The Physics of Everyday Things: The Extraordinary Science Behind an Ordinary Day, by James Kakalios

James Kakalios takes you through a typical day, from the alarm clock that wakes you up to watching Back to the Future when you’ve settled back in bed, with stops on nearly everything you run into along the way with an explanation of the physics of the items you use (or would like to use in the case of a flying car). To bring you into contact with as much as possible there are side trips to the doctor to get an xray of your sore ankle, a rush to the airport and through TSA and onto a plane, a presentation you give in another city, and a night in the hotel.

Even simple devices are given attention, from how your toaster heats up (and why bread browns there) to CAT Scans and MRIs, how an electric thermometer works, the double redundancy of elevators and the technology used to make sure your ears don’t pop on the trips up and down, and the algorithms used by your car and unlock fob to make sure another person doesn’t unlock your car.

Some of these are downright amazing, others were a little above my unscientific head, but even complicated ideas are simplified as much as possible (an LED bulb is basically a photoelectric cell in reverse). Some things I needed to look up in more detail on Wikipedia, such as to get a better sense of piezoelectrics (the Curies discovered it). But anyone with a taste for science and who likes to torture grandchildren with irrelevant true facts like I do will get a kick out of seeing the world from a different perspective. I loved random fact books in grade school and with some possible parental or teacher coaching it could be a fun book for curious kids 12 and older.

Perhaps even more than learning new things about my CD player and why my Blu Ray is called that I’m amazed at the amount of thinking that goes into everyday items with a greater appreciation for the scientists and engineers who bring these things to the market. As general science books go this one takes a bit more concentration but offers a lot of variety and as much clarity as the science allows.