The Physics of Super Heroes by James Kakalios – Review
By Victoria Holdsworth
Hands up if you are a comic book geek? If you love them as much as I do, then this book is for you. If you love comics but have no interest in science, then you will after this. In fact, this book may well blow your mind!
How could a mild-mannered reporter really fly? How could Magneto sustain his magnetic charms in the real world? Well, James Kakalios has all the answers that you ever needed. He’s a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, and he claims that he learnt everything he knows about physics from reading comic books.
Are superheroes powers scientific plausible? According to the author, most comic book creators actually got most of their science facts correct, as he provides a detailed and witty commentary about the concepts in physics that would make all these wonderful powers possible.
It is an interesting take on the world of comics. Professor Kakalios employs the mathematics behind electricity, motion, power, time, theory and, if it applies, logic, to defend or debunk the ideas behind super powers.
He opens his book with his fixation on Superman and his origins. It’s fascinating how his beginnings as a transplanted alien, who can leap over tall buildings in a single bound, were significantly upped into him becoming a man who can carry skyscrapers around like serving trays. The author understands that Superman’s powers come from the difference in Krypton’s and Earth’s gravity and he gives us the mathematics to prove the extent of those powers. Moreover, the author goes on to use physics theory to explain to us why Krypton blew up in the first place!
Kakalios’ facts are great, but not perfect. There’s a classroom style question and answer section at the end of the book. One of the questions is: “Could Wolvervine cut through Captain America’s shield?” Of course not! I hear you cry. But Kakalios neglects to point out that Captain America’s shield is an amalgam of Adamantium and Vibranium. See – I told you I was a geek.
“Increase in complexity”
Most readers, including myself, would agree that the use of examples such as Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities, Superman’s flight, and Thor’s hammer are far more engaging and relatable than a standard plane or pulley theory. From Newton’s laws to electromagnetism, topics covered gradually increase in complexity, but the book still remains both exciting and educational from cover to cover.
The Physics of Super Heroes, is an authentic and fanatical book about both physics and comics, and his use of comic book examples are compelling, and help illustrate the physics principle under discussion. I found myself fascinated by the physics lessons and by his commanding knowledge of comic book history.
James Kakalios is convincing enough to make you believe that superheroes really do exist.
‘The Physics of Super Heroes’ by James Kakalios is published by Duckworth Overlook, £8.99