A Physicist on Madison Avenue

A Physicist on Madison Avenue
by Tony Rothman

Princeton University Press
T, GA **


Order Online


The somewhat unusual title of this book is intended to indicate that the author, a physicist, has temporarily assumed the guise of a science journalist. The book consists of nine chapters, each an article on science written for the educated layperson. Six of the articles were published previously in the popular science magazines Discover and Scientific American. In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to a physicist's method of treating data. The author recounts how his recognition of the similarity of a histogram of data on magazine sales to a Gaussian distribution enabled him to conclude that newsstand sales were dependent on random effects. For the magazine staff, this was a revelation. Chapter 2 continues the discussion of the great value of the scientific approach by describing how the difficult problem of improving the quality of musical instruments may be attacked by using physical theory to guide experimentation. The next chapter is concerned with the fact that no arrow of time exists in physical theories, and yet the forward march of time is evident in almost everything that we do. Seven arrows of time are studied. Chapter 4 discusses the role of life in the evolution of the universe since the Big Bang. The basic issue is the extent to which the constants of nature must be compatible with the existence of carbon-based Homo sapiens. The next three articles concern the Big Bang theory of cosmology. The beginning of the universe, our present situation, and our future are considered. A penetrating critique of the Big Bang theory is given, and alternative cosmologies are proposed. Chapter 8 describes a puzzling object in the sky called Cygnus X3. Its emissions cannot be explained by present theory. The last article appeared as an April Fool's joke in Scientific American. Nevertheless, it contains an excellent review of natural constraints on the construction of particle accelerators, such as the Superconducting Super Collider. Evidently, there is a limit to the energy one may impart to a particle. This book has something for everyone. It is well written, authoritative, interesting, and informative. It contains much good physics without relying on mathematics. It may serve as an excellent introduction to modern cosmology for a general audience.

--Reviewed by Reuben Benumof in Science Books and Films, 27/7 (October 1991), p. 200.