17 July 2017

We Have No Idea, by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson

Posted by Callan Bentley

Jorge Cham will likely be known to most of the folks who read this blog as the cartoonist behind the spot-on examination of grad school called Piled Higher and Deeper / PhD Comics. If you’ve read this comic, you’ll know that Cham’s visual style is simple and engaging, and his sense of humor is terrific. In a new book about the unknown territory of physics that we still need to nail down, he teams up with Daniel Whiteson, a physicist. The two of them explore issues like dark matter and gravity in a lighthearted but enthusiastic and informative way. It’s a delightful book to read, with a heavy dose of jokes – I’d guess the ratio of science to silliness to be around 3:1, which is probably too much for the physicists out there, but just right for the rest of us who are trying to wrap our minds around relativity. There are cartoons on almost every page, some instructional and some mere gags. From the expansion of the universe to the moment of the Big Bang, to distinguishing subatomic particles, it’s a treat. I appreciated the emphasis on the history of scientific thinking on these varied topics – it helped me re-tread the intellectual thought paths trod by the pioneers in physics. I also appreciated the way the authors occasionally took a “time out” to emphasize that we readers should sit still for a moment and just think about how mind-blowing some of their conclusions are. There is much that is non-intuitive about our universe. Highly recommended.