Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics

Jim Al-Khalili, Author
Jim Al-Khalili. Broadway, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-307-98679-5
Reviewed on: 07/02/2012
Release date: 10/23/2012
Tailor-made for puzzle fans and science aficionados. Al-Khalili’s (Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed) latest dives into “deep questions about the nature of time and space and the properties of the Universe”—and shows just how tantalizing these problems can be. Al-Khalili, a quantum physicist at the University of Surrey, sets the stage for well-known problems like the “Monty Hall paradox,” in which a contestant’s attempt to guess which of three boxes contains the keys to a Lincoln Continental provides an object lesson in conditional probabilities. With ancient Greek scholar Zeno’s paradox (if a tortoise gets a head start in racing the swift Achilles, can Achilles overtake his laggardly opponent?), the author explores converging infinite series in mathematics. A chapter on Maxwell’s Demon (can there be a perpetual motion machine) gives a lesson in thermodynamics, and the infamous puzzler starring Erwin Schrödinger’s hapless cat provides a quick lesson on quantum mechanical basics. Al-Khalili even tackles relativity and time travel with the “Twin Paradox” (one twin circles the galaxy near the speed of light and returns to find the other twin is now several years older than she is). Readers who enjoy mental challenges and scientific mysteries will have fun with Al-Khalili’s lighthearted, accessible discussion. Illus. Agent: Patrick Walsh (U.K.). (Oct.)
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