‪For the Love of Physics

Sometimes when I go into a bookstore or library, I’ll choose a topic that I have no idea about. Such was the case when I discovered Walter Lewin’s For the Love of Physics a year or so ago. Since it’s been so long, I apologize if I’m fuzzy on the details.

I never studied physics at all, and was never good at science, but I really enjoyed the way that Lewin made engineering and physics concepts accessible to his students. Now retired from many years of teaching at MIT, readers can tell how excited and joyful he was to be in a classroom. I usually don’t pay any attention to book covers, but the drawing of him demonstrating a pendulum by holding onto a rope, placing his feet on the edge of his desk and leaning backwards did much to grab my attention. (Must have been a really cool lecture!)  In one session, he relates how he shot a gun (all safety considerations observed) to illustrate another point. Spooked by loud noises, I would have to miss that one if I had been in that class.

But among other things, I finally learned why the sky was blue, why the night sky was different from day, about fog, and how rainbows are created–even in winter. He wrote that some of his students looked at the world in new ways after taking his courses. (I still like to believe there is magic in things.) As I read along, I even tried something. He was illustrating some type of pressure–which anyone can do just by sticking a straw in a glass of water or other beverage. If you put your finger over the top part of the straw, the liquid will stay in there until you release it. And yes, it definitely works.

Lewin also talked a bit about himself in this journey through physics. He is a Holocaust survivor, and he mentioned how emotional that still makes him. Originally from The Netherlands, he has been an American citizen for many years. He talks a bit about his family. His children were often called upon to help with experiments. Their home was often considered “the fun one.” Once after a holiday party, he, his kids, their cousins, and any neighborhood kids visiting all pretended to go to the Moon. What a fun way to learn!

As I read, I also looked up his lectures online. I was lost, but those in the field liked them a lot. On YouTube, someone made a humorous montage of every line he drew on the blackboard in a diagram:

I always wished I was that good with a ruler!

In short, this is a delightful read that makes you think.

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