After reading a slew of books on sustainability (some of them reviewed here), I was ready to take a break. Then, a colleague handed me Physics for Furture Presidents, The Science Behind The Headlines, and asked me for my opinion. I’m glad I read the book, but I can’t endorse it with the same enthusiasm I have for the others reviewed on CGBB. Physics for Future Presidents was written in 2008 by Dr. Richard A. Muller, a Professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley. The book is based on Dr. Muller’s wildly successful lectures that are popular on the Cal campus, and online. Think of it as physics for people who don’t know about math.
Dr. Muller’s writing style is fine (not great), but I found the consistent reference to “Mr. President” created disconnect. I will take an idea from the review on the back jacket, and state that the book should have addressed “fellow citizens” (or residents), not Presidents.
Regardless, the book contains more than a few biased interpretations and cherry-picked facts focused on creating shock-value, and support for Dr. Muller’s opinions. In this regard, it fails as a memorandum to the President of the United States, let alone a nationwide primer in physics. Whatever value can be rendered from the fascinating facts recited by Muller, is overshadowed by a question of doubt about the validity of the statements or the balance provided to the opposing opinion.
The book is worth a read only if you are well versed in the subject matter or you’re willing to do some fact-checking regarding some of Muller’s statements. Unfortunately, you can’t take the book at face value, and that was supposedly the whole reason for the book in the first place.
I stewed for a long time on how to respectfully refute some of Muller’s statements. After all, he is a MacArthur Fellow, and I’m . . . well, I’m not a nuclear physicist, that’s for sure. If you want to read more of my analysis, click the “more” button at the end of this post. If you want to read some quick science-based reviews by Earl Killian that dispute Dr. Muller, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.