Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski
Have you ever wondered why coffee spills leave a ring on the table, or why a piece of buttered toast always falls butter-side down? These are just two of the topics physicist Helen Czerski explains in this book, released at the beginning of January.
I’ve always liked science, though I’ll readily admit that physics was always my least favorite branch (I’m a chemistry kind of person). That doesn’t mean that everyday phenomena don’t sometimes mystify me. I understand the theories about things like wireless communication and electricity, but it’s just so crazy to think that we’ve managed to harness them and do so much to make them useful. That’s one of the reasons I really appreciated this book.
Czerski takes these everyday things and explains the physics of them, applying what is (I think) the least exciting branch of science to learn to simple little things, like bubbles, coffee stains, and cell phone wireless signals. Okay, that last one is not quite so simple. Still, I liked that in each chapter, she was able to tackle a theme (for instance, electromagnetism) and find several real-world applications to demonstrate it. I liked her apparent natural curiosity about the world and her easily replicable experiments (like putting raisins in a bottle of something fizzy or knocking toast off of the table).
I think this book helps make physics seem more approachable, something that’s definitely nice when you want to read about it and not get your PhD in it. It’s science and when you read, you’re learning, but there’s nothing dull here. There aren’t loads of calculations and numbers (one of my least favorite parts of physics in high school). A lot of the things in this book would even make good cocktail party conversation starters (with the right crowd, of course).
The only part of this book I didn’t like was the last chapter. I know it was meant to tie things together and give us a broader overview of humans and our place in the world, but it kind of bored me. I liked the earlier chapters’ concrete examples and experiments and found that this was missing at the end. I would’ve left that whole chapter out, focusing instead on the real content of the book.
Storm in a Teacup is easy to recommend for anyone interested in science or in learning a little more about how and why the world works. I think it’s appropriate for anyone, of any age, though if you do have a physics degree, it might be a little elementary for you. It’s not exactly a quick read, but if you break it down into chapters, it’s enjoyable, educational, and something a little different, especially if your TBR pile looks anything like mine. I gave it four stars.
*ARC from W.W. Norton & Company via NetGalley