Adult Books

Simple Physics: Why Balloons Rise, Apples Fall, and Golf Balls Go Awry

By Jeff Stewart

Subject: Bestselling I Used to Know That Series
Paper-over-board | 176 pages | 5 3/8 x 8
US$14.95 | CAN$15.95
Publication Date: 2010-08-06
ISBN: 9781606521670
Packed with amusing examples and experiments that readers can try for themselves, E=MC2 covers all of the most important discoveries of physics. Travel down the highway, through the beach, and to the pub and learn how physics affects everything in your surroundings—without the use of mind-bending math or the need for a particle accelerator. With E=MC2, you’ll find:

  • Simple answers to questions such as, “Why do balloons rise while apples fall?”
  • Easy definitions of terms like radioactivity, kinetic energy, and electromagnets
  • A quick run-through of the history of physics—two-and-a-half millennia of scientific progress spanning from the ancient Greeks, to Newton, to today
  • How the first stars were born
  • A refresher on the theory of relativity and an understanding of why—a hundred years later—Einstein’s physics still points the way in cutting-edge research
  • How satellites work (and why they don’t work during inclement weather)
It’s physics for the rest of us—so easy to understand, anyone will be able to advance at the speed of light.

From the author:

A Whistle-Stop Tour of Physics

Have you ever wondered what exactly is physics? You know, the science behind why atoms and molecules sometimes behave like bouncing balls? Or does deciphering things like the meaning of electromagnetism throw off your equilibrium? Have no fear… E=MC2 disproves the theory that physics is all work and no play. What you’ll find inside this book is a fun introduction to the basic physics you forgot from school and the fascinating, mind-bending physics that your teachers thought was too complicated to share.

It’s true that physics can seem like a difficult subject. All that talk of subatomic particles and relativity, induction and conduction, diffraction and refraction can be hard to wrap your head around. And the latest experiments are pretty tricky, too. Not many people have billions to invest in a Large Hadron Collider. And we don’t always have spare time to find out what exactly is colliding inside it or why.

However, physics is extremely important. It explains how over billions of years, the universe got to be the vast and amazing place we know, with our galaxy being just one insignificant speck among 125 billion others.

Physics also brings us the technological wonders of world: the power stations, the cars, and the gadgets that we all take for granted. And it suggests strange and exciting new ideas. For example, it tells us that time travel may be possible. Unfortunately, it also tells us that we’re probably too big to have a shot at it.

Keeping It Simple

With the turn of a page, physics can be easier to understand—and much more fun—than you’d ever have believed it could be after some painfully boring lessons in school. Like the great physics genius Albert Einstein, you can work out a lot of physics in your head; You can do thought experiments that will help you prove to yourself why the world is the way it is. (And like Einstein in 1905, his miracle year, you can do all this while holding down a job at the office!)

For example, physics tells us that heavy things don’t fall faster than light things. And NASA put a man on the moon to prove it (and a few other things). Yet because we’re used to air resistance slowing light things (like feathers) as they fall, this law doesn’t always seem obvious to us on Earth. However, a simple thought experiment, involving you, some apples, and an imaginary third arm, can prove that, when it comes to speed of falling, weight really doesn’t matter.

There’s also lots of practical physics that brings the subject alive. This book simplifies the theories about the big stuff (relativity) and the tiny stuff (atoms and protons). It invites you to the beach to have fun with waves: riding them, seeing them, listening to them, and even throwing surfers into the sea to make them. Of course, if you want to stay home and ponder these things instead, you can do that, too.

You’ll also discover:

  • Why you weigh less on top of Mt. Everest (and it isn’t just because of all the exercise you did to get there!)

  • How cars that bend when they crash save lives

  • How time runs faster if you’re orbiting Earth—and what that means for satellite navigation systems.

  • How with a few claps that echo off a big wall, a stopwatch, and a basic sense of rhythm, you can calculate the speed of sound

  • How the fascinating world of quantum physics works (even if it doesn’t really make sense), so that you can understand that light can refract and reflect like a wave, and yet still travel in indivisible little chunks called photons, which can be here and there at the same time.

  • How time and space are curved—and how falling to Earth is somewhat like falling into bed.

  • What’s wrong with scenes in the films Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—and what those reality-defying moments tell us about real physics. There’s even an experiment to try in your local bar: all you need is a pool table, a couple of pool balls, and some relaxed bar staff.

  • How the laws of physics affect fast cars, hard braking, and speed limits.

  • How the three states of matter—solids, liquids, and gases—work, and how, if you want to sound clever, you can mention a few more states of matter (such as Fermionic condensates!) that no one’s ever heard of.

  • How and why hot gases glow with characteristic colors.

  • How, when life gives you lemons, you can make batteries.

  • Why Newton’s laws of motion come into play when your golf ball goes awry.

Covering the Basics

E=MC2 also gives you a whistle-stop tour of the physics that provides the building blocks for the exciting stuff. It tackles the laws of forces and motion, energy and momentum, current and voltage, heat and light, and power. And there’s an introduction to the men and women who made all these fascinating, famous discoveries, including Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Erwin Schrödinger.

And once you’ve got all that under your belt, there’s even time for a look at the questions that stump today’s top physicists: questions about dark matter (which isn’t really dark, but is actually invisible) and what exactly makes up the laws of physics.

After all, it’s worth knowing that even the best scientific minds can be flummoxed by physics.


Jeff Stewart graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in philosophy. He works as a journalist and graphic designer, and has always been fascinated with physics.