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Books Concepts of Modern Physics. 2nd ed. Arthur Beiser. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1973. 467 pp., illus. The Physical Universe. Konrad B. Krauskopf and Arthur Beiser. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1973. 717 pp., illus. Reviewed by Grace Marmor Spruch* The two books have features in common: clarity and simplicity of explanation and anticipation of a reader’s questions. Both books explicitly call attention to salient points. Both also connect what would otherwise be abstract material to examples from everyday life and treat topics at the frontiers of research in physics. The two books are intended for readers with different backgrounds, however. Coticepts of Modcwi Physics, through a judicious selection of material, is true to its title and really gets across the main ideas of modern physics. But it requires at least one year of physics at university level, with extensive problems solving, and a couple of years of calculus. For, although ideas in physics are emphasized, many of them can be described adequately only in mathematical terms. The author fills in separate steps in both mathematics and the sequences of ideas (nothing is beneath him). If any book of this type, basically a textbook, can be tackled outside a classroom, this one is a prime candidate. In The Physical Utiiverse, Beiser, trained in physics, and Krauskopf, a geochemist, cover the essentials of physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy. Mathematical demands on the reader are no more than secondary school algebra and, for those whose algebra has faded, a 15-page mathematics refresher has thoughtfully been provided. This book, too, is true to its title, however grand. It is, in the authors’ words, ‘a summary of our knowledge about the world in which we live’ but ‘not a complete summary, for little mention is made of living things’. It is ‘history on a grand scale: not the petty history of the warring tribes that inhabit the earth, but the history of the universe itself’. The last quote is representative of one of the few faults in this basically sound book, a tendency toward pomposity in some instances. Upon occasion, mostly in historical passages, the writing can be characterized as in the style of the U.S.A. journal Physical Revicw; there is an awkwardness that can lead to ambiguity, as in this passage about Newton: ‘. ..he stayed at Cambridge, living quietly and never marrying, for 30 years’. One could get the impression that the life-long bachelor eventually did marry. More serious is a misstatement, again about Newton: ‘His formulation of the three laws of motion placed the science of mathematics on a solid foundation.’ Mechanics was evidently intended for riiatlieriiatirs. These faults may loom large in a short review but they constitute a minor fraction of this large book. The book was not designed for a course at university level. Readers will not learn how to solve problems (though a problem is usually worked out for each topic) but they will find a wealth of fascinating information on such topics as tides, satellites, the velocity necessary to escape the Earth’s pull, pulsars.etc. It is studded with interesting color photographs to illustrate concepts. A U.S.A. Civil War cannon in use illustrates Newton’s 3rd law, for example. Obvious effort was made to have the photographs aesthetically pleasing as well as informative. The diagrams are less satisfying. Some, in fact, are downright confusing, with items set off in color for no apparent reason. It is almost as if the authors, confident in the clarity of their words, find visual aids to exposition superfluous. Complex derivations that in many books on this level are watered down or ‘fudged‘ are wisely left out and the concepts are stated or discussed qualitatively. Contemporary issues like the energy crisis are commented upon. Along the way, the scientific method and the characteristics of science that distinguish it from other disciplines are clearly set forth. *Physics Dept., Rutgers University, Newark, NJ 07102, U.S.A. In a certain sense, one can become better informed from reading this book than from a ‘solid problem solving course’, where one often loses sight of the concepts for the problems. Cults of Unreason. Christopher Evans. Harrap, London, 1973. 264...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
p. 168
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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