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Customer Review

55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but flawed, 13 Nov. 2007
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This review is from: 50 Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know (50 Ideas You Really Need to Know series) (Hardcover)
I really wanted to like this book, and for the most part I do. There is a need for a book that can cover the basic physics and theories about the world around us in an interesting and engaging way. This book is pretty good at that. However, I think it is flawed because there are some glaring errors, and this will not help those who didn't understand these things at school, whether because they were not interested or because the teacher wasn't up to it (they can have bad days too).

Two examples are these:

1. In the Introduction on page 3 it reads "Our mobile 'phones connect us via invisible electromagnetic threads to satellites orbiting overhead". Normal mobile 'phones do not do this. Only satellite 'phones do this, and they are relatively expensive and bulky.

2. In Newton's Laws of Motion on page 9 it reads "Acceleration is a change of speed over some time". Whilst this is true, acceleration is really a change of velocity over time, and velocity is a vector and has a component of both speed and direction. So acceleration can be a change in speed or direction (or both) over some time.

These examples may seem pedantic, but it is an important distinction. Perhaps this book tries to avoid anything tricky by dumbing down. Anyway, I still like the book. But it could be better.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Jul 2008 16:28:04 BDT
Sobercounsel says:
Yes, it is pedantic. For example, when I use my landline telephone to call a foreign country I'm pretty sure that my voice is relayed via a satellite to the person I'm calling... but the telephone itself does not connect directly to the satellite.

Posted on 16 Sep 2008 15:03:29 BDT
I agree that it's pedantic. If you write a book for a lay audience then you have to resist the temptation to go off into lengthy discussions about issues such as the difference between speed and velocity because, whilst you may reach an admirable level of definitional accuracy, you'll have done so at the expense of the audience you were trying to bring on board in the first place.

Posted on 26 May 2009 10:37:35 BDT
Steve says:
I'm not so sure those two points were pedantic actually.

1) Let's be realistic here - it doesn't add any confusion to say "satellite phone" when you mean satellite phone. After all, if the author is referring to something that ISN'T how a mobile phone works, then she absolutely shouldn't call it mobile phone. Are we so dumb that we've never heard of a satellite phone - or at least can't work out what it might be from the words "satellite phone"?

2) Even more unforgivable is the mix-up of velocity and speed. I take previous commenters points that writing for a lay audience should keep in mind the need to avoid lengthy elaboration - but mixing up velocity and speed is surely dumbing down too far? The difference IS important. I didn't study physics at school, but I can tell you that reading "speed" when she meant "velocity" is precisely the kind of thing that would have hampered my understanding of the concept of acceleration.

Making something accessible is one thing. Dumbing down to the point of misleading your audience is quite another.

Neither of the above requires "going off into lengthy discussions" as Mr S A Brown suggests. They are however errors that will throw the determined novice off course - and the determined novice is surely who this book is aimed at?

Posted on 20 Jun 2009 13:36:56 BDT
S. Gallois says:
If I was writing a review of a book and wanted to illustrate that the author had included some mistakes, I would definitely list the mistakes that were most heinous. If the worst mistakes the author made were the two listed then his book is obviously well written and edited. You will always find a few errors in any book.

The mobile phone illustration is hardly an error. Mobile phones do communicate using electromagnetic radiation, so the premise is sound. The fact that they talk to a local mast, which in turn relays the information to another location and possibly on to a satellite just makes the electromagnetic thread longer and more complex than that of a satellite phone.

I agree that the the word 'speed' should be replaced with 'velocity'. However, very little loss of meaning or understanding is introduced. Introducing vectors and scalar quantities might even confuse or put off some readers.

I agree that your comments do seem a little pedantic. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Posted on 23 Nov 2009 20:46:35 GMT
In the spirit of being pedantic... Acceleration is not simply a change in velocity over time, it is more accurately the "rate of change" of velocity over time.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 May 2011 20:11:13 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 May 2011 20:14:56 BDT
Franco says:
"I didn't study physics at school, but I can tell you that reading "speed" when she meant "velocity" is precisely the kind of thing that would have hampered my understanding of the concept of acceleration."

I'm fairly certain that the words 'velocity' and 'speed' are interchangeable in this instance. The author uses the word velocity in the sentence immediately preceding the one which is currently under scrutiny in this review. There is a difference in the definitions, but they are negligible and do not affect the fundamental meaning in this case.

Sorry, but I do think you are nitpicking. As another reviewer said, if those are the worst kind errors or oversights in a book, then it really cannot be that bad.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 15:58:06 GMT
The distinction is actually very imporant, and simple to understand. Velocity has to be described in terms of both speed and direction: if you move at a constant speed while changing direction your velocity changes and this means you are accelerating. This does change the fundamental meaning quite significantly.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 18:45:06 GMT
Last edited by the author on 10 Mar 2012 19:04:07 GMT
Franco says:
Okay I see what you are getting at. But she does use the word 'velocity' in the sentence (not quoted in the review) directly preceding the sentence in which she then uses the word 'speed' (quoted in the review). I think that there are perhaps ten words separating them? So the author is clearly aware of the word 'velocity' and did not think it was a problem interchanging them. I still think there is some pedantry going on here, because you can still understand the point being made regardless.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 19:05:25 GMT
Well, I haven't read the book. However, I think it must have been a slip on author's part. My feeling is that if she left some readers with the impression that the words are interchangeable, then it's a significant slip. There's no way I would suggest the author ins't aware of the difference.

In fairness, the reviewer did give 3 stars, which is a decent enough rating. I love the idea of the series. The one on genetics is superb.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Mar 2012 19:31:41 GMT
Last edited by the author on 10 Mar 2012 19:32:12 GMT
Franco says:
I suppose it could well be a possibility that she did not realise that there is a difference, though that would be very surprising as she has PhD in Physics. Or it could be a genuine oversight, or she thought it was not a problem? Who knows.

Yes these series are great, I also have the Philosophy one which I highly recommend, and the Universe one by the same author of the Physics one which I have yet to read.
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