Storm In A Teacup
by Helen CzerskiWhen we think of physics, we often think of things on the grandest scales, whether it's the interstellar effects of gravity, the speed of light, or the rules of spin that keep planets and comets on their course. In Storm In A Teacup, Helen Czerski takes physics down to a much more relatable level. In each chapter she examines an area of physics, and explains how it impacts us at scales from the very immense to the microscopic, but mostly how it affects our everyday lives.
This book has an amazing breadth. The chapter on gas and pressure takes us from how sperm whales breathe whilst diving for squid, through katabatic Antarctic winds, Magdeburg spheres, the limit to how big a straw anyone can suck through, and through to experiments with rocket post. The chapter on gravity bounces from how raisins move through lemonade, gravity in a moving ship, special starch cells in plants that help orient them, sideways gravity or why mountains don't have much effect on our sense of it, gravity as a weak force, the way Tower Bridge in London works, a sea snail that floats on slime, and the thermohaline currents of ocean circulation.
It continues in this vein throughout chapters on the physics of small scales, waves, the dance of the atom, the rules of spin, and electromagnetism. It would take too long to list all of the topics covered within these areas, even though this isn't an especially long book. It's just packed with stories and interesting facts, explained with enthusiasm. This book solves many small mysteries that you may have never thought to ask about. On a superficial level all of the topics it covers are unconnected other than by the underlying physics, and this can make for a frustrating read because there is a lack of depth to the way each vignette is dealt with. Just when it seems as if something complex is about to be explored, we're on to the next strange subject. This book is an extremely engaging, fascinating read, but it's a broad and shallow one rather than a deep dive.
The final chapter, A Sense of Perspective, deals with our three life support systems: the human body, civilisation, and the Earth. We're given a wide-eyed, amazed jog through some of the human systems before the author widens the scope. The last chapter is more of a poem than it is science. If this book's aim is to inspire a thirst for knowledge, it succeeds admirably. It's well researched and brimming with accessible information. Yet if you're already enthusiastic about science and want to get into the fine detail, this smorgasbord of physics might be too general to be satisfying, even though it is rather entertaining.
13th October 2019
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy