Are you interested in learning about some generally difficult scientific concepts while being entertained at the same time? Look no further. The following books are accessible non-fiction books about some of the harder-to-grasp real life scientific topics. They aren’t just accessible, though. They’re about nerd science. Confused about physics, check out The Physics of Superheroes. Want to learn more about math? Read The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets. Some of the books are serious, some of them are much less so. (After all, not all books about nerd science were ever going to be completely serious.) Pick your favorite topic, and explore the wonderful world of nerd science!
Nerd Science: Non-Fiction
- The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios
“Those not overly familiar with superhero comic books may be surprised to learn that anything in comic books could be scientifically correct, but one can learn a lot of science from reading comic books.”
This book goes over key concepts in physics, such as Newton’s laws of gravity and motion, centripetal acceleration, the properties of matter, conservation of energy, the three laws of thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics. What makes it great, though, is that it does so in relation to comic book heroes. How is Superman able to leap over buildings in a single bound? It’s a simple matter of using Newton’s laws of motion and the equation F=ma. What is the connection between genetic mutation (for mutants like Iceman and Storm) and thermodynamics? Check out chapter 13, “Mutant Meteorology– Conduction and Convection.” What would, in reality, make it possible for Kitty Pryde to walk or the Flash to run through walls? Well, that can be explained, in theory, by the tunneling phenomena of quantum mechanics. (Although it isn’t mentioned, tunneling also seems to be the plausible explanation to witches and wizards crossing the barrier at Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter universe, if we were explaining away the magic of it.)
- The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh. Singh is a well-established mathematical writer, writing books on difficult concepts that are accessible to the layman. Published just last year in 2013, The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets is his newest contribution. As a bonus, while the book focuses on math in The Simpsons, there is a chapter on Groening’s Futurama as well. Chapter 0 exposes the truth about The Simpsons—that is really is full of math. Accurate math, even. At least five of the writers for the show have Bachelors in math or physics, and some of them are interviewed for the book. The first chapter, “Bart the Genius,” starts out with the history of The Simpsons, then jumps right into the first instances of math showing up in the show. If you’re a fan of the wacky mathematics in The Simpsons and Futurama, or just want to learn more about what the heck they’re talking about, this book is definitely for you.
- Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction by Charles L. Adler.Unlike some of the other books on this list, Wizards, Aliens, and Starships deals with the implications of magic in terms of specifically. More specifically, there is an entire section on what Adler deems “Potter Physics.” In this section, he deals with topics like why transfiguration is at odds with the conservation of mass and why disapparition is at odds with the conservation of momentum. The other sections cover space travel, world and aliens, and year Googol. Other nerdy references? Avatar, Armageddon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Earthsea, dragons, interstellar war, Futurama and the grandfather paradox, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, alien life, and Star Wars.
- Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku. Kaku’s examination of the impossible is divided into three levels of impossibility: class one, class two, and class three impossibilities. Class one impossibilities examined include force fields, invisibility, phasers and death stars, teleportation, telepathy, psychokinesis, robots, extraterrestrials and UFOs, starships, and antimatter and anti-universes. Class two impossibilities are faster than light, time travel, and parallel universes. Finally, the class three impossibilities are perpetual motion machines and precognition. The epilogue examines the future of impossibility. This perspective is interesting because it means the author is examining things not from a position that these feats are actually impossible, but from a position of more openmindedness regarding these topics. Plus, the very first chapter starts with a Star Trek reference. In the section on invisibility we learn about “metamaterials” that may mean invisibility is closer than we thought. Check this book out and discover how close we really are to making the impossible, possible. In some areas at least!
- Popular Culture and Philosophy. Series published by Open Court Publishing Company. According to the publishing company’s website, these “volumes present essays by academic philosophers exploring the meanings, concepts, and puzzles within television shows, movies, music and other icons of popular culture.” So far there are 81 published, full-length volumes of Popular Culture and Philosophy, with at least 12 more in the works to be released in 2014 or 2015. The next volume to be published in the series is Jurassic Park and Philosophy: The Truth is Terrifying, coming out in June 2014. This volume discusses topics such as the idea what “life will find a way” and examines the implications and possibility of bringing back extinct animals in reality. Previously published volumes are on topics such as The Simpsons, The Matrix, Buffy, LOtR, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Superheroes, Monty Python, The Undead, South Park, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, The Legend of Zelda, Transformers, Supervillains, World of Warcraft, Anime, Manga, Zombies and Vampires, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Neil Gaiman, The Walking Dead, Dungeons and Dragons, Planet of the Apes, and Futurama. Obviousy, there are many, many more. Those are just the nerdiest! For the full list, visit their website here. If you have an idea for a volume that hasn’t previously been done, email the series editor, George Reisch at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest your topic. Personally, I would like to see a volume called BioShock and Philosophy, so if you see that one pop up in the future, you can credit it to me!
- The Cartoon Guide to Statistics by Larry Gonick and Woollcott Smith
This cartoon guide really is what it’s advertises. It is a full-length, 230 page book about statistics that is done entirely in comic format. The page to the left is just an example of what some of the explanations might look like. This book, despite it’s comic format, really does explain “all the central ideas of modern statistics.” There are chapters on data description, probability, random variables, distributions, sampling, confidence intervals, hypothesis testing, comparing populations, experimental design, and regression. Due to the comic nature of the book, all of these statistical ideas are presented in a very visual format. In other words, this is a great book for visual learners who are interested in getting a grasp on the simple concepts in statistics. If this type of book works for you, additional books in this series are: The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon Guide to Physics, The Cartoon Guide to the Computer, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics, The Cartoon History of the United States, and The Cartoon Guide to (Non) Communication.
**Featured image credit goes to XKCD, another great source for learning while being entertained.