I’ve written a formal review of the new book Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet by physicist Tom Murphy. You can read the review at its American Journal of Physics home, or find a thoroughly annotated version here.
The book covers much of the same material as Murphy’s Do the Math blog, except that it’s a textbook, written mainly for college students who are not majoring in physical science but are taking a course to satisfy a science breadth requirement.
I was a big fan of Murphy’s blog back in its heyday a decade ago. It was one of my inspirations for eventually starting this blog. Murphy is a first-rate physicist, and his blog is full of great examples of how to think like a physicist about energy.
But as you’ll see if you read my review, my opinion of this textbook is more mixed.
A blog is a great place for trying out ideas and getting feedback on them from whoever might be interested in reading. It’s inherently informal, and readers generally assume that any conclusions might be tentative and/or controversial. Alternative viewpoints are always just a click away.
A textbook is different. Here we’re imparting knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. Students reading the book may be a captive audience, taking the course to satisfy a school requirement. This setting obligates us, I think, to be much more balanced and authoritative.
As I explain in the review, I think Murphy’s book falls short of this standard in several places. But it’s still a major accomplishment, full of food for thought, and I recommend downloading it (it’s free!) and taking a look. Leave a comment below to share your own thoughts on the book.
I’ll have more to say about some particular parts of Murphy’s book (and blog) in later posts.