BOOK REVIEW Physics of the Impossible

By Michio Kaku. An intellectual Where’s My Jetpack?

Author: Michio Kaku

Publisher: Penguin • 304 pages • £20

ISBN: 978-0-71399-992-1

Rating:

At its heart this is a pop science book: not overly wordy, and hooked onto TV wish-fulfilment musings like “when will we invent teleportation?”. But the author has proper clout, and being the Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City of New York University he has insight to spare that separates this from similar tomes.

It’s an engaging digest of current thinking. There’s plenty of digression, and chapters tend to slide into unexpected tangents. But this doesn’t feel like an obstruction, and it’s an easily readable way to discover the latest thinking on string theory or quantum entanglement, although the SF trappings are sometimes just an excuse to cover Kaku’s favourite moments in modern science. It’s a shame a few of the movie references feel laboured – who misnames Star Destroyers as “Imperial Battleships” or feels the need to explain that lightsabers are “luminous swords… made of beams of light”?

While Kaku references his academic sources, he’s not so scrupulous with his media credits. Apparently “some critics” panned the first Star Wars because it was far-fetched. Did they? Who? Autobiographical elements intrude as well. At times he reminds us of his own part in the scientific community; for instance, we hear about how he met “father of the hydrogen bomb” Edward Teller when he won the San Francisco science fair prize as a boy. It’s harmless, and some might enjoy the way it personalises the topics, but this – and the book’s attempts to crowbar sci-fi wonders into three categories based on just how “impossible” they are – does jar amidst the truly absorbing stuff about anti-matter, FTL travel and parallel universes.

Dave Bradley

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