Ned Grandy (Oxford Spires Academy) reviews Jim Al-Khalili's 'The World According to Physics'

I thoroughly enjoyed The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili from start to finish. I’ve never read a book that is able to explain so many mind-boggling concepts so well in so few chapters; it covers the fundamental ideas of modern physics concisely but still with an incredible level of detail. I must add that this book is by no means an impenetrable, fact-heavy textbook; Al Khalili’s writing is colloquial and light-hearted making it an extremely enjoyable read.

He begins by explaining the ways in which physics is an important and awe-inspiring science, if the reader has even the smallest interest they will surely want to continue reading. In the main section of the book he introduces and breaks down the fundamental concepts of physics in a precise, clear way: Scale; space and time; energy and matter; the quantum world; thermodynamics and the arrow of time. This is the most interesting portion of the book for me, because as a physics student, some of the phenomena I am familiar with and others not at all. It has definitely helped with increasing my understanding of certain things beyond the level we are taught at school.

The way it is set out with each chapter split into subsections reduces the often baffling and counter-intuitive ideas into bite-sized chunks. My only criticism is that he will begin describing one thing, then write ‘I will continue explaining this in chapter x’. I’m sure this is necessary as some things need to be mentioned in passing to explain others, but it can be slightly frustrating for the reader. 

In conclusion, this book has inspired a much deeper interest in physics for me, and I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you have no prior knowledge of the subject.

Something I agreed with in this book was...

Physics is for explaining how the world really is, not just our best approximation of reality.

Something I disagreed with in this book was...

The idea that there is no logical way to explain quantum mechanics.

Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn't know about this subject before was…

The debate about time (psychological, thermodynamic etc.) used to be a completely philosophical one and physicists only began to explore it a few hundred years ago.