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Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  1,002 ratings  ·  192 reviews
“A triumph.”—Steve Weinberg, Boston Globe

This is “must-have” information for all presidents—and citizens—of the twenty-first century: Is Iran’s nascent nuclear capability a genuine threat to the West? Are biochemical weapons likely to be developed by terrorists? Are there viable alternatives to fossil fuels that should be nurtured and supported by the government? Should n...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 21st 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published December 31st 2006)
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Todd Nemet
Feb 21, 2010 Todd Nemet rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: future and past presidents
At lunch with a friend last week I complained that science is generally considered to be a suitable pursuit for children or child-like adults, from Sid The Science Kid to the manic Bill Nye The Science Guy to the impish Richard Feynman.

It's as if American society believes that curiosity about science is merely a phase we go through as we grow up, like playing with Legos. Sure there are some adults who still do it, but it is considered vaguely unseemly. (Meanwhile the over 50% of Americans who be...more
Szplug
Leaving aside the counsel to a potential president conceit which wears out its welcome remarkably early in this egress into scientific realism from a sober and commonsensical physics professor, Muller provides a healthy splash of Chill the fuck out and take another bite of this here Clue Burger, y'all a bunch of Chicken Little motherfuckers. The sky ain't necessarily falling, and there's no need to be crying your pretty little eyes out that it is, chump change water over a bunch of thickly and p...more
Arminius
The Physics for Future Presidents

It is a fascinating book using science to explain and sometimes solve today’s major problems. Estimating future types of terrorist attacks can be calculated by knowing how destructive each potential weapon is. The surprising answer is that gasoline not “smart” nuclear bombs are their weapon of choice.
Do you want to know how to bring down oil prices? The answer is to make oil from coal. Coal is our countries most abundant natural resource. The reason why we do not...more
Warren
Jul 25, 2008 Warren rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Warren by: read about it in a magazine
This book is hands-down the most important book anyone can read this year. If I had the money, I would buy a copy for every person I know: it's that good. The book discusses the science behind topics that would be critical to any presidency: terrorism, the fuel situation, nuclear bombs and other related topics, global warming, alternative energy... and more.
What I really like about the book is that it's politics-free. Liberals and conservatives alike stand to learn a lot about themselves and the...more
Trina
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the current issues of global warming, energy or terrorism. It outlines the reality of the science and its impact on these issues in the public realm. I found it very informative and helpful to be able to follow these issues and determine what my stand is and what course I feel our country ought to take. It also helps to not be easily misled by varying reports.
Ginny
Pretty much everyone should read this, regardless of the presence or absence of designs on the highest office in the land. If you, you know, read the news or vote or anything like that, this book is for you. Not only is it incredibly helpful in contextualizing some of the science-related policy debates currently being waged, it's also just fascinating stuff (for example, the reason plutonium bombs are round and uranium bombs are cylindrical, or the fact that a square yard of sunlight delivers ab...more
John
The conceit of this book is, obviously, that it's addressed to whoever would win the Obama-McCain race: here are the bits of physics you need to understand if you're going to make the right decisions on terrorism, energy, nukes (both weapons and reactors), space and global warming. There's plenty of good stuff here as well as lots of fascinating facts that I'm sure I'll find myself tossing oh-so-casually into dinner-party conversations. The text is extremely readable, bouncing along at an exhila...more
Bruce Vines
I feel by this book, in the area of natural law, the way I do about "Rich Dad,.." for finance. It discusses the physics that I believe EVERYONE should understand in today's world. It's a non-mathematical presentation of the physics that's applicable to our (the world's) current situation. One of the problems I have with people, in general, in our society (and the world for that matter) is that we're ruled by our prejudices (emotions) rather than our reason. I sincerely do NOT believe that God sc...more
Taylor
Sep 11, 2008 Taylor rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Taylor by: Barnes and Noble
This is an absolute must read, or must listen to. You can get his physics for non scientists podcast also (Dr. Muller teaches at Cal-Berkeley). For those who don't love physics or math, a couple of notes, there are about 2 equations in the whole book (he puts the rest in the appendix) and it is a fun and enjoyable read. It is also the most even handed discussion of the science behind terrorism, energy (including a long section about nuclear), and space exploration that I have read. The best sect...more
Stephany
After reading this book, you'll be tempted to correct people you overhear, comment on a host of news articles with corrections, and go on a Facebook comment rampage on the Walls of less informed friends. Don't say I didn't warn you.

This book is so necessary right now, with cherry-picked data and outright propaganda trumping fact-based debate. Muller tells you "everything you know that just ain't so," which you might not even know until reading this book. To name just a few highlights, he explai...more
Mike
Basic, which is just what I was after. A couple of things are worth noting. He takes a very even-handed approach to global warming. He rightly believes the hysteria on any matter causes a strong overreaction that makes discussing the real merits of the issue very challenging. Another thing that's not really an explicit emphasis of the book that I appreciate is his willingness to differentiate his role as physicist and as citizen. He is very clear and open about when he steps out of physicist rol...more
Jo Green
This was great, it was not so much over my head. It was a practical book, it explained about the difference in dirty bombs and why so much gasoline was so powerful, liquid gasoline is equal to TONS of TNT, it explained is simple scientific terms how the molecules vibrate creating more energy causing the other molecules to vibrate and gasoline is just about the most powerful explosive around because it ignites in the air- or something like that. He said if the president got a call about a dirty b...more
Adam
Mar 30, 2009 Adam rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Future Presidents, Global Warming Geeks, Anyone with an interest in science, politics or both
What didn't I learn from this book!?

I'd go ahead and list everything that I did but to do so would be to simply paraphrase the wonderfully concise and informative Executive Summaries a the end of each chapter!

What a fantastic idea of Muller's that a future President must be aware of a number of basic, scientific principles that he can then use to help shape and guide his agenda. While he (admitedly so) gets a little personal with regards to the use of nuclear power in the States, for the most pa...more
Hilarie
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 ke...more
Bas Kreuger
Highly recommended! A scientist who writes understandable language for the general public is special, but one who can make you understand difficult subjects in a few lines is even better.
This book should be a "must read" for politicians, ministers (specially defence, economic affairs and of the interior and naturally our MP Balkenende too!), but journalists would also be a good target audience.

With Mullers facts in your head, you'll be able to evaluate opinions by (badly informed) politicians, a...more
Kit
Physics for Future Presidents was originally a class taught by the author at UC Berkeley. Students voted it the best class on campus. Then it became a series of podcasts, and now it's this book, which is extremely readable, very interesting, and ought to be required reading for everyone in the US, future presidents included.

The book covers the physics of subjects like terrorism, nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, energy policy, and global warming. The genius of this approach is that it cuts throug...more
Juan Manuel  Charry Urueña
La física, las cifras y la ciencia precisan mucho las cosas. Lo que dice el Libro: "Desaprender" todo aquello que damos por cierto y no lo es. El 9 de octubre de 2006, Corea del Norte probó su primera bomba atómica. Un arma robada sigue siendo el mayor peligro. Los atentados biológicos probablemente serán más accesibles y más fáciles de cometer que los nucleares. La riqueza y el consumo energético parecen ser equivalentes. Los chinos están construyendo centrales eléctricas a un ritmo de una nuev...more
Grumpus
Jun 17, 2010 Grumpus rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Grumpus by: Arminius
Shelves: kindle, science
Hmmm...look at the title. Maybe the word "Future" should be changed to include "and Current". I'm just say'n.

Everything that is in the news today from nuclear bombs, to alternative energy sources, to global warming is succinctly covered in layman's language. I used my Kindle to mark some text that I thought was interesting and wanted to share. First regarding nuclear weapons, "small amounts of radioactivity have such small consequences that they could properly be ignored. Radiological weapons ar...more
wes Goertzen
this was an easy, lazy read that my dad had me read over Christmas. About a third of it was interesting to me. Only a third because I am an engineer by training so the other 2/3 was either boring or "common" knowledge and so didn't push me. I think that lay ppl (science is sorta religious, right? With engineers not being real clergy but more like deacons) who like science and/or are interested in the politics of science (environment, nuclear, war, etc) will be interested.

The most intersting thin...more
Xing
Works very well as a cheat sheet for non-physicists who want an overview of the hot topics, from the perspective of a recognised expert. Facts that I memorised from this book came in very handy during conversations with a nuclear engineer friend.

Like all pop-sci books that distill complex principles down to digestible volumes for the sake of their busy, hard-pressed readers, the claims made are necessarily hard to assess, though they're definitely well-presented and sound balanced and carefully...more
Greg
As a physicist (well, astrophysicist), I give this book my full endorsement. This really should be required reading for all people. Politics has a very nasty way of turning science into, well, politics, but doing it in such a way as to leave the public skeptical of the aims and goals (not to mention results) of scientists. Dr. Muller presents a fairly unbiased analysis of many current issues and addresses everything with the mindset of a scientist - relying on quantitative information to draw lo...more
Sally Honeycutt
As someone who pays reasonably close attention to the headlines but never took a physics class, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Muller covers five major topics (terrorism, energy, space, nukes, and global warming), and I learned something new in each of them. Muller does sometimes slip into political opinions or personal judgment, but for the most part he sticks to the facts (or at least, to the data, when facts may not be clear).

The book is a very accessible read. Muller assumes his readers ar...more
Graeme Roberts
Everyone should read this book. It is an amazingly clear yet detailed exposition of hard science that matters to many policy decisions, including global warming. Muller has no tolerance for sophistry.
Leilanadja
A book regarding science applications and great reading for general review! Makes me want to go back to school and get that engineering physics degree......
Neil
I did enjoy this book but gave it a lower rating that I might have for two reasons, both related to its publication date (2008). Because it was published six years ago, I already knew quite a bit about many of its topics. Also, because of its vintage, some of the information is out of date (e.g., the cost of solar energy technologies).

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the section on "Nukes". This was the clearest explanation of radioactivity, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power I've ever encountere...more
Loren
Interesting premise and a worthwhile read for the average non-scientist.

This is a good summary of a number of contemporary, relevant topics. Even though it's an overview, it has an impressive level of detail (sentence after sentence of facts and data), but presented in a memorable way.

I was pleased that he criticized both sides of the global warming debate, with respect to how either side can mislead using the data. I'm not sure I agree with him, but I appreciate that he tries to take an unbia...more
Sean van Dril
I thought this book was wonderful. What really made it engaging to read was its relevance to so much of what we hear in the news: terrorism, nukes, space, and global warming. Muller speaks about these subjects it what seems to be quite a bit of detail (although minimal math is included). As a result, you finish reading feeling as though you have quite a breadth of relevant new knowledge that you can back up in facts. This book is dense--there doesn't seem to be any "fluff" in the writing, but it...more
Evelyn
Second of Stanford's Three Books that I read. I liked it a lot, even though some of the science is (naturally) outdated. A balanced treatment of all topics, eminently rational. As someone remarked to me, the "for future presidents" aspect seemed gimmicky and tacked on, though I found the "when you're president, you will have to..." bits amusing rather than annoying. Awkward frame aside, the explanations were clear and well-written, with occasional touches of genuine humor. This was probably my f...more
Jake
This is one of several books I learned of by listening to NPR. It is based on a popular class the author teaches. And having now read the book, I'd love to take the class.

Dr. Muller tackles all of the hot button topics that utilize scientific inquiry: the environment, energy policy, space exploration, etc. His chief goal is to compile a handbook of rudimentary knowledge a President ought to have at his/her disposal when making policy decisions. Think about it. Should homeland security be governe...more
Sheather Nelson
This books was a great rundown of how physics informs some high-profile current world policy issues. It was fairly readable -- I am NOT a science person but I could read large chunks at a time. I learned a lot that I should probably have already known about nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The book put an awful lot of emphasis on terrorism as an issue, and the author's theories on feasible v. unrealistic terrorist tactics were quite interesting. The global warming section showed how proponents...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Richard A. Muller is professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a past winner of the MacArthur Fellowship. His popular science book Physics for Future Presidents and academic textbook Physics and Technology for Future Presidents are based on his renowned course for non-science student...more
More about Richard A. Muller...
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