Tour of the future. Written with poetic grace and a child’s wonder.
328 pages, ★★★★★
Michio Kaku is one of the most readable pop-sci writers of today. His books straddle the boundary between physics and science fiction. He uses sci-fi technologies (such as teleportation, warp drive and invisibility) to get readers excited about real-world physics, which, he predicts, will resemble current-day sci-fi in a few millennia from now.
He’s one of few scientists lucky enough to work on what we call “sexy science”. Sexy science is the stuff that gets everyone excited; the stuff that doesn’t bore people when they ask you what you do; and only it constitutes about 1% of all scientific research. Unlike biology (much of which is “sexy”), research at the forefront of physics can be extremely complicated and abstract, and seems to have little practical implication. Kaku succeeds not only because he’s a great writer, but also because he writes about fascinating (“sexy science”) topics that have a direct connection to everyone’s lives.
In Physics of the Impossible, Kaku tackles 15 “sexy” physics topics in three groups:
- Class I impossibilities: impossible this century (e.g. invisibility)
- Class II impossibilities: impossible this millennium (e.g. time travel)
- Class III impossibilities: violations of the known laws of physics (e.g. perpetual motion machines)
Most of these 15 topics are in Class I, and I’m really excited that some will even become true in our lifetimes (cold fusion, perhaps, or fission-powered rockets?)
Author Michio Kaku is extremely optimistic not only that these incredible technologies will eventually come to fruition, but also that humanity will use them all in a benevolent way. He assumes that humanity won’t exterminate itself, and I’m pleased to say that there’s no mention of climate change or nuclear bombs in this book whatsoever! Kaku’s books make me feel very excited about the future of science—and reassured about the fate of humanity. Kaku’s books invoke feelings of wonder, excitement and hope. Kaku, and authors like him, are doing Physics a great service.
(Makes me wonder—Chemistry really needs a Michio Kaku to balance out the damage done to its reputation by Breaking Bad’s Walter White.)
Physics of the Impossible is similar to his later book, Physics of the Future, which I reviewed two years ago. They’re both captivating reads. The main difference is Physics of the Future’s much smarter conclusion: that once we’ve solved one major technological problem, such as cold fusion or warm superconductors, all the other technological barriers we now face will disappear. Excitingly, Kaku just announced a new book, Future of the Mind, which is coming out in February 2014, and I definitely want to get my hands on a copy. 🙂
I recommend this book for moderate fans of either physics or science fiction. ★★★★★