The Physics of Superheroes

The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios


I loved this book! No segue necessary. I really really loved this book. The reason is probably because I‘m probably at the epicenter of target audiences. I‘m a teacher and a scientist and I love science fiction and comic book…. movies. I‘m really sorry, but I‘ve never been into the comic books themselves, but I try and keep up with most of the comic book movies and comic book Netflix series, now running rampant. (Obligatory Flash reference, sorry).

This book is written by a true lover of physics and comic books. A professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, Prof. James Kakalios is lifetime fan of the superhero comic books and his writing shows it.

The inspiration of the book comes from the physics course Prof. Kakalios teaches at the University of Minnesota; a rudimentary physics course that focuses on applications of undergrad level physics to superheroes. Reading through the book the fearless reader learns about Newton´s laws, the laws of thermodynamics, torque, quantum mechanics, material science, etc.; all through worked examples of the powers and abilities of superheroes and villains in the DC and Marvel universes.


Yeah. What she said.

The beauty of Kakalios‘ work is how much of the comic book world seems to become plausible and even possible when viewed through the objective prism of physics. Comic book heroes defy the laws of nature… sometimes, and sometimes they do not. With an experienced physicist at the helm, the demystification of impossible but plausible (or vice versa) superhuman abilities becomes a fascinating and engaging endeavor.

The book has already inspired an exam question I wrote for my physical chemistry class about the required energy input for the Flash during his race with Superman around the world, and it inspired my last week‘s blog about Magneto. As previously mentioned, Prof. Kakalios is an avid enthusiast about comic books and provides an interesting historic perspective of comic books and the DC/Marvel rivalry. The book erupted (in myself) a sense of newfound respect for Aquaman through an enlightening discussion of his super-strength in terms of the enormous underwater pressures he brushes off effortlessly. Furthermore, even though it sounds weird and nonsensical. The science of fish telepathy is given its due diligence and well… It’s not as far-fetched as one might think.


I’m totally team “Aquaman doesn’t suck”.

The book includes endless stories and examples that work as excellent demonstrations in the classroom. Being a teacher of science myself, I feel the book was almost written for me, personally. There is so much in here I would like to use as illustrations of how underlying physical principles in physical chemistry work, with reference to various superheroes and villains. I just don’t know where to start! Ant-man, Magneto, the death of Spiderman’s Gwen Stacy, Green Arrow, Flash. Everyone gets their fair share of scientific assiduity.

The sincerest aspect of The Physics of Superheroes is, however, how forgiving Prof. Kakalios is to the most glaring violators of the natural laws or the diaphanous knowledge of some the heroes or villains who supposedly ought to know better. I can relate. Iron Man 2 pissed me off but it got me to study nuclear chemistry to a greater extent. Even though the fantasy world of Superheroes gets the science occasionally wrong, they should deserve a permission slip or a get-out-of-jail-free-card reading “suspension of disbelief”. When all is said and done, it’s still fiction. And it is fun to speculate on the possibilities of superhuman abilities that woo us.

Most important of all. The book inspires me to start reading comic books. It might well be the Christmas present I give to my future self.  It may even have swayed me to go with the flow regarding the cavalcade of movies and TV series flooding Netflix at the moment.

Rating: 98/100

I really really really really loved this book!


One thought on “The Physics of Superheroes

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