Parker is a chemistry genius, even if he has been traditionally underemployed, so they are some natural choices to explore. Also, the Flash's ability to move at (or near) the speed of light similarly makes him a prime physics target. And no book on superheroes could possible exclude Superman. Other superheroes (or villains such as Magneto & Electro) are addressed as well.

The book is divided into four basic sections - Mechanics, Energy, Modern Physics, and a "What Have We Learned" section at the end. This final section is comprised of a chapter of "Superhero Bloopers" and the end material, which includes notes, recommended reading, & lists of equations.

The other sections range from simple kinematics discussions of Spiderman's webslinging to an in-depth exploration of solid-state physics and transistors , associated with Tony Stark's powered armor that turns him into Iron Man. There is hardly an aspect of the physics spectrum that is not touched on to some degree in this volume, and what is best is that it is presented not merely as entertainment but with the specific tone that only an educator can provide, not only to amuse but also to educate. The physics is not there merely to make the comic book interesting ... rather the physics is the fundamental aspect of Kakalios' narrative, while the comic book references are there as guideposts on our journey through the lesson.

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