|Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines
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Learn the science behind the headlines—the tools of terrorists, the dangers of nuclear power, and the reality of global warming. We live in complicated, dangerous times. They are also hyper-technical times. As citizens who will elect future presidents of the most powerful and influential country in the world, we need to know—truly understand, not just rely on television's talking heads—if Iran's nascent nuclear capability is a genuine threat to the West, if biochemical weapons are likely to be developed by terrorists, if there are viable alternatives to fossil fuels that should be nurtured and supported by the government, if nuclear power should be encouraged, and if global warming is actually happening. This book is written in everyday, nontechnical language on the science behind the concerns that our nation faces in the immediate future. Even active readers of serious journalism will be surprised by the lessons that the book contains. It is "must-have" information for all presidents—and citizens—of the twenty-first century. .
- Physical Constraints Explained
HeadlinesPhysics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the HeadlinesThis book should be read and digested by every American with a high school education or above. It lays a terse and sound logic foundation for several of the major science problems facing the USA and the world today. Technological break-throughs do not occur very often, and it appears unlikely that a "hydrogen age" will overtake the world society when the hard physical facts are examined closely....more info
- Kindle version SUCKS
Book refers to photos and illistrations that do no come in the Kindle version of the book. Footnotes are also not active and require you to search for them.
A lazy effort for a $13 kindle book. Do not buy unless redone to include the actual content of the print book. ...more info
- Good guide for non-scientists
While perhaps a better title would be "Physics for Non-Scientists," this is an excellent book. My favorite part of the book is the discussion of the threat by global warming. Muller takes a balanced, judicious viewpoint on the issue. While believing (as I do) that CO2 has a relationship to temperature, he also criticizes the alarmists like Al Gore and the scientists who created the dishonest "hockey stick" graph. He also takes an evenhanded view on the subject of nuclear power. I highly recommend this book to people with a limited knowledge of physics and science in general....more info
- Education, entertaining, and insightful read
What information does a president of the United States really need to know to make informed decisions about some of the most important issues we are facing as a nation and as a global community? Richard Muller believes that some of this knowledge should be an understanding of the basic principles of physics.
I loved the format of this book. Muller writes this book as though the reader was the next president of the United States. The book applies basic physics to a better understanding of five key areas: terrorism, energy, nukes, space, and global warming. I found this book to be truly enlightening. Almost daily I am bombarded by news stories featuring the challenges we are facing in at least one of these areas. Muller presents the facts, in a fair and balanced manner (honestly, I really can't tell which political party he favors) , allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.
For example, Muller explores why the greatest threats we face from terrorists are not "dirty bombs" or stolen nuclear weapons, and why solar powered cars are not really feasible, at least with our current technology. Personally, I was especially intrigued by the section on global warming, and I felt that this section alone would have justified the purchase price of the book. In each section he also presents a brief historical perspective with an emphasis on the physics involved in each situation. I was totally fascinated by his exploration of the facts surrounding the anthrax attacks which followed the 911 attacks.
Muller's writing style is pleasantly conversational, almost as though you were having a discussion with your own personal science advisor. He also strikes the right balance between simplifying the physics to the level of easy understanding without insulting the intelligence of the reader. I enjoyed this book so much that I lent the copy I borrowed from our local library to my husband, who promptly purchased a copy midway through reading the book. This was a great read, and one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend, even to our current president....more info
- A good read. Enjoy the science but question the policy conclusions
The 5 star and 1 star reviews are both credible. It's easy, interesting science reading, but his policy conclusions sometimes steamed me. If you can read it with an open mind and healthy skepticism, then it's 5 stars--enjoy it! If you will gullibly swallow everything he says, then it's a toxic 1 star for you. I give it 3.5.
On the positive side, it's fascinating to learn that a chocolate chip cookie has half the energy of the equivalent weight of gasoline and much more energy than the equivalent weight of either TNT or bullets. Nor did I know that Bush's "nukular" pronunciation is common at some of our weapons labs nor that global warming is likely to increase, not decrease, antarctic ice.
Learn how stealth technology avoids radar, how infrared is used to spot marijuana growing in an attic, or how x-ray backscatter spots illegal immigrants in a truckload of bananas. Such unusual facts abound, and make this eminently worthy of reading--albeit with some skepticism.
On the negative side, it sometimes seems that he segues between science and politics such that policy recommendations falsely appear to have been proven by hard science. It sometimes (not always) smells a bit like conservative politics masquerading as pure science--exactly what I hoped this book intended to expose.
His discussion of nuclear waste is an example. Even if you buy his calculations (I don't), he begins with the premise that we already have it and must put it somewhere, argues for the benefits of putting it in Yucca Mountain, and then subtly leaves the reader with the impression that he has therefore dismissed valid objections to this aspect of nuclear power. He evades the real questions, such as whether we should generate MORE nuclear waste, how the corporations who profit from the nukes can possibly be charged and trusted to pay for the $100 Billion dollar disposal facility and the cost to maintain it for centuries to come, and whether the prevailing powers (government, regulators, corporations) can be trusted to actually follow the prescribed practices. Remember that we dumped 22,000 barrels of atomic waste into the ocean just 20 miles beyond the Golden Gate (San Francisco) into the 1970's--long after we knew better. The nuclear industry, like most large corporations, has demonstrated that they are simply driven by short term profit and are not above evading regulations, colluding with regulators, buying politicians, and otherwise putting profits above public welfare. (That might almost be a definition of a modern corporation.) Granted, these points are NOT PHYSICS, but HE deviates from physics whenever it suits his agenda.
I also felt that he failed to do justice to the horrors of depleted uranium munitions. Our soldiers with Gulf War Syndrome and Iraqi parents of malformed children are likely to have a different viewpoint, which you can get from the documentary Beyond Treason.
He does make some good points about nuclear--for instance pebble bed reactors in place of China's dirty coal power--and I find myself concurring that further consideration may be warranted. But if even the U.S. can't use radioactivity responsibly then how can we expect China or other developing nations to follow all the protocols and safety requirements? (I had some experiences with the Three Mile Island Citizen's Monitoring Network that left a deep distrust of the industry.)
9/11 theorists will be disappointed that he accepts the standard explanations and has not addressed any of the unanswered questions. For example, he barely addresses the third building that fell that day, nor the rate at which it fell (nearly free fall). (At least he could provide a calculation for the time of fall where the falling mass accretes stationary floors as it accelerates.) Nor does he examine the physics of the total "vaporization" of the titanium engine parts of the jet that struck the pentagon nor how it is that the engines and vertical stabilizer left no imprint on the building facade.
He acknowleges the Hubbert's Peak of oil but dismisses it, saying that we can simply convert coal to gasoline whenever oil stays above $50/bbl. This might be true, but it leaves the reader complacent about peak oil, and it's not until later, in other contexts, where he discusses the environmental costs of coal. See The Party's Over by Heinberg and The Long Emergency by Kunstler for a widely divergent viewpoint.
He explains why solar-powered cars are impractical but should have explicitly make it clear that he's referring only to photovoltaics upon the vehicles themselves and not to broader strategies of solar powered transportation (e.g. solar charging of batteries or fuel cells). I often had the sense that he wanted me to unconsciously draw broad conclusions from narrowly specific examples. Later, he returns to autos in much better detail.
He is dismissive of photovoltaic power as not yet economically viable today (economics, not physics). (Isn't there some sort of Moore's Law for photovoltaics???) But his economics don't include the macroeconomic principal of externalities, like the environmental, human, and military costs of fossil-power electricity that are borne by societies, nations, or the whole planet rather than the individual. One of the functions of govenment policy is to provide incentives to bring the individual's actions into concert with a globally wholistic highest benefit (e.g. tax incentives for solar).
His later chapters do discuss photovoltaic advances and slightly touch on externalites by explaining carbon credits. He even mentions the "tragedy of the commons" in passing. Likewise, I find many of my criticisms at least partially addressed when he revisits a subject in later chapters, so that by the end of the book it felt more complete. Topics are scattered and much is repeated.
I'm appalled by his shameful treatment of recycling, which he categorizes as a "nonsolution." He says, "...you don't want to recycle newspapers or use biodegradable plastics--at least not as far as global warming is concerned." Granted, a pile of newspapers kept in your basement will sequester carbon, but the inattentive reader may interpret this as a license to discard those papers, where they will burn or rot, releasing their carbon, while more trees are cut down to replace them.
Worse is his treatment of plastics, which he considers to be merely an asthetic nuisance. While it's true that plastic waste sequesters carbon, plastics break into microscopic particles which still retain their hydrocarbon chains, and these are working their way up the ocean's food chain, killing both by lining stomachs with indigestible particles and by leaching phthalates and other deadly chemicals that have made their way up the chain to humans. Regions of the ocean now contain 46 times more plastic than plankton, and the plastic-induced diminishment of ocean life is NOT carbon neutral. For a primer, see the plastics campaign at greensangha.org.
Further, he completely ignores recycling of other substances. For example, recycling of aluminum saves vast amounts of energy. His dismissal of recycling isn't physics and isn't truthful. One wonders whether he has an ulterior motive or is simply lazy. Like much of this book, take it as one man's opinions and not as peer-reviewed science.
Nor can I forgive his cavalier dismissal of population pressure and derisive laughter at Malthus.
I was more impressed with his treatment of global warming, where I thought he was balanced and had an agenda for uncovering the whole truth, for better or worse. He debunks some evidence, supports others, acknowledges uncertainties, warns against propaganda in either direction, and agrees that we should error on the side of caution.
As a believer in anthropogenic climate change, I was dismayed but educated by his treatment of the widely publicized graphs of CO2 & temperature for the past 600,000 years. We've seen that CO2 concentration and temperature are tightly correlated, and I had been led to believe that evidence was stronger for causality in the direction of CO2 forcing temperature (greenhouse effect). He gives a mechanism for reverse causality: that warmer oceanic waters release their stores of CO2 while cooler waters absorb more, and this is substantiated by an 800 year lag. Further, he points out that the most salient feature, the large swings every 100,000 years, are indisputably caused by a wobble in the Earth's orbit. So the largest feature of this "smoking gun" evidence is in fact proven to be causality in the opposite direction from that implied by the likes of Al Gore. I humbly concede the point.
In defense of his balanced perspective on global warming, he says, "The real danger in shouting that the sky is falling is that it might not fall right away and people will lose interest."
In regards to energy & climate, he wisely says, "emphasis must be on technologies that the developing world can afford," by which he may mean we must develop carbon sequestration technology for developing nations to scrub their coal emissions.
Overall, many of the facts are interesting, and I can agree with his political policy conclusions half the time. Most irritating is his pro-nuclear position, which he failed to substantiate in any meaningful detail.
In conclusion, I highly recommend reading this but strongly caution against forming belief systems or policy positions based solely upon it. Read it warily, and take it to be yet one more source of data for open-minded appraisal.
- Goes beyond the hype
Professor Muller's book is an excellent read. It is contemporaneous, discussing developments that have occurred in 2008 as well as earlier years. Professor Muller gets beyond the puerile politically-correct propaganda that passes for science these days. Money well spent....more info
- I have still not received the product I paid for long long ago
All I can say is that I have not received the product I paid for. I suspect/fear I never will, without my spending far more in time and money to force someone to give me what I paid for then what I saved by shopping here....more info
This book came in the time frame allotted and was in impeccable condition. It was a gift and so far, the receiver has loved the content!...more info
"Physics for Future Presidents" does an excellent job of clearly and summarizing the science and basic facts involved in key areas such as nuclear weapons, climate change, possible terrorist weapons, etc.
A high quality computer battery delivers only 1% of the energy of an equal weight of gasoline - thus, the appeal of gasoline-powered cars. Seven tons of gasoline, mixed with air and detonated from a parachute, releases the energy of 100 tons of TNT - thus, some idea of the power of the energy released in the 9/11 WTC crashes.
Muller is not worried about terrorists making nuclear weapons. The "Davy Crockett" small nuclear weapon weighed about 50 lbs and had about 250 tons of explosive power - not enough to span Central Park. Constructing it would require PhD-level engineers and expert machinists. A stolen ICBM-type bomb, however, is a much more serious threat.
Muller also is not concerned about dirty bombs - the potential damage is far more psychological than real, and limited by the damage caused to those involved.
Detecting rogue nations making uranium nukes look for special centrifuge components - special bearings and maraging (special-strength) steel. Plutonium explosions require very demanding-shaped charges with simultaneous detonation devices - thus, watch for chemical reprocessing plants, material diverted from nuclear reactors, and exotic timing devices.
Smallpox spreads like a chain reaction, and is far greater a threat than anthrax which is spread only via spores. Anthrax spores are hard to disperse and keep aloft. The bad news is that the Soviets created tons reportedly resistant to most antibiotics and buried it. Regardless, terrorists could make more.
Coal used in the U.S. is 20X cheaper than gasoline for the same energy. Our coal will last over 1,000 years at current usage rates.
The critical mass for U-235 is 440 lbs, but with a reflector it is only 33 lbs., about the volume of a quart of milk German scientists missed this and shut down their atomic bomb effort.) The critical mass for plutonium is 13 lbs, about the size of a soft-drink can. Teflon was the "secret" material used in uranium diffusion - the U.S. plant was about 1/2 a square mile. The typical centrifuge plant needs several thousand machines in an area about that of a movie theater; little power is needed.
Reprocessing plutonium is simple, but P-240 (a pollutant) tends to make it explode prematurely. The surrounding explosives must work uniformly and simultaneously - else a fizzle such as North Korea incurred. The secret of the H-bomb is that a plutonium fission bomb emits enough X-rays that they can be used, after bouncing off uranium walls, to compress and ignite the deuterium and tritium (or lithium). Surrounding the secondary material with depleted uranium fissions that material via the neutron fusion, and creates about half the total blast power.
Reagan in 1980 announced a unilateral reduction in the total yield of the U.S. arsenal - actually, he had created more smaller weapons that would create even more damage.
U.S. reactors use partially-enriched uranium (3%) to get around water's absorbing some neutrons. (Natural uranium works when moderated by carbon or heavy water.) Most of our uranium enrichment plants are manufacturing reactor-grade uranium.
Fast breeder reactors are the only type than can explode. Pebble-bed modular reactors are inherently save, operate at higher temperatures and efficiency (40-50%).
Refrigerators dropped from using 1,800 kwh/year in 1974 to less than 500, while increasing about 25% in size and decreasing over 50% in constant dollars.
Over half the power in sunlight is in the infrared spectrum - thus, can paint a roof dark and still reflect half the heat. Also use on sidewalks and streets to reduce the heat island effect....more info
- excellent book
Great book, very interesting treatment of physics. He takes a strong point of view and clearly explains why certain are possible or not possible based on the restrictions of physics. Nice treatment of nuclear energy and weapons....more info
- Physics for Future Presidents
Excellent reading. I am a Chemical Engineer with 56 years of experience, but I still learned a lot of practical facts and data information on currently discussed matters regarding energy and energetics.
I highly recommend its reading. ...more info
- Amazing primer for those of us who arent actual physicists
You would think this would be a good bedtime book. You would be wrong... this book has kept me from sleeping more nights than it has put me to sleep. I just cant seem to stop reading it. Understanding some of the real threats to society helps you understand how to react with facts rather than fear. Plus the sections on energy give you a better understanding of the why's and how's of energy policy. Get this book! Read it twice!...more info
- Behind Science
Rogue nations with nuclear weapons, terrorists with shoe bombs, psychos with anthrax. The news is full of such stories, but how much of what they are telling is fact and how much is hype. To decide this one needs good information. What is the likelihood of terrorists creating nuclear weapons, how dangerous is nuclear power and the waste it creates? With subjects ranging from nukes to space exploration to alternate energy sources Dr. Mullar separates the wheat from the chaff by addressing things that people believe that just ain't so. By combining basic physics with common logic he manages to wade through the muddle that constitutes many common misunderstandings to provide some basic facts.
If you are truly interested in the science behind these questions then this is a must read book. It takes each of these subjects and looks at the facts, separating what is known from what is surmise to give anyone an understanding of where we stand on these questions. While the device of speaking directly to the president can be a little much the book is written in nontechnical language that will provide plenty of insights. An in the end, curiously enough, this is a book of hope for there are solutions out there. Having there base in facts instead of wishful thinking they actually have the potential to work. All we need is the wisdom to carry them out.