The Physics of Superheroes

The Physics of Superheroes

4.7 26
by James Kakalios

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James Kakalios explores the scientific plausibility of the powers and feats of the most famous superheroes — and discovers that in many cases the comic writers got their science surprisingly right. Along the way he provides an engaging and witty commentary while introducing the lay reader to both classic and cutting-edge concepts in physics, including:…  See more details below


James Kakalios explores the scientific plausibility of the powers and feats of the most famous superheroes — and discovers that in many cases the comic writers got their science surprisingly right. Along the way he provides an engaging and witty commentary while introducing the lay reader to both classic and cutting-edge concepts in physics, including:

  • What Superman’s strength can tell us about the Newtonian physics of force, mass, and acceleration
  • How Iceman’s and Storm’s powers illustrate the principles of thermal dynamics
  • The physics behind the death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy
  • Why physics professors gone bad are the most dangerous evil geniuses!

Editorial Reviews

Who among us hasn't wondered whether a real Superman could "leap tall buildings in a single bound" or whether the X-Men's Storm could possibly control the world's weather? The Physics of Superheroes is designed to put all those chat room speculations to rest. James Kakalios has authentic credentials to answer these questions: He's not just a comic book geek; he's a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota and the author of Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books. Knowledge more powerful than a locomotive.
Publishers Weekly
This terrific book demonstrates a number of important points. First, a subject that everyone "knows" is difficult and boring can, in the hands of a master teacher, be both exciting and fun. Second, it's a myth that only people particularly adept at mathematics can understand and enjoy physics. Third, superhero comic books have socially redeeming qualities. By combining his love for physics with his love of comic books, University of Minnesota physicist Kakalios has written a book for the general reader covering all of the basic points in a first-level college physics course and is difficult to put down. Among many other things, Kakalios uses the basic laws of physics to "prove" that gravity must have been 15 times greater on Krypton than on Earth; that Spiderman's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, died because his webbing stopped her too abruptly after she plunged from the George Washington Bridge; and that when the Flash runs, he's surrounded by a pocket of air that enables him to breathe. Kakalios draws on the Atom, Iron Man, X-Men, the Ant-Man and the Hulk, among many others, to cover topics as diverse as electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, string theory and thermodynamics. That all of this is accomplished with enough humor to make you laugh aloud is an added bonus. B&w illus. Agent, Jay Mandel. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bam! Pow! Kakalios (physics, Univ. of Minnesota) delivers a one-two punch: real science and good fun. Does "leaping tall buildings in a single bound" have anything to do with Newton's three laws of motion? You bet, and Kakalios explains the connection in his lively, humorous style. He looks at momentum, friction, special relativity, properties of matter, light, magnetism, atomic physics, quantum mechanics, and solid-state physics as demonstrated by his favorite comic book heroes-including Superman, Flash, and the Invisible Woman-and shows that much of the time, comic book physics is accurate (though he exposes the bloopers, too). The book's a treat for anyone interested in physical science and can be enjoyed readily by math phobes and those with little science education, since Kakalios explains it all with clear detail and a good measure of fun. Highly recommended for small academic libraries and the science collections of public libraries of all sizes. [Popular science buffs may also enjoy Laurence Krauss's The Physics of Star Trek and Barry Parker's forthcoming Death Rays, Jet Packs, Stunts & Supercars: The Fantastic Physics of Film's Most Celebrated Secret Agent (Johns Hopkins, Nov.).-Ed.]-Denise Dayton, Jaffrey Grade Sch., NH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
How do you teach someone physics? Relate it to the life of a superhero. Kakalios (Physics/Univ. of Minnesota) uses comic books in the classroom to illustrate the principles of physics. He notes early on in this approachable primer that the most common question from physics students is, "When am I ever going to use this stuff in real life?" He adds that when he incorporates superhero comics into lessons, students "never wonder when they will use this information in 'real life.' " Kakalios draws examples from the so-called "Silver Age" of comics, which ran from approximately 1956 to 1973. He sticks for the most part to the better known heroes like The Flash, the X-Men, Spider-Man and, of course, Superman. The scientific scenarios are often complex, though the author does his best to break them down for the layman, discussing, for example, how much energy The Flash needs to run, and calculating how many cheeseburgers would be required to keep him moving. One of the book's better sections deals with what actually happened in one of comics' most-discussed tragedies: the death of Spider-Man's love, Gwen Stacy, dropped from a great height by the Green Goblin and saved from impact by Spidey, who finds that "the fall" had already killed her. Kakalios shows that it wasn't the fall that did it but velocity (stopping someone abruptly with a web would probably break his neck). With passion, genial affability and a penchant for bad (truly bad) jokes, Kakalios ably relates the most baffling of theorems. If only he had done more with Batman. A book that mixes pop culture and science without drawing lines between the two.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

James Kakalios is a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1988, and where his class "Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books" is a popular freshman seminar. He received his Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of Chicago, and has been reading comic books for much longer.

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The Physics of Superheroes 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so much fun to read! As a physical science student I repeatedly saw some equations that I was using show up in the text. James Kakalios brilliantly made this book laugh out loud funny and at the same time, extremely entertaining. This is a great book for anyone who has ever watched a superhero movie and wondered if any of the things occurring in the movie could really happen. For a superman fan, this book talks about the Krypton explosion and Kakalios dissects the information and finds out weather it actually has any truth to it. For people like me who are big Spiderman fans, Kakalios talks about a scene in the comic book “The Amazing Spiderman” where Spiderman’s girlfriend at the time, Gwen Stacey, dies. In the comic, Spiderman slings his web and catches Stacey before she hits the ground but when he sees her she is already dead. Then the person who throws her off, the Green Goblin, comes and tells Spiderman that the fall killed her and she didn’t need to hit the ground to die. This is when Kakalios talks about weather it was the fall that killed her or weather it was the web that caused the death. Find out what he discovered in this incredibly entertaining story from James Kakalios.
MorayoO More than 1 year ago
The novel "Physics of Superheroes" was a very enjoyable read. James Kakalios uses science in a new inventive light. The author combines classic superheroes and their special abilities with physics to cajole the reader to have a new respect for science. The balance makes the novel am entertaining read. Even though the book kept readers captivated with every turning page, some of science explained were on a higher intellectual level that may not suit every reading style. Also the book does relate heavily to physics so if that isn't your cup of tea then it isn't worh reading. The author uses the powers of superheroes to explained everyday physics phenomenoms that everyone doesn't understand while they sit there listening to a teacher explain acceleration due to gravity. The book focuses on how superheroes have powers from friction, Newton's laws, etc. It makes science seem less boring and foreign for mant readers that usually wouldn't look twice at something that talks about science throughout. Not only does it educate people, the book keeps the reader engulfed from beginning to end. It's truly highly recommendend the book if someone enjoys the works of physiscs displayed in a fun new way. Kakalios really knows his physics and how to keep the subject playful and enthralling simultaneously. Seriously go buy the book,it's worth every last penny!
Anthony Hennig More than 1 year ago
I got this as a paperback and it was a wonderful read!
I'm a student at Milton High School and read this book for an outside reading project. For those of you that have doubts about whether or not to get this book let me tell you. This book is great. It is full of interesting facts and stories that will keep you turning the page. I didn't think that it was going to be that great of a book seeing as how it was pertaining to physics but for a physics book it is actually really good. It makes it a lot easier to understand the basics of physics if it's applied to something that the reader can understand or relate to, in this case, superheroes. Even if you aren't a superhero fan, this book is still a good read. I learned such things as Newton's Three Laws, and the facts about the Flashes speed. Also I learned some information that was good to know but also learned some things that are cool to know. Did you know that The Flash can run faster than the speed of sound and the speed of light? I'm not sure but I think that is pretty fast. Basically if you need or want to learn about physics and you don't want to have to force yourself into reading some long boring book, read this book. I wouldn't read the book again unless I had to brush up on my physics skills but like I said, it's going to be one of the best choices out there.
Bloeser More than 1 year ago
I am a student at Milton High School and I to read The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios for my Parrallel Reading Project for Mr. Lanham's Honors Physical Science Class. The Book is a very unique and interesting read. It explains several aspects of physics while still keeping the reader entertained. While being very educational, superheroes thatmost people are familiar with are used as examples,so you really enjoy learning about their physics. I garuntee you will learn more in this book than you wouldif you read some boring plain old physics book. Superheroes are used accurately as examples in the book because Kakalios uses boring physics to explain interesting things like how superman can jump so high or how the Flash can run so fast. This combines the boring and the fun so that you really enjoy learning the material. It is genius how Kakalios takes real information from the comic books and puts them into some sort of equation to prove how it would be possible for the superheroes to do what they do to make it physics fun. When I first started reading the book, I thought it was going to be boring and a terrible book overall.Because I was reading it for a project, that gave me even more of an assurance that it would be boring and way to educational. When I got past the first few pages or so, I was very surprised. It was really interesting and I could hardly put the book down. I thought that use of superheroes to teach physics was genius. I wish I could learn everything like this. He provides you with pictures of the actual comic books and all the information you need to follow along so it was really smooth. By giving you the background you need and the inforation you need,you could no almost nothing about superheroes or physics, then start reading this book and not get confused at all. After reading, I feel like I have learned a lot, but it was fun to learn the material. The Physics of Superheroes is by far the greatest and most fun educational book I have ever read. If you need to learn about physics or just looking for an interesting read, then read this book. You will not be disappointed. I recommend this book to anyone learning physics you will learn a lot.
Joe_Fort More than 1 year ago
The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios is a great book. It covers all almost all aspects of physics from Newton's three laws to Quantum Mechanics. The book is very easy to read and is very educational. After you read this book, you will not believe how much you have learned. The book uses superheroes to show that most of the things that they do can be proven possible by physics. In addition, the author combines the correct amount of humor and scientific information to prevent the book from getting boring. When I first picked up the book, I was not too sure if I would enjoy it. I read the book for a project and was afraid that it would be mainly focused on physics, causing the book to be a little boring. Fortunately, I was wrong. The use of popular superheroes to explain physics can actually be quite interesting. You don't even have needed to read a single comic book before in order to enjoy this book. The author provides a good background for all of the superheroes before he starts talking about how their abilities relate for physics. Even if you have little knowledge in physics, this book can still be enjoyed. It explains everything you learn in a through way that is easy to under stand. The book is a great book if you want to learn physics in a not so boring way. I had never read a comic book before and I had found this book to be entertaining. I feel that anyone who has ever read a comic book and has a slight interest in physics will enjoy this book. It makes for a great way to learn physics and it is a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the type of book that brings physics alive in a way that is outside the box of normal thinking. From figuring out how the planet Krypton is 15 times more dense than the Earth or why Gwen Stacey died from the fall on the bridge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is not it. As much fun as it might seem, learning physics is learning physics. No superhero is going to make it any better. I did enjoy the comic book history and storyline info, though. I'm just saying, if you don't already like physics, this won't make you like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazingly intresting and hilariouse book i want more of his bookes!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book couldnt have been better
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love comic books and I try hard to understand science (I'm not always successful). This book really explains the concepts well using superheroes to illustrate these concepts. However, I made need a 'miracle exception' to fully understand everything.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a student at Milton High School, and for my Parallel Reading Project I read ¿The Physics of Superheroes¿ by Professor James Kakalios. Personal I totally dislike physics and everything having to do with them. However, I have to hand it to Professor Kakalios. He did an excellent job of teaching me physics but at the same time entertaining me with superhero stories. At first I dreaded reading a book about physics, so I postponed reading it until the last minute. But after the first chapter I was hooked. I couldn¿t stop reading the book. I was so entranced in this novel that I accidental skipped dinner one night. After I quickly devoured the book I was shocked. I couldn¿t believe that I had just read an entire book on physics. But the most startling thing of all was the fact that I had actually enjoyed it. I am usually not the type of person who will enjoy reading, I would much rather lift weights or run. Nevertheless this book truly captivated me and kept me on the edge of my seat. Once I finished the book I had learned many things such as Newton¿s Three Laws of Motion, Centripetal Acceleration, The Three Laws of Thermodynamics, Coulomb¿s Law of Electrostatic Attraction, Ohm¿s Law, Debroglie Relationship, and Schrödinger¿s Equation. I as so learned some important superhero trivia such as the true name of the Flash, Barry Allen. Another thing I learned was that Superman¿s legs could lift over 5,000 pounds, and that he would weight 3,000 pounds on his home planet of Krypton. This book really is awesome, who wouldn¿t like to know how much Superman could squat. Overall I was stunned that a book about physics could be this good. If you are the average Joe who wants to learn some important facts and formulas about physics this book is perfect for you. Or if you are fond of comics you will enjoy this book too. All in all it was a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ever wanted to know how much the Flash would need to eat to run so fast, or how much weight Spiderman¿s webbing could support? Professors Kakalio¿s book ¿The Physics of Superheroes¿ is for those with as passion for physics, comic books, or people who don¿t know much about either. Kakalios uses popular comic book superheroes to demonstrate various physics concepts in a fun and easy to understand way, while debunking some inaccuracies that have been made. The book uses fairly simple language and good humor to describe many facets of physics, from mechanics, to energy, and even modern day physics. All of these explanations feature interesting examples from comic books, using their hero¿s and some of their most famous moments to show us how physics works. Not a big comic book buff? No problem! Kakalios¿ provides an excellent history to these cultural gems, as well as thorough information on each hero presented. Even if you¿re not that interested in superheroes, it¿s far more interesting to learn about thermodynamics with the Atom than from your average textbook and can give you a whole new perspective on the science. Overall, ¿The Physics of Superheroes¿ is a great way to learn about physics in a way that isn¿t painful, but actually fun!