How to Destroy the Universe and 34 other really interesting uses of Physics by Paul Parsons.
How to Destroy the Universe is a part of a series of books of a similar name, each of which emphasizes the various usages of science in our everyday and not-so-everyday life. This book series includes titles such as “How to Build a Brain and 34 other really interesting uses of Mathematics”, “How to Think Like a Bat and 34 other really interesting uses of Philosophy”, and “How to Live Forever and 34 other really interesting uses of Science”. I have not read the other titles (yet) so I whilst this review will solely focus on “How to Destroy the Universe…”, most of my reservations do stem from the inherent limitations of book series such as these.
The book itself covers (like the title suggests) 35 different topics of physics such as quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, geophysics, string theory, and black holes to name a few, but therein lies both the limitations of the book. A book series such as this one is usually an attempt at an introduction to many of these topics, and hence I myself am not really among the projected readers as someone somewhat well versed in physics. On the other hand, I still recommend this book because having 35 physics subjects to pick out, there were still a significant number of sections that I had never really read about or even heard about. As it turns out the book did manage to serve as an introduction to very interesting topics (for me) such as earthquakes, hurricanes, EMPs, stock market physics (I was like: “Wuuuuuut???”), and cryptography.
To the writer’s credit, the book is excellently written and keeps you (mostly) engaged throughout each and every section. If you are very familiar (or even an expert) on some of the topics covered in the book, oftentimes you may find yourself just skipping past them. I found myself doing that when the chapters on quantum mechanics trod all-too-familiar territories for me personally. But they were nevertheless well written, put forth, executed, and illustrated.
One other thing I noticed while reading the book. The author is very obviously British. Very obviously. Which was actually kind of fun. References to cricket and eating treacles gave the whole reading experience that very bit of dry humor and kind of wry Britishness that you don’t get from reading American or America-based writers such as Kaku, Krauss, Susskind and others. The vocabulary was sometimes reminiscent of Harry Potter, if you ask me, which is by far means a critique. I loved it.
Golly, what a jolly-good treacle. Most ravishing, yes.
It’s also obvious that the Parsons wanted to pay tribute to Krauss’ “The Science of Star Trek”, which is all well and good, but referencing it directly in your book at least twice is a little unnecessary. I mean, of course giving credit where credit is due I understand wholeheartedly and as a scientist it’s important to cite your references. But. Come on. It’s your book and you’re writing it. Just put a list of book references in the back and problem solved. (I do think this book would have benefited such an addendum.)
To sum up, the book serves as a very nice introduction to various uses of physics and is written as such while still sprinkling some more complicated concepts all throughout. I give it my recommendation with the caveat that more experienced readers may just skip parts that have been illustrated in greater detail elsewhere by other authors.