February 21, 2019

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From Black Holes to Breakfast, Three Books Show How Einstein’s Legacy Lives On

From Black Holes to Breakfast, Three Books Show How Einstein’s Legacy Lives On
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The book does improve from there, and later portions are more readable and clear. But stray sentences, awkward transitions and confusing tense disagreements, while less frequent in the second half, never disappear entirely.

This is all especially disappointing because black holes are fascinating, and because Impey knows so much about them. There are glimpses of several good lectures that Impey could give (and likely has given) on how black holes power the most spectacularly bright objects in the universe, active galactic nuclei, as well as the history of how we came to understand these strange and violent objects. Unfortunately, glimpses are all we get.

295 pp. Norton. $26.95.

BREAKFAST WITH EINSTEIN
The Exotic Physics of Everyday Objects
By Chad Orzel

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The nuclear physics of breakfast may not sound particularly appetizing, but Orzel is determined to put it on the menu. A physics professor at Union College, he is (rightly) concerned that quantum physics usually conjures up images of the bizarre and exotic, when its effects are in fact with us every day. “Even the most ordinary of activities, those that make up our morning routine, are fundamentally quantum,” he reminds us. Indeed, the phenomena that drove the development of the theory are surprisingly prosaic: The quantum revolution was kicked off by Max Planck in 1900, when he successfully discovered a law governing the different colors of light emitted by hot glowing things, like an electric stovetop or campfire embers.

Using his morning routine as an example, Orzel sets out to show the reader how quantum physics is a part of our everyday lives, and he largely succeeds in this informative and friendly book. He gives clear, detailed explanations of a wide variety of quotidian physical phenomena and how we came to understand them. Indeed, the book is largely dedicated to revealing that the quantum is ordinary, that there is magic in the mundane.

Orzel makes this all highly engaging, though he occasionally slips a bit too far into the language of a college lecturer. The book also dives deep in places, requiring more work from the reader than some popular-science books — but that effort will be rewarded with a richer understanding of the physics hidden in our everyday lives than many books on the subject provide.

This is a serious introduction to quantum physics and the history of its initial development, disguised under hot tea and toast. The conceit of following Orzel around for his morning routine offers the barest of frames, but he uses it to great effect, “showing the deep strangeness that exists in the foundations of our ordinary, everyday reality.”

256 pp. BenBella Books. Paper, $16.95.



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