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Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  1,675 Ratings  ·  236 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
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Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 21st 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published December 31st 2006)
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Todd N
Feb 21, 2010 Todd N rated it it was amazing
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
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John
Jul 02, 2010 John rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Szplug
Dec 05, 2011 Szplug rated it liked it
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
Aug 16, 2008 Arminius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nook-book
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
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Trina
Jan 13, 2009 Trina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Warren
Jul 23, 2008 Warren rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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Michael
Sep 12, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book to read, and I really enjoyed it. Dr. Muller examines many of the science issues we hear about increasingly today, and also debunks much of the junk science and media sensationalism that have had a deleterious effect on public policies often purporting to be based on science. The friend of mine who loaned this book to me to read warned me that Dr. Muller was "somewhat liberal", but, honestly, I did not see any deliberate bias in his analyses and explanation of the sci ...more
Ginny
Apr 25, 2011 Ginny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Adam
Mar 12, 2009 Adam rated it liked it  ·  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
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Grumpus
Apr 28, 2010 Grumpus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Grumpus by: Arminius
Shelves: science, kindle
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
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Mike
May 31, 2010 Mike rated it liked it
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
Bruce Vines
Feb 05, 2010 Bruce Vines rated it really liked it
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
Aug 26, 2008 Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Carmen
Nov 29, 2013 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in science and truth
This book explained the physics behind important issues that the President of the United States might have to deal with. Issues like bombs, nuclear energy, spy satellites, and climate change are discussed.

I liked this book because it explained physics in a way I could understand. Muller did a good job of breaking the science down into understandable examples and simpler words so that I didn't get lost in a bunch of technical jargon.

It's also amusing because he writes the book as if he is talkin
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Bill
Jul 25, 2016 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this if you want to understand more about the science you see on the news. From an actual scientist rather than a journalist. Written without spin, and using words easily understood by the lay person.
Juan Manuel  Charry Urueña
Oct 30, 2013 Juan Manuel Charry Urueña rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: main
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
Peter
Nov 08, 2009 Peter rated it did not like it
After reading this book and getting onto Goodreads to plop it onto my read shelf, I noticed the 3 star rating I had previously given to "Black Hole War". I was prepared to give this book 2 stars, but after seeing my 3 star rating for BHW, a book that is way better, I had to knock this down to 1.

I read the whole thing, but it wasn't easy. Not because the physics was too thick - Muller begins the book by stating quite clearly that as President you are probably to stupid or preoccupied to grok why
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Hilarie
Jun 13, 2009 Hilarie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Jo Green
Mar 30, 2012 Jo Green rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephany
May 01, 2010 Stephany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Kit
Mar 02, 2009 Kit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Bas Kreuger
Feb 11, 2012 Bas Kreuger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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Gregory
Nov 06, 2011 Gregory rated it really liked it
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
Neil
Sep 28, 2014 Neil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Xing
May 21, 2010 Xing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Amy
Apr 26, 2013 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Good American citizens, policy makers, anyone registered to vote and who actually does it
Shelves: physics
Despite the title, this book isn't for future presidents. It's for the people who are voting for them, because it's everything you need to know, explained clearly, and it clears away so much of the misinformation, hype, and plain deception by the media. My opinion of journalism isn't exactly high in general, but my views on science journalism is particularly low. I knew a good deal of what was in this book, but it was a very good refresher, and I definitely learned some things as well.

Highly rec
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Graeme Roberts
Mar 27, 2011 Graeme Roberts rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 14, 2010 Leilanadja rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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......
Simon
May 21, 2017 Simon rated it it was amazing
Like its sibling - Energy for Future Presidents - this book is remarkably lucid and concise in its arguments. It's well balanced, apparently free of bias, and delves just enough into maths to be both convincing and comfortable to both scientists and non-scientists alike. It's simply brilliant.
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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 students. He lives in Berkeley, California.
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“THIS book is radioactive. And so are you. Unless you are dead, in which case we can tell how long ago you died by how much of your radioactivity is left. That’s what radiocarbon dating is—the measurement of the reduction of radioactivity of old bones to deduce the time of death. Alcohol is radioactive too—at least the kind we drink. Rubbing alcohol usually isn’t, unless it was made organically—that is, from wood. In fact, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tests wine, gin, whiskey, and vodka for radioactivity. A fifth of whiskey must emit at least 400 beta rays every minute or the drink is considered unfit for human consumption. Biofuels are radioactive. Fossil fuels are not. Of those killed by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, the best estimate is that fewer than 2% died of radiation-induced cancer. These statements are all true. They are not even disputed, at least by experts. Yet they surprise most people.” 3 likes
“Many people also worry about microwave radiation from cell phones. Unlike X-rays, which are high-energy photons, microwaves are photons with extremely low energy. They deposit their energy in the form of heat; that’s what they do in microwave ovens. They do not break DNA molecules in the body (unless they actually burn and char the material), and therefore they pose no risk of causing cancer in the way that X-rays and other energetic radiation (even sunlight) can. The main danger is the heat. Much of the fear of microwaves undoubtedly comes from the fact that they share the name radiation with the other, far more dangerous forms, such as gamma radiation. The fear that some people have shown toward such cell phone radiation finds its origin not in physics, but in linguistics.” 2 likes
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