Get PJ Media on your Apple

Dr. Helen

Why the Hell Did I Sleep Through High School Physics?

March 30th, 2014 - 3:05 pm

I thought about this as my husband tried to explain to me that tectonic plates in the earth cause earthquakes and that a mild quake did not mean that California would plunge into the ocean. I was in Santa Monica the week before last when the first earthquake woke me up around 6:30 a.m. and I felt like the earth would give way. It might have been that I have bad motion sickness but I felt woozy for hours afterwards. Today, I heard about the earthquake in Oklahoma and Kansas and again my husband explained the physics of the earth tremors and why my fear that the earth would “explode” was unwarranted.

I remember the smelling salts my high school physics teacher, Mr. Kroll, used to put under my nose to wake me up while I slept through his class in the late afternoon. Looking back, I am infuriated by my utter lack of interest in the knowledge he was trying to impart to the class and the importance of it. There are so many aspects of the physical world that I do not understand because I did not pay attention in high school physics. We need to know these things, even those of us that aren’t in the hard sciences; at least we should know the basics. Now, as an adult, I will have to try to understand the basics without Dr. Kroll to help me. I should have listened in physics class many years ago.

Any suggestions for a basic physics book? I found some that looked good but if you know of better ones, drop the title in the comments. Thanks!

Update: Thanks so much for all the suggestions and lessons so far, they are extremely helpful to me.

More: 

Confessions of a Failed Slut

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Isaac Asimov, "Understanding Physics".
He's the most accessible science writer of the 20th century.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Asimov on Physics", by Isaac Asimov

http://www.amazon.com/Asimov-Physics-Isaac/dp/0380418487

Doesn't get into formulae and equations, but simply explains the principles of physics and a little bit of the history behind their discovery. Asimov explains things like escape velocity, how the speed of light was determined, the laws of thermodynamics, and gravity. A read that was as informative as it was entertaining.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (125)
All Comments   (125)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Dr. Smith, as so many others have mentioned, anything Isaac Asimov writes for the public about physics is a great read.

But there is another great read no one else seems to have mentioned. Try Physics for the Inquiring Mind by Eric Rogers. It's 50 years old, but physics really hasn't changed, obviously. Some math is there if you want to wade through it, but the book also has interesting thought experiments that don't require much mathematical manipulation.

Sometimes the older books are still the best. This is an example. Also note that Asimov died over 20 years ago, yet so many recommend his wonderful works too.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Asimov is good.

Or get a high school physics textbook.

Both will do.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree with others here that Asimov is always a good place to start for any layman who wants to lean more about science.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Maybe its a gender bias, but I loved HS Physics and Chemistry, and college courses as well. As a 'mechanical' guy, I'm always dealing with torque, corrosion, combustion, momentum, light, heat, energy, electricity, magnatism, etc etc. Chemistry is simply physics on a small scale. Astronomy is a physics on a large scale.

All girls seemed to care about is does the color match my shoes, and can they 'shop' for it?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
In college, an "Elementary Education" major coed asked me "What does a "ruder" do? "Ruder"?? I have no idea. What is a "ruder".

"That thing that sticks up on an airplane. "

Wait for it....
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps a bit higher level than high school, but starting slow:

http://motionmountain.net/

(Free PDF ebook, also available as a paper copy.)
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The Feynman Lectures on Physics"
http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you're concerned about understanding earthquakes and plate tectonics, I would suggest that you get a book about basic physical geology or, if you're more quantitatively inclined, a book about geophysics.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Depends what you want to learn. Really basic stuff to understand motion in sports, driving, and things around you? Or all the way to calculus based calculations of electromagnetism? Or, in another direction "math-free, concepts-only," the big ideas expressed as analogies or metaphors?

I just wrote a great little book about understanding motion, really simple calculations, but quite powerful in predicting and explaining almost any everyday motion. Emphasizes momentum and force, not acceleration.

Get back to me, I'll send you a copy.

Jim
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Physics, Foundations and Frontiers by George Gamow
123...Infinity by George Gamow (more of a math book, but excellent)
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you learn better from pictures and diagrams than bare equations, I recommend "Conceptual Physics" by Paul Hewett. In high school, my compatriots and I used to reassure each other before test time. "It's cool. Hewett drew it." Made it pretty simple for a biology junkie to get his brain around physics.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 4 5 Next View All