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From the PublisherBooks on how things work often adopt a format that gives equalspace to each device described. So the flush toilet, say, might getthe same number of words devoted to it as the internal-combustionengine, even though the latter is far more complicated. In HowEverything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary, LouisBloomfield avoids that trap by taking just as long as he needs toexplain things. And that's exactly what he does, explain things,his chapters having such titles as "Things That Involve Light,"Things That Move With Fluids, "Things That Involve ChemicalPhysics" and so forth. The result is something of a cross betweenthose familiar (and often less-than-satisfying) how-it-works guidesand a full-blown physics textbook.
Although Bloomfield demonstrates considerable knowledge aboutthe history of science and technology, his aim is clearly toexplain how things work rather than how they were developed. Thushis treatment of the transistor very appropriately jumps straightto the field-effect transistor, which is fairly easy to understand,without first explaining its more complex predecessor, the bipolartransistor.
Bloomfield also shows excellent judgment about how far to divein. (One exception here is his cursory treatment of magneticresonance imaging, a technology that is admittedly very difficultto explain in anything other than a superficial manner.) Hissection on the microwave oven, for example, helped me finally tounderstand how a cavity magnetron works. Bloomfield alsostraightened me out on the difference between a turbojet engine(above, right) and a turbofan engine (left), a distinction I hadn'tat all appreciated. And he even clued me in on why the front forkof a child's bike isn't curved forward. All but the most hard-coretechnophile should find many similar moments of enlightenment inthis delightfully informative book.—David Schneider