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Thinking Physics: Understandable Practical Reality

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Lewis Carroll Epstein explains deep ideas in physics in an easy-to-understand way. Thinking Physics is a perfect beginner’s guide to an amazingly wide range of physics-related questions. The book targets topics that science teachers and students spend time wondering about, like wing lift. Epstein elucidates the familiar but misunderstood — such as how tides work — along with more obscure but fascinating phenomena like the “Bernoulli sub” and the “artificial aurora” created by hydrogen bombs. Broken into many short sections and peppered with Epstein’s own playful hand-drawn illustrations, the book does not simply give the right answer: It also goes into the answers that seem right but are wrong and shows why they are wrong — a rarity in science books. Thinking Physics is a rigorously correct, lighthearted, and cleverly designed Q and A book for physicists of all ages.

582 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 1989

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Lewis Carroll Epstein

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5 stars
209 (57%)
4 stars
107 (29%)
3 stars
31 (8%)
2 stars
9 (2%)
1 star
5 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Ghada.
19 reviews2 followers
April 9, 2011
I picked up this book in my first year of undergraduate physics and loved it. Post-graduation and I still feel the same way.

It is a fun book full of practical yet out-of-the box physics MCQ type mini challenges. The humorous writing style makes it easy to comprehend different (and sometimes complex) physics concepts. It is suitable for anybody who is interested in physics, and does not require an aptitude in mathematics to understand the solutions - in fact, there was barely any math in it at all!

I consider this book to be one of those essential and timeless “fun” physics books that should be on the shelf of physics students and teachers. Buy it! Trust me, you won’t regret it!
91 reviews10 followers
February 18, 2014
Overall great. This book is just an intuitive overview of various areas of physics, such as momentum, light, and particles, given through virtually math-free multiple-choice questions with thorough explanations of the answers. If you read it, I recommend you follow the author's advice and try to have both an answer in mind and an explanation for why you think it's right before reading the explanation. Otherwise, it's too easy to let hindsight bias tell you you already knew the answer when you really didn't.

The parts I already had a firm grasp on were entertaining and made me think about them a little differently. The parts I didn't have a good intuitive understanding of, e.g. transfer of kinetic energy, the trade-off of time and speed, etc., it helped way more than the lists of equations you usually see. I wish I'd known about this book and read it when I was in high school. As good as it was, I admit there were some parts I read and reread and thought about and then reread again and still didn't get.
Profile Image for Pvw.
298 reviews29 followers
December 26, 2013
Without using mathematical formulas, Epstein and Hewitt explain fundamental concepts of physics. They do so in a question-answer structure and encourage the reader to ponder the problem intensely, before checking the solution. Generally, each page contains one question and the answer on the back once you flip it.

Illustrated with simple but clarifying drawings, the book looks a lot simpler than it actually is. In fact, many solutions are surprisingly counter-intuitive and certainly not easy. But that is what the authors want to teach: to think rationally, like a physicist, instead of following false intuitions or common misconceptions.

This is the book you would want to have read at fourteen. But believe me, even at a later age it is challenging and entertaining!
22 reviews
June 26, 2009
Had some fun reading this, although to the lay-minded person some of the answers will not make sense...Like the 3 bergs question...lol
Profile Image for Reinhardt.
157 reviews2 followers
June 18, 2019
A great book to think through a high school physics course (or college course for that matter). It covers the same areas a physics textbook would cover in the same order, but in an entirely question-answer format, or I should say, question-explanation.

The questions are carefully thought out to provide illuminating examples. The explanations aim to create a true understanding of the physics behind the math. There is no math in this book, are almost none.

It is particularly good in the mechanics, kinematics, dynamics section - the 'real world' kind of physics that you can visualize. Once it gets into electromagnetics, and God help us, quantum mechanics and relativity, common sense is an impediment to understanding. It still offers illuminating explanations, but you really need some physics background to wade into that territory.

It ends with a several page long "Get-Off-My-Lawn" rant that is both funny and mostly true, but out of place in a physics book. He seems to be under the impression that if physicists ran the world, all would be well. It's all those dang humanities majors. He makes a swack of valid complaints, but the solution is not to turn the world over to scientists.
Profile Image for Julia.
128 reviews25 followers
January 23, 2020
I have to say stright up that there were things I did not understand, probably the consequence of a poor education system or maybe I'm just not too bright. Nonetheless the book is amazing. It explains phenomena in physics in such a poignant and descriptive way that it all starts to make much more sense. I think I loved his comparisons most of all. His ELI5 technique is amazing. I felt like my inner child finally understood a lot of what I should have learned 10-15 years ago. I really do recommend reading it as early as possible because it can cultivate a love for science that will probably stick around for the rest of your life. I wish just one of my Physics teachers tried to explain with such care at least a portion of what Epstein talks about in the book. It was as if I was talking to a real person and this person was patient and well spoken. It feels like a child's book and at the same time it also feels like there needn't be an age limit at all. The main purpose is to deliver an understanding about our world and our universe. Can't recommend it enough.
11 reviews
February 12, 2021
This is a good book, don't get me wrong, but it has pretty limited usage. It serves as the addition to the high school-tier physics course. Basically, what this book allows you to do is to control whether you've actually understood what you've learned. But keep in mind that you can't actually learn from this book, you need to learn physics elsewhere and then you can check yourself with this book.

Problems presented in this book are simply formulated and their solutions are simple as well, but require very precise understanding of the subject. In this regard they are beautiful. However if you are studying physics on the advanced level, you're most likely already getting enough feedback on your studies to have a good idea about your level of understanding anyway. And if you're not learning physics on the advanced level, then why bother with the additional materials?

So to my understanding this book is mostly useful for teachers as a collection of beautiful problems to check their students with. Wanna learn how to think as physicist? Enroll on some top tier physics course.
5 reviews8 followers
December 30, 2019
Great read for someone with a non-technical background looking for a way to understand how the world is working around them. Also a fun book for those with a physics background to apply theory to the real world - Something my education sometimes did a poor job of doing.

Don't read it end to end. Just read up on topics you are interested in.
Profile Image for Joy  Davenport.
1,303 reviews1 follower
October 26, 2022
I am a VERY non-scientific person. Physics? Blech. But I previewed for possible use in the library, for 7th graders who do kit have the math but are curious about the science. I understood the explanations, and they are small enough snippets to be interesting without being overwhelming. I recommend. And plan to purchase.
Profile Image for Paul.
36 reviews
November 28, 2017
A question-and-answer introduction to physical phenomena: mechanics, fluids, electromagnetism, relativity, and light. Enjoyable but a bit uneven, too much time is spent on the earlier mechanics stuff.
24 reviews
February 18, 2018
This is an exceptional book for learning and teaching physics. It makes learning physics fun.
The book introduces the material of a first year course in high-school but makes it accessible for self-learning in the form of questions with cartoons which stimulate thought followed by explanations.
14 reviews16 followers
January 16, 2020
Though, I rated it 3 stars I thought it was in between 3-4 because it was a great book however reading it took a long time. This book has a lot of information, and it includes the fundamentals of physics and different aspects of physics such as Quantum, Mechanics, Atomic, Astronomic etc.
Profile Image for Eryk Banatt.
35 reviews11 followers
December 26, 2017
A bunch of physics intuition building questions. Would be more effective to read through with an SRS open next to me, plan on rereading it soonish
129 reviews1 follower
August 16, 2017
superb. good intro with material aplenty to grok any topic .
Want to read
November 13, 2019
i think it reveals good example of physics reality
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
16 reviews
March 23, 2021
I read the romanian translation around the year 2000.
It was fun, but I may have already been too old for it.
Profile Image for econoMisfit.
258 reviews8 followers
June 24, 2021
An interesting review of the basics of Physics specially most of the non-common sensical bits that we don't bother to care anymore, yet when viewed poetically and philosophically, is a beautiful one.
Profile Image for Ushan.
801 reviews66 followers
December 28, 2010
A very good conceptual overview of elementary physics with many clear explanations of why, for example, a fluorescent light bulb is more efficient than an incandescent one (the same reason striking a bell produces a clear note, but striking a box packed with bells doesn't). My wife's son wanted some book about "mechanics", and I thought this is as good as anything. Like Paul Hewitt, the author of a much more expensive book on conceptual physics, Lew Epstein teaches at the City College of San Francisco; in the afterword he rants about politicians who waste taxpayers' money, tells who is and who is not a good Jew, and reproduces his letters to Mickey Kantor (whose name he misspells) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi about South Koreans pirating his book.
2 reviews
June 22, 2008
My edition has a different subtitle, "Practical Lessons in Critical Thinking". Either way, Epstein has a gift to make the physical world understandable. Don't be scared off by the topic; each page is a little story of its own, and there are cartoons! The format presents an interesting fact situation and tests the reader's sense of what would happen. It reminds me of good mystery novels, where all the facts are in front of the reader yet the conclusion often remains for the ace detective to reveal. This is one of the best science books I have read.
Profile Image for Jared.
10 reviews7 followers
July 27, 2011
Awesome book! Packed full of questions that intrigue the mind and are well-explained without the use of mathematics (or very little). Even for a physics grad, he explains things in ways that are very fundamental and poses questions that make you think about things from a different perspective on a very fundamental level. This book will sharpen your critical thinking skills and give you valuable physical insights into the world we live in. Everyone should own this book!
Profile Image for Ur Salem.
59 reviews
September 8, 2016
1. check page 81, jogging !! The author has no idea what he is talking about; and he answers falsely on the preposterous thought-experiment model he himself has introduced!!!!!!!!!!
2. oh dear Lord! He cannot even differentiate between wave propagation direction and field polarization on p.469 !!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Charlotte.
73 reviews2 followers
October 19, 2010
I started reading this book in September 2010 and haven't got around to finishing it. I have a bad habit of doing that with books.
Profile Image for Gaston.
23 reviews12 followers
September 16, 2014
Really good and helpful book . Helped me with my exams
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

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