four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Michio Kaku
user_rating: 
0

A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

A-Physics of the ImpossibleNothing is impossible—or almost nothing, anyway. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at the City University of New York, the cofounder of string field theory, and a popular science writer, explains why some of our visions of the future just may come to fruition. Drawing on examples from science fiction and exploring the moral ramifications of futuristic technologies, Kaku divides the realm of "impossibilities" into three classes. The first, which could be realized within a century, involves telekinesis, teleportation, antiuniverses, and invisibility (aka Harry Potter’s cloak); the second class, which violates no laws of physics but holds no near-future scenarios, either, includes time machines and parallel universes. The third, perpetual-motion machines and clairvoyance, violates the laws of physics—so don’t bet on it. Then again, TVs were once only a pipedream, too.
Doubleday. 352 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0385520697

Economist 4 of 5 Stars
"Science fiction often explores such [moral] questions; science falls silent at this point. Mr Kaku’s work helps to fill a void."

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This book would be read, optimally, at age 14—up in your bedroom on a stormy Saturday, with the house quiet and rain drumming against the windows. It’s science as escapist literature." Sara Lippincott

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Dealing as he does in these pages with science-fictional concepts, Kaku often refers to genre books and films ranging from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to Terminator 3. … But it’s always clear that his interest in the impossible encompasses more than recreational reading." Nisi Shawl

Critical Summary

Kaku (Parallel Worlds, Beyond Einstein, Hyperspace) introduces complex theories of physics to general readers. As The Economist notes, Kaku "makes a good stab at explaining difficult physics. But his grasp of his subject is perhaps trumped by his knowledge of science fiction." While Kaku writes in language designed to captivate nonscience readers, it’s his references to pop culture—from Star Trek to Terminator 3—that clarify his fringe physics. (Those wishing to explore the topic further can refer to Kaku’s detailed footnotes.) To critics’ delight, Kaku also investigates the moral issues of futuristic technology that SF does so well and asks provoking questions about the fate of humankind. The only complaints? Kaku omits a few obvious SF parallels, and, more seriously, readers who don’t enjoy that genre may find less of interest here.

Also by the Author

Hyperspace A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension (1994): If you think you live in only three dimensions, think again. Try 10. In this best-selling book (voted one of the best science books of the year by the New York Times and the Washington Post), Kaku explores the mathematics of higher dimensions (hyperspace), illuminating superstring theory in the process.