Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines

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Overview

"Suitcase nukes and shoe bombs are just two of the many subjects about which a future president must have a genuine working knowledge. Lives and the prosperity of the country depend on it. The president does not need to know every technical detail, but he or she does need to understand basic information about the key issues confronting the world in the twenty-first century. And it isn't only the president who needs these crucial insights. How can we elect the right leaders if we are not aware of what they should know?" Physics for Future Presidents is a fascinating, lively, and nontechnical primer on precisely those topics that a future president and the electorate must master.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

What should the president do if a "dirty" radioactive bomb were exploded in an American city? Should he or she support the construction of pebble-bed nuclear reactors to provide safe, clean energy? In this presidential primer, MacArthur fellow and UC-Berkeley physicist Muller ranges from terrorism to space exploration to global warming, offering basic information and countering myths. He says, for instance, that dirty bombs aren't as dangerous as people fear; if the radiation is diffused over a large area, the risk of death or of cancer is extremely low. In a survey of energy sources, Muller argues that much-hyped hydrogen and solar energy have a long way to go, whereas nuclear power and coal don't deserve the bad rap they receive. Regarding space exploration, Muller joins the ranks of scientists who maintain that it is better done by robots than by humans. Nuclear technology receives considerable attention, though information is repeated from one chapter to another, but an extensive, balanced section on global warming should be required reading for all informed citizens as well as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. 50 illus. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Popular Science
A book so brilliant that I can’t help feel (as a writer), ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’— Brian Clegg
New York Times
A marvelously readable and level-headed explanation of basic science and how it relates to the issues.— John Tierney
From the Publisher
"Should be required reading for all informed citizens, as well as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain." —-Publishers Weekly
Brian Clegg - Popular Science
“A book so brilliant that I can’t help feel (as a writer), ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’”
John Tierney - New York Times
“A marvelously readable and level-headed explanation of basic science and how it relates to the issues.”
Steve Weinberg - Boston Globe
“A triumph.”
Michael Moran - London Times Online
“Richard Muller's engaging and engrossing new book is a perfect pitched introduction to the science behind the headlines.”
Seed
“An essential 'executive summary' of the many great challenges any twenty-first-century world leader will face. With concise, clear language and equally sharp analysis, Muller builds robust arguments.”
Kenneth R. Foster - Science
“An outstanding example of public communication of science.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066272
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/3/2008
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 629,624
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard A. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the best-selling author of Physics for Future Presidents and The Instant Physicist. He and his wife live in Berkeley, California.

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Table of Contents

I Terrorism

1 Nine-Eleven 19

2 Terrorist Nukes 32

3 The Next Terrorist Attack 45

4 Biological Terrorism 53

Terrorism: Presidential Summary 60

II Energy

5 Key Energy Surprises 65

6 Solar Power 77

7 The End of Oil 86

Energy: Presidential Summary 91

III Nukes

8 Radioactivity and Death 95

9 Radioactive Decay 111

10 Nuclear Weapons 123

11 Nuclear Madness 146

12 Nuclear Power 154

13 Nuclear Waste 171

14 Controlled Fusion 180

Nukes: Presidential Summary 188

IV Space

15 Space and Satellites 195

16 Gravity Applications 210

17 Humans in Space 222

18 Spying With Invisible Light 228

Space: Presidential Summary 244

V Global Warming

19 A Brief History of Climate 251

20 The Greenhouse Effect 261

21 A Very Likely Cause 273

22 Evidence 278

23 Nonsolutions 300

24 The Fruit on the Ground 314

25 New Technologies 328

Global Warming: Presidential Summary - The Buck Stops Here 344

Notes 347

Index 361

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 30 )
Rating Distribution

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(13)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

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1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 26, 2009

    Some convenient half-truths

    This is a great idea for a book. We sorely need clear, accurate and objective explanations of the science behind important social and political issues. Sadly, Prof. Muller fails to deliver: this is a political book, and in the process of making his arguments the professor makes a hash of his science.

    It is in the last section of the book - a discussion of climate change - that Muller tips his hand. Muller describes himself as a global warming skeptic, certainly an honorable position for a scientist. But his presentation of the issue is entirely one-sided. A chapter on "Lies and Distortions" parses and dismisses a series of claims (supposedly) advanced by global warming "alarmists" (his word). Some of the critique is fair, but a balanced presentation would also examine the misrepresentations advanced by the "global warming hoax" crowd. You won't find this discussion in the book. (Check the index: about a dozen entries for Al Gore; none for Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck. BTW: Muller is clearly furious at Gore and seems to think he is the stupidest person on the planet - the book could be subtitled "Why Al Gore is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!") What Muller offers, then, on global warming: a brief explanation of the physics (full marks), followed by many pages his take on policy alternatives -- which, of course, is just his opinion (in any of my classes, no higher than a C). Measured by volume, very little science but lots of politics.

    Worse luck, Muller wanders beyond his expertise and commits some howlers. My eighth-grader was able to spot the flaws in his statistical analysis. Muller tells us climate modeling follows basically the same process as weather forecasting. (One of my colleagues in Environmental Sciences howled in pain when he read this: "I spend my life trying to teach undergrads the difference between climate and weather!") We learn about how trees consume carbon, but not what happens to the carbon in the trees. Muller ignores veritable libraries full of work. It is noteworthy that, over the entire section, Muller does not explain, discuss or even cite the work of any scientists that shows that human activity is the key factor in global climate change. And it is just as significant that Muller never advances a cogent alternative explanation.

    So in the end, all we have is plain old conservative politics dressed up with some scientific jargon and (unreliable) numbers. Sad in all this is that the specious reasoning in this chapter casts a shadow over the rest of the book. I do not doubt that Prof. Muller intended this book as a service; neither do I question his scholarship in physics or his genuine commitment to scientific inquiry. But he has fallen into a trap common to our profession: the assumption that, by virtue of his training and intellect, he has the gift of objective insight into problems that bedevil mere mortals.

    6 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2011

    like the read. Downloaded the nook version but it did not come with the "Figures" referred to in the text. Very annoying

    like the read. Downloaded the nook version but it did not come with the "Figures" referred to in the text. Very annoying! But still like the book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 10, 2009

    Some convenient half-truths

    This is a great idea for a book. We sorely need clear, accurate and objective explanations of the science behind important social and political issues. Sadly, Prof. Muller fails to deliver: this is a political book, and in the process of making his arguments the professor makes a hash of his science.

    It is in the last section of the book - a discussion of climate change - that Muller tips his hand. Muller describes himself as a global warming skeptic, certainly an honorable position for a scientist. But his presentation of the issue is entirely one-sided. A chapter on "Lies and Distortions" parses and dismisses a series of claims (supposedly) advanced by global warming "alarmists" (his word). Some of the critique is fair, but a balanced presentation would also examine the misrepresentations advanced by the "global warming hoax" crowd. You won't find this discussion in the book. (Check the index: about a dozen entries for Al Gore; none for Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck. BTW: Muller is clearly furious at Gore and seems to think he is the stupidest person on the planet - the book could be subtitled "Why Al Gore is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!")

    Worse luck, Muller wanders beyond his expertise and commits some howlers. My eighth-grader was able to spot the flaws in his statistical analysis. Muller tells us climate modeling follows basically the same process as weather forecasting. (One of my colleagues in Environmental Sciences howled in pain when he read this: "I spend my life trying to teach undergrads the difference between climate and weather!") We learn about how trees consume carbon, but not what happens to the carbon in the trees. Muller ignores veritable libraries full of work. It is noteworthy that, over the entire section, Muller does not explain, discuss or even cite the work of any scientists that shows that human activity is the key factor in global climate change. And it is just as significant that Muller never advances a cogent alternative explanation.

    So in the end, all we have is plain old conservative politics dressed up with some scientific jargon and (unreliable) numbers. Sad in all this is that the specious reasoning in this section casts a shadow over the rest of the book. I do not doubt that Prof. Muller intended this book as a service; neither do I question his scholarship in physics or his genuine commitment to scientific inquiry. But he has fallen into a trap common to our profession: the assumption that, by virtue of his training and intellect, he has the gift of objective insight into problems that bedevil mere mortals.

    3 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2008

    Good Information Before The Election

    I'm always looking for the facts behind political options when it comes to real problems were facing in your country. I likes this book because he gave a fairly unbiased opinion on a lot of the options that people are proposing the then followed everything up with solid math. And if he feels like he needs to give him personal opinion on a subject he warns you before he does it so you don't take those particular words as fact. I thought it was a good read to help me decide which political options are actually going to do something and which just sound like they will. I'm not too techy so it was a bit of a stuggle to get through some of the math, but frankly, you can skip the equations and still get the point. Smart Read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2008

    Read this book with an unbiased mindset

    To appreciate this book, it must be read with an unbiased mindset. Any discussion about US energy policy needs to use an equally unbiased understanding of physics. This book provides one approach for addressing this current issue.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2008

    Opinions, not Science

    The first thing to know about this book is that it is not about Physics, or even more broadly about Science. The book is about what the author believes and wants the reader to believe about various public policy issues. I agree with many of his beliefs, and disagree with a few. He is entitled to his opinion, but he should present his opinion as Science. The author leads you to believe that what he is telling you is Science, not opinion when he writes, 'I'll bring in engineering aspects they are needed, but the focus here will be on the science. Laws of countries can be changed, but laws of physics are pretty much set.' However, he fails to meet the goal he set. He also writes, 'Physicicsts, by tradition, have a more stringent standard than the courts: if you get caught exaggerating, distorting, or cherry picking, your scientific reputation is damaged if not destroyed.' But then he goes on to exaggerate, distort, and cherry pick himself. Even in cases where the situation would present a great opportunity to introduce the reader to important ideas from Physics, the author fails to present the reader with the information that would argue against his opinion. For example, as a physicist, the author surely understands what thermodynamics says about limits on the conversion of heat to work, but he treats all energy forms as equivalent by quoting their heating value (sometimes incorrectly). Given the difference in work that can be obtained from gasoline (his favorite fuel) and electricity, this is a serious distortion. As an example of cherry picking, the author dislikes electric cars. He claims his dislike is based in physics, but it is not. He cites the energy density of batteries compared to gasoline to show that electric cars are impractical. That is cherry picking, because there are other relevant facts he refuses to tell the reader. This book also provides little basis for the reader to learn more on his or her own. The 'facts' presented are not substantiated with references, or only with the claim that the author heard it from an acquaintance. Again, some of his 'facts' are incorrect. I do not recommend this book.

    2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great comprehensive work

    How wonderful. This combination of physics and current issues; using physics to addresses the issues. The reader needn't have a background wrought of physics, if you have some the book will be all the more fun. This was published 2 years ago, so you will find, if you read this today, it seems prophetic at times. Explanations of why it is easier for a terrorist to us gasoline--Times Square, for example. Well written, good information with exemplary information with physics-backed validity but explained for the rest of us to get.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2009

    Should be titled Physics for All Citizens

    Are you worried about terrorists with "dirty" bombs? Wondering why we don't have solar powered cars despite decades of experimental versions showing up on magazine covers? Do you think nuclear power plants are unsafe and "safe" nuclear waste disposal is impossible? Do you wonder why we can't find a good, inexpensive alternative to petroleum and other fossil fuels?

    A primer on the physics behind several of the issues the new President and his administration will have to deal with (or put off dealing with), including fossil fuels, alternative energy, nuclear power and weapons, bioterrorism, and so on. What I found absolutely fascinating about the book was the extent to which popular notions about many of the topics are wrong, and because they are wrong, we tend to misallocate not only our hopes and fears, but our money as well. The book was as much a page-turner for me as any thriller. I stayed up late and got up early to keep reading, the "ah-ha!" moments coming one on top of the other. I can only hope that someone in the President's administration, if not the President himself, has read this. Even if they don't, anyone who votes certainly should.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2011

    Misleading, poorly written, and boring

    I was rather disappointed with this book for a number of reasons. First, it¿s not what it claims to be. This book purports to present the ¿science behind the headlines¿ in layman¿s terms, and the author repeatedly insists that he will not get into the complex math behind the science¿but he does exactly that quite often. Second, it¿s poorly written. Maybe it¿s foolish of me to expect a scientist to write well (although there are some who do), but Muller often gets excited over his subject without explaining why he¿s so excited. He seems to think we should be excited simply because he¿s excited. And for a scientist¿someone who is supposed to be able to understand and explain relationships like proportion and comparison, he repeatedly uses (quite annoyingly) oxymoronic phrases such as ¿TNT has 20 times less power than gasoline.¿ Hang on a sec¿how can you claim that a multiple of TNT (20 times)¿which inherently expresses an increase¿is ¿less¿ anything than gasoline? This is a pretty basic concept¿a multiple expresses something larger, or bigger, or more intense, or more valuable. Muller (or his editor) needs to learn how use percentages or fractions¿pretty scary when you think that a ¿scientist¿ can¿t distinguish between a multiple and a fraction. And finally, it reads too much like a textbook. It¿s dull, Muller¿s analysis jumps all over the place, and after a few pages on any given topic, it¿s almost impossible to follow his meaning. And there¿s no real conclusion to this book. His analysis ends, and there¿s nothing¿no summary, no conclusion, no afterword¿to wrap it all up. Maybe science geeks will enjoy this book, but the layman with only a passing or basic interest in science will be bored to death. The topics Muller discusses are very important¿terrorism, nuclear energy, climate change, space¿but I¿m sure there are better books out there on these topics. Oh, and one other thing¿the whole conceit that the person reading this book will one day actually be president (Muller repeatedly addresses the reader directly with phrases like, ¿When you¿re president, it will be important for you to know¿¿) gets very obnoxious very quickly.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2011

    ONLY 8 DOLLARS ON AMAZON KINDLE???? WHY??

    GOOD BOOK BUT WOULD ONLY BUY FOR KINDLE ON PHONE BECAUSE OF THE PRICE.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2009

    Physics for the Rest of Us

    The book argues that it is impossible to make good public policy choices without understanding basic physics, and sadly, most people don't. Gasoline has more energy than TNT? One square mile of solar panels produces the same energy as a nuclear power plant? These are some the interesting facts that

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    A book all voters should read!!

    You look for someone to share this books facts with.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 30, 2011

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    Posted March 13, 2010

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    Posted January 14, 2010

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    Posted February 11, 2010

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    Posted January 28, 2010

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    Posted November 28, 2011

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    Posted February 5, 2010

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